[Paleopsych] Fearing Violence, Hamilton College Cancels Speech by Professor Who Called 9/11 Victims 'Little Eichmanns'
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Wed Feb 2 21:52:11 UTC 2005
Fearing Violence, Hamilton College Cancels Speech by Professor Who Called
9/11 Victims 'Little Eichmanns'
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.2.2
[NYT writeup appended.]
by By SCOTT SMALLWOOD
Citing what it called "credible threats of violence," Hamilton College
has canceled a speech planned for Thursday by a professor who has
called those who died in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center
A storm of controversy has centered on the Clinton, N.Y., college in
recent days as many people, including families of September 11
victims, protested the planned speech by Ward Churchill, a professor
of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Shortly after the attacks, he wrote that those killed were not
innocent civilians but a "technocratic corps at the very heart of
America's global financial empire." He went on to compare them to
Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official in charge of sending millions of
Jews to concentration camps.
Mr. Churchill was originally invited to speak at Hamilton by the
Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture. Nancy
Rabinowitz, a professor of comparative literature and the project
director, had invited him to speak on American Indian issues, but
after other professors and relatives of September 11 victims
complained, she says, administrators asked her to change the topic.
The event, retitled "Limits of Dissent," became about the controversy
As the calls to cancel the event increased, Joan Hinde Stewart,
Hamilton's president, at first said the college would defend free
speech by allowing it to go forward. But on Tuesday, she announced
that holding the event, which had been expanded to a panel discussion,
would be too dangerous.
"We have done our best to protect what we hold most dear, the right to
speak, think, and study freely," she said in a written statement. "But
there is a higher responsibility that this institution carries, and
that is the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff, and
the community in which we live."
Before the cancellation, the college had taken the unusual step of
posting on its Web site hundreds of the very negative e-mail messages
it had received about inviting Mr. Churchill to speak. Critics
included prospective students who said they now would not attend
Hamilton, parents disturbed by what they called "hate speech," and
many television viewers who heard about the controversy on The
O'Reilly Factor. One wrote: "I am sure the KKK and Nazi promoters
would not be invited to speak at Hamilton. ... This is not a question
of free speech. Mr. Churchill can say whatever he wants. ... It is a
question of decency and respect. Obviously Hamilton has neither."
Why this particular event blew up into such a firestorm remains
unclear. Mr. Churchill is a regular speaker on issues of indigenous
cultures on campuses across the country. He spoke last month at Miami
University in Ohio, and about a year ago he spoke not far from
Hamilton at Syracuse University. Those appearances did not generate
Ms. Rabinowitz suggested the Hamilton event may have grabbed media
attention because the victims' families got involved and because the
college had just recently been in the news for hiring Susan Rosenberg,
a former radical leftist who spent 16 years in federal prison.
Ms. Rabinowitz said she was saddened by the president's decision to
cancel the event. "I don't sit in her shoes," she said. "I wasn't in
the room when they were talking about it." But the decision will chill
free speech, she said: "Not just that it's canceled because of the
threats, but it will make you rethink other events."
In Colorado, meanwhile, Gov. Bill Owens on Tuesday called for Mr.
Churchill to resign from the faculty. The professor had already
announced on Monday that he was stepping down as chairman of the
ethnic-studies department but that he would remain as a faculty
member. In addition, the University of Colorado's Board of Regents
plans to hold a special meeting on Thursday to discuss Mr. Churchill.
Attempts to reach Mr. Churchill were unsuccessful. Ms. Rabinowitz said
that the professor was disappointed that the Hamilton event had been
canceled and that he and his wife, who was also scheduled to speak,
had been prepared to attend the discussion despite receiving death
In a written statement released on Monday, Mr. Churchill said the
analysis of his comments had been "grossly inaccurate." He said he was
not defending the September 11 attacks, "but simply pointing out that
if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction
abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is
He also said that the best way to avoid another such attack is for
American citizens to force the U.S. government to comply with the rule
of law. "The lesson of Nuremburg is that this is not only our right,
but our obligation," he said. "To the extent we shirk this
responsibility, we, like the 'good Germans' of the 1930s and 40s, are
complicit in its actions and have no legitimate basis for complaint
when we suffer the consequences."
Background article from The Chronicle:
* Former Radical Withdraws From Hamilton College Post (1/7/2005)
45. mailto:scott.smallwood at chronicle.com
E-mail me if you have problems getting the referenced articles.
College Cancels Speech by Professor Who Disparaged 9/11 Attack Victims
New York Times, 5.2.2
By PATRICK D. HEALY
CLINTON, N.Y., Feb. 1 - Over the last five days, tiny Hamilton
College in upstate New York has been barraged with more than 6,000
e-mail messages full of fury, some threatening violence. Some donors
have canceled pledges to an ambitious capital campaign. And
prospective students have withdrawn applications or refused to enroll.
Then, on Monday night, a caller to the college threatened to bring a
gun to campus.
Stunned and frightened, Hamilton leaders sought to end the turmoil on
Tuesday by canceling the event that set it off: a planned speech by a
Colorado professor who was invited to talk about American Indian
activism but whose earlier essay on the Sept. 11 attacks fueled the
criticism and threats. The professor, Ward Churchill of the University
of Colorado, Boulder, wrote disparagingly of the victims inside the
twin towers and referred to them at one point as "little Eichmanns," a
reference to Adolf Eichmann, an architect of the Holocaust.
The speech, scheduled for Thursday night, was canceled for security
reasons, Hamilton officials said. Mr. Churchill said he and his wife
had received more than 100 death threats, and other warnings of
violence mentioned Hamilton officials, including the president, Joan
Hinde Stewart. Yet the uproar also adds a twist to decades of battles
over free speech on campus, showing the powerful emotional resonance
of Sept. 11.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday night, Mr. Churchill called the
threats against Hamilton College "American terrorism." He urged those
making the threats to "take a look in the mirror."
Matt House, a freshman studying government, said, "We have
controversial speakers on campus all the time, but I think everyone's
so upset because it's only been three years since 9/11 and this is
striking New York too close to home."
"In this case, 9/11 trumps free speech, I guess," added Brian J.
Farnkoff, a senior majoring in public policy. "In the end, free speech
couldn't happen at Hamilton."
In recent days, Gov. George E. Pataki said he was appalled at Mr.
Churchill's remarks and at Hamilton for inviting him, and a Fox News
host, Bill O'Reilly, repeatedly urged viewers to e-mail the college in
protest. Ms. Stewart, the president, as well as the professors who
invited Mr. Churchill, said they did not know about his essay before
asking him to campus. She denounced his comments in December, but said
rescinding the invitation would harm First Amendment principles.
"His remarks about the victims of 9/11 are repellent, but our reaction
to 'repellent' is how we test the right to free speech," Ms. Stewart
said in an interview on Tuesday shortly before addressing the turn of
events with the Hamilton faculty, who gave her a standing ovation.
"We did our best to protect the principles and the values that we
believe in - the right to speak, to study, to teach freely - but the
point came that I simply felt that this threat was too large for us to
handle," said Ms. Stewart, who was told by campus security that even
additional police officers could not ensure safety.
Hamilton, a campus of 1,750 students, has always had a reputation for
accepting divergent voices. In November, the same program that invited
this speaker - the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society
and Culture - hired Susan Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather
Underground, after her release from prison on explosives charges. She
later withdrew in the face of protest.
On another end of the political spectrum, the scholar Elizabeth
Fox-Genovese equated abortion to murder during her talk to a packed,
polite campus auditorium last Thursday. According to The Spectator,
the weekly student newspaper, she also said that empowering humans to
choose who lives and who dies "opens the road to the Holocaust."
Mr. Churchill - who had planned to give his remarks Thursday in a flak
jacket with two bodyguards in tow - was originally scheduled to speak
by himself, but Ms. Stewart and others added three people to the panel
and changed its focus to free speech. One of those added was Mr.
Churchill's wife, who is also a scholar. The Churchills were to be
paid $3,500, but volunteered this week to forgo the money because of
In his original essay, Mr. Churchill wrote that the thousands killed
at the World Trade Center had played a role in American sanctions on
Iraq that "translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling
distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants."
"If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of
visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little
Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd
really be interested in hearing about it," he wrote.
The bulk of the outraged e-mail messages began arriving last weekend,
after Mr. O'Reilly of Fox had urged viewers to contact Hamilton.
"If you allow this vile individual to speak you forever label yourself
as the Auschwitz of American colleges," stated one e-mail message
among nearly 400 that Hamilton posted on its Web site to show the
reaction to Mr. Churchill.
"Would he feel the same way about his own wife or child if they worked
in the W.T.C. and were lost because they went to work that day," wrote
the spouse of a rescue-operations captain who was killed. "He should
be banned on the grounds of slandering the victims of such a brutal
Ms. Stewart said she alone received 6,000 messages, describing them as
"ranging from angry to profane, obscene, violent," and asserted that
Hamilton's actions had been mischaracterized by many of the writers,
as well as by Mr. O'Reilly.
Controversial speakers are nothing new to academic institutions: For
years, Leonard Jeffries of the City University of New York would
create a stir on campus and elsewhere with provocative remarks, and a
Columbia University faculty panel is now investigating remarks by some
pro-Palestinian professors that offended some Jewish students.
In 2002, hundreds of Harvard students protested when a graduating
senior was chosen to deliver a commencement speech entitled, "The
American Jihad." The student, Zayed Yasin, who received a death
threat, said his speech was a defense of the meaning of jihad as a
nonviolent struggle to do right. After negotiations with a
representative of Harvard's Jewish community, Mr. Yasin changed the
title to "Of Faith and Citizenship," and delivered his remarks under
Later in 2002, Harvard College's English Department canceled a campus
reading by a poet who had once referred in verse to the Israeli Army
as a "Zionist SS." and had criticized American-born Jewish settlers.
As at Hamilton, professors at Harvard said they had not known about
the remarks of the poet, Tom Paulin, before inviting him.
As Hamilton was trying to contain the outrage on Tuesday, political
and university officials in Colorado were criticizing Mr. Churchill.
Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, called on him to resign from the
university, while Representative Mark Udall, a Democrat, said in a
statement that the professor was "factually inaccurate" about the
terrorist attacks and owed the families of victims an apology. Mr.
Churchill gave up his chairmanship of the ethnic studies department
this week, and a spokeswoman said that the university's governing
body, the nine-member Board of Regents, would meet Thursday to discuss
Kirk Johnson and Michelle York contributed reporting for this article.
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