CU's academic culture ignored

Post columnist nearly alone in probing 'dysfunctional' milieu

Mar. 12, 2005

by David Kopel

For all the ink devoted to the Ward Churchill case, the Denver dailies have done virtually nothing to investigate the dysfunctional campus academic culture which led to the Churchill fiasco.

Here are some of the questions the Denver media have not even attempted to probe: Why did the University of Colorado Arts and Sciences administration continue to promote and laud Churchill after the late- 1990s publication of professor Thomas LaVelle's articles alleging extensive academic fraud and plagiarism on Churchill's part? Are there other academic frauds and plagiarists at CU whom the administration has protected? How did CU become such a racist institution that a patently unqualified man was pushed for tenure in three departments because he claimed to be an Indian? How many other poorly-qualified teachers have gotten jobs at CU, based on their ethnicity or their pretended ethnicity? To what extent does the extreme left dominate hiring at CU, so that highly qualified applicants for teaching positions are rejected, whereas politically correct hacks get the job? How often do other CU teachers act like Churchill allegedly did by punishing students for expressing opinions contrary to the teacher? Has CU protected other teachers who have been credibly accused of making violent threats and/or perpetrating on- and off-campus violent crimes against people who disagree with them?

Denver Postcolumnist David Harsanyi is virtually alone in the Denver media in attempting to examine the reality of academic freedom at CU. His column last Monday detailed the plight of CU instructor Phil Mitchell, who is apparently being pushed out of CU because of political pressure from the far left. Harsanyi and Mitchell also made an important distinction between CU's "liberals" (who support true academic freedom and diverse viewpoints) and its hard left (which attempts to suppress the speech of everyone but itself).

A few years ago I interviewed CU Honors Program Assistant Dean Christian Kopff on KBDI- Channel 12, and he described a campus atmosphere where most conservative professors, except him, hide in the closet. Other professors, speaking to me off the record, have confirmed the diminished academic freedom at CU, where even very liberal professors have to tread carefully to make sure they don't offend the far left. If I've heard such stories without even going looking for them, imagine what the media might find if it bothered to examine the hard left's suppression of academic freedom at CU.

As reported in Wednesday's Rocky Mountain Newsand Boulder Daily Camera(but not in the Post), CSU-Pueblo anthropology professor Dan Forsyth has been placed under administration investigation because a freshman was offended about some remarks Forsyth allegedly made criticizing illegal aliens. Watch to see whether the newspaper columnists who have argued that a tenured CU professor has an absolute right to say anything he wants will agree that a tenured CSU professor has the same rights. Or whether the only free speech that they actually defend is left-wing speech.

News columnist Mike Littwin was impressively prescient in his March 5 column, "An exit inevitable now for CU's Hoffman," published two days before Hoffman announced her resignation.

However, Littwin came close to libel with his snide remark about "Dick Tharp's conveniently close-to-underage-drinkers liquor store." Contrary to Littwin's innuendo, Liquor Mart (of which Tharp is part-owner) has won awards for its exemplary efforts to prevent underage drinking.

As reported in the News(Jan. 7, 1996), the store has been voluntarily participating in a sheriff's program to tag beer kegs, to help prosecution of cases involving the providing of alcohol to minors. The Newson May 31, 1999, accurately described Liquor Mart as Boulder's "Best Known Charity," which supports over 300 charitable events annually. As the story noted, Liquor Mart provides free soda for alcohol-free post-prom parties at six different high schools. The story also reported the store's policy of offering cashiers $100 for every fake ID confiscated.

Among the Colorado media, Littwin is hardly alone in unfairly trashing Liquor Mart, an outstanding corporate citizen which is part of the collateral damage from the media's de facto alliance with the plaintiffs in the CU sexual harassment lawsuit.

In my last column, I wrote about the Baby 81 hoax, in which the media had disseminated a false story that nine different mothers had claimed to be the true mother of a baby who was found after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. The next Tuesday, the Post'sColorado Kids section printed a story that reiterated the hoax.

To the great credit of the Post,this week's Colorado Kids did not merely print a correction, but used the Baby 81 story as a "teachable moment" to explain to its young audience how the Posthad mistakenly relied on sources which turned out to be incorrect. The Post'sforthright handling of the incident will help make its readers into better-informed consumers of news, and also provided its readers with a great model of adults taking responsibility for correcting their errors.  

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