Ward Churchill loses appeal to win back CU job: I’m a fan neither of Churchill’s “Little Eichmans” remark, nor of his apparent academic misconduct, but there is an inescapable issue involved when the arguably “good” result of removing him from his position at the University of Colorado is accomplished by the “bad” means of launching an investigation because he said something offensive to public sensibilities. In criminal proceedings, the courts have developed the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, which throws out any evidence, including derivative evidence, acquired by unconstitutional means. This sometimes leads to “obviously” guilty people going free, when overzealous investigators violate a suspect’s Constitutional rights to acquire evidence against someone who really was guilty, and tank their own case by doing so.  But if we allow such evidence to be admissible, we essentially erase the Constitution in practice, by declaring that as long as we like where its violation leads, we don’t have to adhere to it. Churchill’s case is similar: If we don’t want academic and political speech to be stifled, we can’t allow universities to engage in politically motivated investigations of professors who say things that offend public sensibilities. This particular case of effectively punished speech is a good example: While I find the “little Eichmans” reference offensive to the loved ones of the thousands of innocent people who died on 9/11, I also find it to be a poor articulation of a legitimate argument (that America is not the unambiguously benevolent force on the world stage that it’s citizens like to imagine it to be, and that global resentments of our non-democratic impositions of our power on their lives are not completely unjustified). In the insularity of our own national mythologies and ideologies, we need to protect rather than persecute the voices that bring that perspective to light, even if they sometimes do so in poorly conceived ways.
“Ranked Voting” is an example of room for experimentation and improvement of our democratic system ( Illustrating the need to keep using our minds to continue to refine and perfect our political and economic institutions, the tinkering involved in “ranked voting” (in which people rank candidates, and lowest top-rank earners are dropped until one candidate receives an outright majority of the vote) is a good example of useful creative experimentation. Whether this innovation proves to be successful or not, it is the kind of thing we should be considering, testing out, and, when it proves to be an improvement on previous institutional procedures, implementing. There are many improvements, sometimes quite dramatic in their effects, that can be made on the margins, and since the margins are where the greater malleability of reality resides (see, they are a good place for political activists to focus a great deal of attention.

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