Professor in 9/11 dispute sues CU
Ryan Summerlin July 25, 2007
DENVER ” The University of Colorado professor who was fired after comparing some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi fought back with a lawsuit on Wednesday, saying the school retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech.
Ward Churchill was ousted by the university’s governing Board of Regents after three faculty committees accused him of plagiarism, fabrication and other research misconduct.
Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, had triggered a national outcry with an essay comparing some World Trade Center victims to Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann.
The Regents said his dismissal was based on other writings and that his firing was unrelated to his Sept. 11 comments. The academic investigation did not include the Sept. 11 essay but began after university officials concluded it was protected by the First Amendment and that he could not be fired for writing it.
Churchill has denied the research misconduct allegations and called the investigation “a farce” and “a fraud.”
His lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, charged that after the essay came to light, “the university vowed to examine every word ever written or spoken by Professor Churchill in an effort to find some excuse for terminating his employment.”
University spokesman Ken McConnellogue said the school stands behind the Regents’ vote to fire Churchill.
“We believe this is a matter of academic integrity for the university, so we will not be settling the lawsuit,” he said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Churchill’s lawyer, David Lane, said earlier that reinstatement was “definitely on the table” if Churchill wins.
The suit claims that both the academic investigation and the decision to fire Churchill were retaliation. It also says Churchill’s right to due process under the U.S. and state constitutions was violated and accuses the university of breach of contract.
The Regents voted 8-1 on Tuesday to fire Churchill on the recommendation of university President Hank Brown. Brown’s recommendation came after the faculty committees accused Churchill of research misconduct.
Regent Cindy Carlisle, who cast the sole vote against termination, said Wednesday she felt the Regents should have accepted the advice of the last faculty committee to review the case, which recommended suspending Churchill for a year without pay and demoting him.
She also said the panel, the Privilege and Tenure Committee, had raised questions about three of the seven specific allegations against Churchill.
Asked whether she felt firing Churchill was unfair, she said: “I’m not going to characterize that. My vote speaks pretty strongly. I thought we should defer to the active faculty (the Privilege and Tenure Committee) for their recommendations for sanctions.”
Brown said the Regents had little choice but to fire Churchill.
“This case is a very clear example of an effort to falsify history, to fabricate history,” he said immediately after the Regents vote. He also said Churchill refused to apologize or change his methods.
Churchill was accused of, among other things, misrepresenting the effects of federal laws on American Indians, fabricating evidence that the Army deliberately spread smallpox to Mandan Indians in 1837, and claiming the work of a Canadian environmental group as his own.
The essay that thrust Churchill into the national spotlight, titled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” was not part of the investigation.
That essay and a follow-up book argued that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were a response to a long history of U.S. abuses. Churchill said those killed in the World Trade Center collapse were “a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire” and called them “little Eichmanns.”
In the uproar that followed, the Regents apologized to “all Americans” for the essay and the Colorado Legislature labeled Churchill’s remarks “evil and inflammatory.”
School officials concluded Churchill could not be fired because he was exercising his First Amendment rights. But they launched the investigation into his research in other work that ultimately led to his dismissal.