'Not the Right Kind of Indian'

The case of William C. Bradford isn't quite what it seems, but it has riled up plenty of people in Indiana.

June 28, 2005

The case of William C. Bradford isn't quite what it seems, but it has riled up plenty of people in Indiana.

A column in an Indianapolis paper implied that he has been denied tenure, but he actually hasn't come up for tenure. Internet discussion suggests that he's about to become a new conservative cause célèbre, but his views on some issues are far left and he helped defend a graduate student accused of helping terrorists. Bradford and his supporters say that liberals are running him out of town, but the institution where he teaches -- Indiana University's law school in Indianapolis -- isn't known as a hotbed of leftist thought.

What appears clear is that Bradford has published far more in his first three years at the law school than it typically expects of tenure candidates in six years. (He's published 15 articles and finished a book that will come out this fall, while candidates are generally expected to have published 2-5 articles.) This spring, when a committee voted to renew his pre-tenure position, it was also polled on his prospects for tenure. And Bradford says that one-third of the panel said tenure was unlikely -- and that he was then told privately by others on the panel that he was being punished for his unorthodox views, which were interpreted as being uncollegial.

The university says he's doing great work -- it recently awarded him a special fellowship. But he's job hunting, and whether that's a good or bad thing depends on who you ask.

Bradford says that past reviews were unanimously positive, and that his troubles began because his views didn't match people's expectations. Bradford is a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe and as such is one of about 15 law professors nationwide who are American Indians. Much of his legal scholarship concerns Indian law and he describes his views as "radical," saying that he calls for land illegally taken from Indians to be returned to them, and for Indian tribes to be treated more like nations.

But Bradford is not a fan of Ward Churchill, the controversial University of Colorado professor and Native American activist. And Bradford says that professors turned against him when he refused to sign a petition supporting Churchill.

"The presumption was that I've got to sign this thing because I'm an Indian, but I can't do that," he says. "I'm the anti-Ward Churchill. I'm a patriot. My ancestors were caged up by this country, but I love this country. It's the place where we have the greatest freedom on earth."

And he doesn't just talk about love of country -- he served in the U.S. Army Infantry from 1990 to 2001. Today, he is a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he argues will lead to self-determination for people there. He writes, supportively, about the doctrine of pre-emptive war. Bradford is not, however, a party-line kind of guy, and he criticizes the Patriot Act and has helped defend a Saudi graduate student accused of using a Web site to help terrorists.

Bradford and his supporters at the law school say that his politics, and especially his support for the war in Iraq, have so offended others that he is not wanted at the law school and will face a tough road to tenure, despite his publication record and his status as a rare Indian academic. "The diversity that they seek is diversity in appearance, but not really in dialogue," says Bradford. "I'm not the right kind of Indian."

Other professors at the law school dispute this version of events. Florence Wagman Roisman, who Bradford says he offended when he wouldn't sign the Churchill petition, describes herself as the most liberal member of the faculty. "I'm a person of progressive politics and I think I'm the political outlier here," she says. "People were surprised that I was hired here and tenured here, but politics are not a criterion for being hired and promoted here."

Roisman says she will not comment on anything that was said during the faculty's private discussions of Bradford's status at the law school because they are confidential.

And she says that Bradford's refusal to sign the Churchill petition has no affect on anything, since hardly anyone joined her in signing it. She does say, however, that he should have signed it.

"I find it ironic that Professor Bradford is going to the media to complain about his status here and he doesn't understand why academics supported a tenured professor whose tenure was being threatened," she says. "The whole point is that people who teach -- whether or not they are tenured -- should enjoy freedom to express what they believe to be accurate, true or important. I don't have to agree with Professor Ward Churchill to support him. I support his right to think what he thinks is accurate."

Bradford, however, says that petition amounted to support for Churchill, and he won't provide it. Noting Churchill's notorious comment about "little Eichmanns," Bradford says, "If you can't figure out that the architect of Nazi mass murder isn't the same as people who went to work in the World Trade Center, you don't belong teaching."

Law school officials insist that they do want Bradford to keep teaching. Rich Schneider, a spokesman for the law school, says of Bradford: "He has accomplished a lot. His work is well regarded, and this campus appreciates and admires the service of veterans." Schneider notes that the review in which Bradford received negative votes also authorized his reappointment. And since the administration awarded him a dean's fellowship, he says, it's clear Bradford is valued.

"It's perfectly understandable for him to be sensitive and concerned about his tenure review," Schneider says. "There is a process on this campus to give Professor Bradford and anyone else up for tenure a fair shake."

Bradford is not waiting to find out. He'll be a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary in the fall and at Victoria University, in New Zealand, in the spring. He's job hunting.


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