I haven't been following the whole Ward Churchill flap closely -- to me, it's a pretty routine thing that I've seen from conservatives for the last couple of decades: Radical college professor says some outrageous thing, and folks are all upset that this person is paid to indoctrinate our vulnerable young people in such anti-American ideas -- yada, yada, yada.
However, I did happen to catch Churchill's defense of himself on C-span last night. It is generally my opinion that any person has a constitutional right to make as much of an ass of himself as he likes, and that includes college professors, and so I was actually prepared for much worse than I saw. The guy's a good speaker; one could almost say charismatic, and the actual content of his defense was pretty much as I expected i.e. that by supporting our corrupt and capitalistic system which profits by the deaths of the poor, the terrorists were justified in blowing these people up. Now, that's a pretty extreme statement, and I think trying to justify the deaths of innocents anywhere is a pretty terrible thing to do. (In fact, I'm repelled by the bloodthirsty delight of people who relish the prospect of the deaths of those not-so-innocent.) However, I heard more radical professors say similar things when I was in college -- one of them justified the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and the taking of the hostages there, because the whole thing was about the oil companies. But it is the outrageous and offensive political speech that most needs protection; that's what freedom of expression is all about.
What pissed me off most in the speech is that a questioner brought up Churchill's efforts to get the stop the local Columbus Day parade, which he justified by some weird interpretation of the ninth amendment. He, apparently, has the right to freedom of expression, but he has no problem at all with trying to get other people to shut up. I have also heard that there are ethical problems with some of Churchill's academic work, and if that's the case, then firing him is justified -- but not because of his radical op-ed pieces.
I mostly meet the cries of conservatives about liberal college professors with yawns. I mean, come on, conservatives dominate this country, and yet right-wingers feel the need to fuss and fume about the few liberal-dominated arenas we have left. They especially seem afraid that some kid, somewhere, might grow up to be liberal. I don't know about you folks, but my thinking is a whole lot different than it was when I was 21. In my own case, I am actually *less* conservative than I was then. It doesn't hurt young people a bit to be exposed to the other side for the brief period in their lives that they are in college -- and whether they are will very much depend on what classes they take. I deliberately avoided ethnic studies when I was a kid, and fulfiled the college's "ethnic studies" requirement by taking a class on immigration, figuring I'd rather take a look at a variety of ethnic groups than dwell on the grievances of any one of them in particular. Even the most naive of 18-year-olds know what they are going to get when they sign up for certain classes, and word goes around about which professors are ideologues. Most of my economics classes were taught by conservatives. Big deal.
But what really is a big deal is that academic freedom and freedom of expression is preserved, whether it's a radical ideologue college professor, or folks that want to have a Columbus Day parade.