Boulder — Regents at the University of Colorado voted 8-1 today to terminate ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill.
The vote was made en masse; regent Cindy Carlisle was the lone vote in favor of keeping Churchill.
Immediately after the announcement, protestors began a loud demonstration in the Glen Miller Ballroom of CU’s Memorial Hall, with chants and drums.
Churchill’s lawyer, David Lane, has said he has a lawsuit ready to be filed. He alleges that the regents were acting in retaliation for the professor’s controversial comments about victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Churchill, Lane and a handful of faculty members held a news conference immediately after the announcement.
reporters: "I’m going nowhere. It’s not about break, it’s not about bend, it’s not about compromise. It’s not about negotiate. … If you negotiate your rights, you will have no rights."
Emma Perez, an associate professor of ethnic studies, said, "I’m disappointed because the University of Colorado and the regents have succumbed to the political agenda of the neo-conservatives."
CU president Hank Brown and regents Chairwoman Patricia "Pat" Hayes called a competing news conference.
Hayes said that Carlisle had agreed with an investigation’s findings, which stated that Churchill was guilty of plagiarizing and falsifying information in his writings, but she disagreed with the sanctions being imposed. Carlisle was not immediately available for comment.
Hayes told reporters that the regents had deliberated for many hours and had spent the past few weeks reading extensively from Churchill’s writings, but at the end of the day, they supported Brown’s recommendations. They were guided by three faculty committees, she said, including 25 tenured faculty members.
She said their decision was not pre-determined, and they heard no testimony today. The essay that started the controversy was not discussed, she said.
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Brown said there wasn’t much choice in how to vote because the regents had to protect the integrity of research at the university.
He said the threatened lawsuit never came up in discussions and a "great university can’t be intimated by a lawsuit."
Hayes added that that true academics will say "this is the place we want to be" because of the long process that was followed.
She said, "The bottom line was the board felt … (the faculty committees) had done their work, and we should do our work."
Lane told reporters earlier after he and Churchill emerged from a closed-door meeting with the regents that the school’s administration was lined up against the ethnic studies professor.
It’s all about Churchill’s comments about the 9/11
victims, Lane said. "I told them (the regents) we are at a crossroads, and that they will do irreparable damage to academic free speech if they fire him.
"The world will perceive that he was fired for his free speech."
He added that people will think that by speaking up at a university by saying something controversial, a person will be dragged through a two-and-a-half year process that’s aimed at making it look like the school is treating the person fairly. "And at the end, they will fire you," Lane said.
"The world will see this as retaliation. There’s a lot of pressure in there to make this a unanimous vote.
"He will be terminated to satisfy the baying of the right-wing members of the media, maybe get them off CU’s back."
But Brown said before the regents’ vote that was not the case.
He said there is no retaliation involved in the investigation, but that the review found that Churchill falsified information and had a deliberate research strategy to "create the appearance of independent, verifiable information."
Brown said regents have been careful to say nothing that indicates they have made up their minds in advance.
"What the committee came up with were a series of places where he plagiarized information, falsified information and ghost-wrote, he said."
Brown added that early on, the acting CU chancellor rejected the idea that Churchill could be punished for the essay about the 9/11 victims that sparked the controversy.
Protestors were on campus all day.
"We think the regents are doing a pretty poor job of protecting the university," said protestor Tom Moore, who was carrying a sign that said "CU Conformity University Be Bland."
Lane said earlier that if Churchill is fired, he will file a lawsuit Wednesday in Denver claiming that the firing was retaliation that violated Churchill’s First Amendment rights of free speech.
Lane said such a lawsuit needs to prove only that retaliation was a motivating factor. He said he doesn’t need to prove it was the only reason for the firing.
"The Supreme Court has ruled that retaliation for free speech, you only have to prove that is a piece of why you were fired," he said.
Churchill gave only a brief comment to the media that his arguments before the board "went just fine." He gave a television interview inside a broadcast truck, then drove away with his wife.
This morning, before he was allowed to argue his case, Churchill condemned the closed-door meeting the regents were holding to decide whether to fire him.
"We want all of you here to witness the deliberations," he told a gaggle of reporters and photographers on the sun-splashed patio in front of Memorial Hall, the university’s student union. "This is a scripted performance put on by the regents."
Hovering nearby were a small number of supporters wearing T-shirts sporting Churchill’s image, bordered on top by the words "It’s not about scholarship" and on the bottom by the words "It’s about politics."
Churchill, dressed in jeans and a black sport jacket while smoking unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes, promised to sue the school if he is fired.
The regents have violated the rules of confidentiality by making information about him public while using those same rules to shield their deliberations, Churchill said.
The controversy that led to today’s action has its roots in January 2005, when Churchill was to speak at Hamilton College in New York.
A student journalist writing an advance article about the speech publicized a piece Churchill had written in which he described some of the 9/11 victims in New York City’s World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns" — a reference to World War II war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who helped manage the logistics of the Nazis’ mass exterminations.
The article in the student paper prompted the cancellation of Churchill’s speeches there. Within days, Gov. Bill Owens had called for Churchill to be fired, and Colorado talk shows were awash in invective about the professor.
The university launched an investigation.
It soon became clear that Churchill’s scholarship had been questioned for years by other professors. Thomas Brown of Lamar University in Texas had long challenged Churchill’s assertion that early European settlers of North America had intentionally spread smallpox among Indians by handing out infected blankets.
Eventually, other revelations about Churchill became public, including that his hiring bypassed most of CU’s normal processes for awarding tenure and that he had no proof of his claimed American Indian ancestry, which was the foundation of his hiring.
Ultimately, a CU faculty committee charged Churchill with inaccurately describing historical facts in some of his writings — including the smallpox case.
The professor was also accused of plagiarizing other authors in his writing. In one case, he was shown to have lifted several passages from a pamphlet on native fishing rights in Canada for his own publications. Churchill has argued that his works are meticulously footnoted, and that he would have no reason to intentionally plagiarize another author.
But the panel charged that sometimes Churchill created fictitious characters to write something inflammatory, then simply footnoted to those works when he published under his own name.
Churchill has denied it all.
Some faculty members are concerned that the proceedings against Churchill will lead to a suppression of academic freedom, said Daniel Kim, who teaches English.
The university is supposed to be an incubator for the free expression of ideas, he said. Some faculty members speak in hushed tones about the case.
They worry that in the future they won’t be able to teach controversial subjects, Kim said.
Kim, who is not tenured, said he fears that his vocal support for Churchill could lead to his having to leave the university.
Widespread media attention of the case has made it impossible for Churchill to get a fair hearing, said Kim.
"The entire process has been irretrievably tainted," he said.
Staff writer Tom McGhee can be reached at 303-954-1671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.