We suspect that most of our readers will be familiar with the case of Ward Churchill, the professor of "ethnic studies" at the University of Colorado whose comparison of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann sparked outrage across the nation. Professor Churchill made the comparison in an essay he wrote in 2001, shortly after the murderous attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. But his remarks did not attract much attention until he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York and some public-spirited individuals unearthed and publicized his rebarbative anti-American effusion. We first reported on the case on January 26 on Armavirumque, The New Criterion's weblog--which, by the way, is a source of commentary and reflection by the editors that we heartily recommend to readers who avail themselves of the internet. In the following weeks, we returned several times to the issue, which by the end of January had exploded in the media. Citing security concerns, Joan Stewart, the president of Hamilton, cancelled Professor Churchill's appearance at the eleventh hour. By then, Hamilton had suffered its second major public relations disaster in as many months. Last autumn, as we reported in our December 2004 issue, Hamilton had invited Susan Rosenberg, a convicted felon and former member of the Weather Underground, to teach a seminar at the college; the outcry over that fiasco eventually forced Rosenberg's withdrawal.
In themselves, the Hamilton follies are scarcely noteworthy. The story that American colleges embrace left-wing radicals with no discernible scholarly accomplishment is a dog-bites-man piece of news--which is to say that it is not news at all but merely business as usual. Nevertheless, the controversy over the Rosenberg and Churchill episodes marked the beginning of a new chapter in the public's understanding of what goes on in American universities. Whether the public will have the tenacity to read on and draw the appropriate conclusions remains to be seen. But what we have witnessed in the last month or so is the opening of a fissure in the weary complacency with which the public has habitually regarded those institutions entrusted with educating young adults. In this sense, the episodes of Susan Rosenberg and Ward Churchill represent not only a scandal but also an opportunity. For the first time since the onslaught of the 1960s, a critical mass seems to be forming against the ready acquiescence to the politically correct imperatives of academic radicalism.
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