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Denver, Colorado, United States
I'm a Vietnam Vet, Retired Mainframe Programmer, Retired College Adjunct Teacher, Published Author, Adult Boy Scout Leader, Republican, Jewish, married with two magnificent grown kids.

L'Affaire Churchill

By Howard Flomberg

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Voltaire supposedly said that hundreds of years ago. Are there limits however? Ward Churchill seems to be bent on exploring these limits. You hear the T-word (treasonous) being used, however no charges have been brought against outspoken leftists such as Jane Fonda and John Kerry.

I teach college. I am not, nor shall I ever be tenured, however I do have many friends who are tenured professors. They regard their tenure as an obligation. Perhaps Professor Churchill’s biggest error is in ignoring this obligation.

As a ‘Prof’ it is my responsibility to help my students learn how to make decisions based upon available information. It is NOT my job to insure that they agree with me. Many of us middle aged conservatives flirted with Chairman Mao and Che back in the 60’s. Jobs, military service and family responsibilities modified our passions. Youth is the time for passions. However we, as adults must allow them to explore the world for themselves. We must avoid having bitter, middle aged pseudo-intellectuals force them into their mold, or for that matter, even optimistic, middle-aged pseudo-intellectuals (who me?).

One of the courses that I teach is an Upper-division management course at Metropolitan State College. The students are mostly seniors and actively anticipating getting out of school. I took the liberty of asking them to write a paragraph on the Ward Churchill Affair. I told the not to sign the papers. I then did not read them till the next day so that I had no real manner of tracking a paragraph to an individual student.

The results were fascinating. One third of the students felt that Professor Churchill had a constitutional right to make the statements that he did. One comment that caught my attention:

“It takes guts and Churchill has some. Speak your mind, isn’t that what America is all about?”

And another: “If we are not allowed to have free speech, what will be next.”

None of these students wrote papers agreeing with the Professor’s statements, they all reflected Mr. Voltaire’s assertion. As to the two thirds that felt Professor Churchill should resign the common point of view was that he exceeded propriety. He went to far:

“…and another to spew hate in the classroom. He is there to educate students and ‘be objective’ in his lessons … not to not to take advantage of his position or podium in the classroom”

“Professor Churchill is entitled to freedom of speech… but for a teacher to explicitly accuse these people to be ‘Little Nazis’ …”

I am proud of these students. Even the ones that I disagree with have a clearly thought out basis for their opinions.

Many years ago, upon my return from Southeast Asia, A Professor referred to me as “The baby-killer in the back row.” That was my last day at Queens College – Luckily I found Metro and finished my education. I need not go into more detail. However as a teacher that statement stays with me.

What is the job of a Professor? This is quite a simple question. I do not think that we should differentiate between public and private institutions. A college should rise above that. However we must agree that our job is to teach, coach and mentor. Not to indoctrinate. The error that Professor Churchill made was that he believed that a Tenured Professorship was a platform for promulgating his opinion as fact.

The essence of education is enabling our students to make decisions of their own based upon the facts that surround the situation.