Colorado Regents Vote to Fire a Controversial Professor
BOULDER, Colo., July 24 — After more than two years of public tumult, the University of Colorado Board of Regents voted Tuesday to fire a professor whose remarks about the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks led to a national debate on free speech. But it was the professor’s problems with scholarship that the board cited as the cause for his termination.
The professor, Ward L. Churchill, was dismissed on the ground that he had committed academic misconduct by plagiarizing and falsifying parts of his scholarly research.
The board voted 8 to 1 to dismiss Professor Churchill.
“We wanted to do what was right for this university,” the board chairwoman, Patricia Hayes, said after the vote. “We did not address Professor Churchill’s freedom of speech as part of our discussion.”
The university president, Hank Brown, who recommended that the board fire Professor Churchill, said he deserved to lose his job because he had “falsified history” and “fabricated history.”
At a news conference after the decision, Professor Churchill, who cut a dramatic figure with his mane of gray-black hair, towering frame and dark sunglasses, criticized the process by which he was fired.
“I am going nowhere,” Professor Churchill said. “If there is a question in anyone’s mind to the political nature of the Regents, this should resolve it.”
He continued, “All this did was confirm what it was in the first place about the nature of the academic process and lack of integrity within this institution as a whole.”
Professor Churchill, a tenured faculty member at Colorado since 1991 who became chairman of the department of ethnic studies, caused an uproar when he criticized United States foreign policy in a 2001 essay written shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, characterizing some of the office workers killed in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” a reference to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who helped carry out the Holocaust.
Police officers guarded the entrance to the University Memorial Center, where the board met, and people filtered in through metal detectors. A university spokesman, Ken McConnellogue, said the board had received an anonymous death threat via e-mail this month.
Outside the center, more than 50 people, flanked by journalists, rallied in support of Professor Churchill. Among them was a former leader of the American Indian Movement, Russell Means, who said that he understood “the dangers of totalitarianism” and that he had rushed to Boulder to support his old friend.
University officials said it was Professor Churchill’s academic impropriety, nothing more, that was at stake. After the initial fallout over his essay, which came to light in 2005, the university determined that Professor Churchill’s statements indeed constituted free speech. But accusations that he had plagiarized other scholars and fabricated parts of his research began to emerge.
It was on this basis, not Professor Churchill’s criticism of American foreign policy, Mr. McConnellogue said, that the university began a faculty investigation into his work.
In May 2006, a faculty committee found that Professor Churchill’s research, which focused on persecution of American Indians, was seriously flawed. Among suspected inaccuracies and fabrications confirmed by the panel, it charged that Professor Churchill had misrepresented sources to support his argument that Capt. John Smith intentionally introduced smallpox to the Wampanoag Indians in the 17th century.
Colorado’s interim chancellor at the time, Phil DiStefano, subsequently recommended that Professor Churchill be fired, and he was placed on paid administrative leave.
In June 2006, Professor Churchill filed an appeal with the university’s Privilege and Tenure Committee, three of whose members recommended that he be suspended without pay for a year and demoted to assistant professor, while two others thought he should be fired. Soon after, Mr. Brown, the president, recommended that the board dismiss Professor Churchill.
Throughout the controversy, Professor Churchill and his lawyer, David Lane, maintained that the professor’s comments about Sept. 11 were the true driving force behind the investigation and that his fate had been sealed since.
Mr. Lane said he would file a lawsuit on Wednesday in State District Court in Denver, saying the university had violated Professor Churchill’s First Amendment rights by using his political views to fire him.