HAMILTON, N.Y. - Unabating furor over Ward Churchill has led to yet another
academic resignation, this time at the controversial program at Hamilton
College in upstate New York where the current affair hit the headlines.
Nancy Rabinowitz, a controversial figure in her own right, announced Feb.
11 that she would resign as director of Hamilton's Kirkland Project. Her
resignation parallels Churchill's own resignation as chair of the
University of Colorado Ethnic Studies program after the national uproar
over his three-year-old essay "On the Justice of Chickens Coming Home to
Roost," which argues that many of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks
had it coming.
Like Churchill, Rabinowitz, a professor of comparative literature, said she
would retain her teaching post.
Hamilton's longstanding invitation to Churchill to speak at a panel on "The
Limits to Dissent" became the focus of widespread political attacks,
including a denunciation from New York state Gov. George Pataki. Hamilton
College canceled the panel, citing security concerns, but criticism of the
Kirkland Project continued.
Rabinowitz was the center of another storm last year after she appointed
alleged former Weather Underground associate Susan Rosenberg as an
"artist-activist in residence."
According to a press release from Hamilton College, "Rosenberg was indicted
but never tried for a 1981 armored car robbery that left a guard and two
police officers dead. She was sentenced [to] 58 years on charges of weapons
possession, but President Clinton granted her clemency in 2001."
In a statement, Rabinowitz said she was resigning "under duress." She
added, "Hamilton College finds itself in the midst of a crisis that is
deeply rooted in the institution's history and set against a backdrop of
increasing political and cultural tension. Much of the resulting media
attack has been directed personally at me as director of the Kirkland
"I would have preferred to stay on until I took my long-awaited sabbatical;
however, my strengths have been in the intrinsic work of the project
itself, and what the project needs now is someone more adept at the kind of
political and media fight that the current climate requires. Therefore, it
is in the interests of the mission of the project itself and for no other
reason that I am yielding to requests that I resign."
Although Hamilton College was founded by the 18th century missionary Samuel
Kirkland (1741 - 1808), famous for his work with the Oneida and Seneca
Nations, the Kirkland Project is not directly named for him but for the
short-lived Kirkland College, a women's institution which merged into
Hamilton in 1978. Its programs have emphasized feminism and other
"diversity" causes, rather than American Indian issues.
Since the Rosenberg controversy, which led to withdrawal of the
appointment, the Kirkland Project has become a national exemplar of
left-wing political activism taking the form of an academic program.
According to its mission statement, it is "committed to social justice,
focusing on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, as well
as other facets of human diversity."
One critic, Hamilton history professor Robert Paquette, however, has
denounced it as "an openly 'progressive' interest group, interested less in
the pursuit of philosophy than of ideology." In an article in The
Washington Times, he said the independently-endowed project exercised
"undue influence on the educational environment at Hamilton College." He
noted that Churchill and his wife Natsu Saito, a fellow member of the
Colorado University Ethnic Studies program, were scheduled to receive
$3,500 each for their appearance.
Citing Paquette's article, the national cultural journal New Criterion
called on Hamilton to cancel the Kirkland Project.
"Like so many academic institutions today, its administrators chatter
endlessly about 'diversity,'" said an editorial on its Web site. "As
professor Paquette points out, however, what they really mean is strict
conformity on any politically- or morally-charged issue. 'Diversity' means
toeing the left-wing line."
Paquette and the New Criterion make an intellectual distinction between
academic freedom and political advocacy, the central issue in the
University of Colorado's own ongoing review of Churchill's position. But
the controversy has provoked a less subtle political reaction.
According to the Associated Press, conservative legislators in Ohio are
pushing a state law to create an "academic 'bill of rights'" which would
"prohibit public and private college professors from presenting opinions as
fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would
not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the
The AP article said that similar bills failed last year in California and
Colorado, although the Georgia legislature supported the idea in a
Although several colleges have cancelled speeches by Churchill, including
the University of Oregon, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater announced
it would go ahead with his scheduled March 1 appearance during Native Pride
Week. The student-run Native American Cultural Awareness Association
(NACAA) and the office of Native American Support Services (NASS) issued a
statement attempting to strike a balance in the controversy.
"We certainly understand that Mr. Churchill's comments regarding the 9/11
tragedy have offended a large number of people," it said. "However, we,
along with our co-sponsor the College of Letters and Sciences, support
First Amendment rights and academic freedom. A great deal of students,
faculty and staff would like to hear what professor Churchill has to say,
and we support their right to hear him speak. We also support the rights of
those students who do not wish to attend the lecture."
The group said it would sponsor another lecture later in the spring to give
an opposing point of view, stating further: "By continuing to host Mr.
Churchill's presentation we certainly do not advocate hatred and certainly
do not wish to perpetuate the image of the American Indian that hates all
white people. In terms of our Native Pride Week as a whole, we've done our
best to present a fair and balanced perspective of Indian issues."