On April 2nd, 2009, A jury returned a decision stating that Ward Churchill had been wrongfully fired from his position as a tenured professor at Colorado University. The cause stemmed from the publication of his now infamous essay ‘The Ghosts of 9-1-1: Reflections on History, Justice and Roosting Chickens’. After its initial publication, three years passed until a section of the essay entitled ‘Some People Push Back’ was brought to light by a college newspaper reporter that the essay came under public criticism and caused the circumstances under which Churchill was subsequently fired.
In the full text, Churchill contends that the events of September 11th, 2001 were made inevitable by a foreign policy that puts the rights of corporations inexorably in front of the rights of people, histories or environments, and that the systemic amnesia engendered and perpetuated within the system is its own form of culpability.
Citing the failures of popular movements to cease the sanctions in Iraq during the 1990s, abolish the WTO or its colluding powers at the IMF/World Bank, he charges the left with acquiescing to state powers in deference to that which is comfortable and secure. The phrase, ‘Little Eichmans’ is largely credited for having drawn attention to the essay, a curious objection as the phrase itself was borrowed from a John Zerzan article, published in 1997.
The jury found for Churchill’s suit and held CU liable for the costs of his legal team and an additional one dollar.
The proceedings come at a time of increased scrutinity of college professors. From Norman Finkelstein’s being denied tenure, to Dr. Cornell West’s somewhat fiery departure from Harvard for Princeton, the high halls of academia have held witness to more power struggles than usual of late. The common thread underlying them all though would seem to be a charge of anti-zionism leveled at all the actors involved here. Finkelstein wrote ‘Beyond Ghutspa: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History’ and West chose to leave Harvard after a public row with Larry Summers, a man who equates Anti-Zionism, the refusal of the State of Israel to exist, and Anti-Semitism, the racist bigotry towards a Jewish person. All three, Churchill, Finkelstein and West are all outspoken critics of US Foreign policy, vis-a-vis Palestine. All three have faced massive scrutiny that others in their fields are hardly ever subject to.
The case in point, Churchill was a tenured professor, but was abruptly demonized at the hint of equivalency of complicity of those who oversaw speculative investing and those who who punched tickets for Auschwitz victims. To be sure, there is a very real difference between the two, but what of those who ran the books for the SS? What of those who currently oversee the World Bank funding of dams that have flooded out perhaps 60 million people in India. Tens of thousands of these were farmers who have now committed suicide. What of the one million farmers displaced by US agribusiness in Mexico in the last 8 years who have no choice but to leave their villages and either enter a sweatshop or take the uncertain road north? The US does not send any of these people to be incinerated, but what level of collusion is acceptably equivalent? At what point will the American or even the progressive voices in America cease being voices and become actions in solidarity against such practices? Until Americans, and in particular those Americans who know something is wrong, answer this question, there will continue to be rhetoric, but no response, and the chickens are still out in the field, waiting to come home.
For Churchill, he has been proved triumphant against the school system that fired him. Unrelenting, he is now seeking the school to either reinstate him or award him one million dollars in damages. A Denver District Court Judge will decide within 30 days of the ruling whether additional damages will be awarded.
The (Former) Governor
Takes the Stand
by J. Robert Brown
Former Governor Bill Owens was on the stand for a couple of hours. Not long after the 9/11 essay surfaced, the Governor called on CU to fire Churchill.
David Lane’s main point was to show that the Governor, with line item veto authority over the University of Colorado, applied pressure to get the University to fire Ward Churchill.
The jury heard the former president of CU, Betsy Hoffman, describe a conversation with the Governor where she said he told her to fire Ward Churchill “tomorrow,” that his tone was “threatening,” and that if she didn’t he would “unleash his plan.”
Governor Owens did not specifically recall the conversation but doubted that it was not “in that tenor” and that he did not have a “plan.”
Later, when a partial transcript of an interview on the O’Reilly Factor was put up on the screen, Lane pointed to an exchange where Owens denied he had the authority to fire Churchill but then admitted: “I do have some budget authority over the budget.” Owens declined to admit that this was a threat, noting that its a true statement and repeated over and over that he had actually raised the CU budget during his administration.
On recross, Lane asked whether in fact Governor Owens had a “strategy” for CU if Churchill wasn’t fired. He answered in the negative. Lane then pointed to this exchange on the O’Reilly transcript:
- O’REILLY: One more question for you. You have basically a strategy, and I want to get this right. You’re not going to pay him off, so he’s not going to get the big bucks. You’re going to go through the lengthy process to prove that he did something that you can legitimately fire him [for], and then he goes — “See you.”
- OWENS: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That process is starting. I think it will ultimately result in him being fired.
The quick denial followed by the reference in the O’Reilly Factor caused a slight stir in the courtroom. Governor Owens then repeated that he didn’t have a strategy and that he was merely acknowledging that based on the evidence that he knew, there was sufficient basis to fire Churchill.
Governor Owens did acknowledge in his testimony that he was glad the University had not heeded his advice and fired Churchill immediately after the 9/11 essay surface.
Right Wing Attempting to Bankrupt Ward Churchill
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Professor Churchill was fired after a 30 month long “investigation” by the University of Colorado where they dug into all 4,000 pages of his published works and combed through his over 12,000 footnotes! In the end, the investigation finds 7 alleged errors and/or plagiarism.
Since his firing, Ward has mounted a full-scale lawsuit against the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado and now his coffers are nearly empty. PROTECT YOUR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS!
Detailed Chronology of Events:
Sept. 12, 2001 Prof. Churchill writes an op-ed piece published online by Dark Night Field Notes, giving a “gut reaction” to possible causes of the Sept. 11 attacks. This is later expanded and published as On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality (AK Press, 2003). Neither receives much public attention.
January 26, 2005 A Syracuse, NY newspaper discusses Prof. Churchill’s scheduled lecture at Hamilton College sponsored by the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture. The Kirkland Project had already been targeted by various rightwing organizations, including Lynne Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and David Horowitz’ Center for the Study of Popular Culture and its spin-off, Students for Academic Freedom. A well-coordinated campaign at Hamilton had recently succeeded in forcing cancellation of a class which was to have been taught by former political prisoner Susan Rosenberg (who was to speak on a panel with Prof. Churchill).
Within a few days the story, which focused on two words (“little Eichmanns”) taken out of context from the 2001 op-ed piece, had been picked up by AP, newspapers around the country, and highlighted by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who urged viewers to contact Hamilton College. Both Ward Churchill and Hamilton College soon received thousands of calls, letters and e-mails, including threats of violence and death.
Despite initial vows to protect freedom of speech, Hamilton College President Joan Hinde Stewart cancels the program on January 31. She attributes it to security concerns, but it later becomes clear that threats from alumni to withdraw financial support play a major role in the decision. The director of the Kirkland Project is soon removed and the Project threatened with de-funding.
January 27, 2005 With total disregard for the CU’s written policies on academic freedom, Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano immediately denounces Prof. Churchill’s statements as “abhorrent” and “repugnant.” Two days later Colorado Congressman Bob Beauprez demands Prof. Churchill’s resignation. Beauprez later boasts on the radio that he has discussed the Churchill case with President Bush on Air Force One. Within the week Gov. Bill Owens demands that Prof. Churchill be fired, and both chambers of the Colorado legislature pass resolutions condemning Prof. Churchill and threatening to withhold funds from CU.
February 3, 2005 The CU Board of Regents convenes an emergency meeting. Although billed as a “public meeting,” an undergraduate is immediately arrested for attempting to read a brief statement on behalf of the students. His charges were eventually dropped, but community activist Shareef Aleem faces a sixteen-year prison term for allegedly assaulting officers who attempted to forcibly eject him when he asked why the students were not being allowed to speak.
The Regents issue a blanket “apology” to the entire country for Prof. Churchill’s statements, and accept Chancellor DiStefano’s proposal that he, CU Law dean David Getches, and Arts & Sciences dean Todd Gleeson convene an “ad hoc” committee to determine within 30 days whether any of Prof. Churchill’s public writing or speeches “crossed” some undefined boundary of protected speech. The Regents’ own rules on academic freedom and CU’s internal faculty procedures – to say nothing of the First Amendment – are completely disregarded. CU posts DiStefano’s statements prominently on its website.
February 8, 2005 CU-Boulder students sponsor a speech by Ward Churchill on campus. Interim Chancellor DiStefano attempts to cancel it at the last minute, citing “security” concerns, but the possibility of a federal court injunction persuades him otherwise. More than 1500 people attend; they are orderly and extremely supportive of Prof. Churchill.
Despite on-going efforts by Bill O’Reilly, David Horowitz and his “Students for Academic Freedom,” and even personal communiqués from Governor Bill Owens to College Republican around the country to have his speeches cancelled, during the spring Ward Churchill speaks to large and overwhelmingly supportive audiences at the University of Hawai’i, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the University of California-Berkeley, Reed College, Pitzer College, the University of California-Monterey Bay, and at numerous public events in Denver and the San Francisco Bay area. President Jordan of Eastern Washington University, then vying for a job in Denver, cancels a talk; he is unanimously rebuked by his faculty and his students bring Ward Churchill to speak anyway. Ironically, only the very “liberal” Antioch College and Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon actually cancel scheduled appearances.
February 25, 2005 Nearly 200 tenured faculty members at UC-Boulder take out an ad “demanding that school officials halt their investigation of Ward Churchill’s work. On March 22 this is followed by a full-page open letter endorsed by hundreds of scholars across the country, demanding that the Regents’ and administration’s “utterly gratuitous and inappropriate action[s]” be reversed. During this period thousands of individuals sign petitions supporting Prof. Churchill and hundreds write letters of protest to CU officials.
March 3, 2005 CU President Elizabeth Hoffman warns an emergency session of the Boulder Faculty Assembly of a “new McCarthyism,” pointing out that there is “no question that there’s a real danger that the group of people [who] went after Churchill now feel empowered.” Within 5 days she announces her resignation.
Mid-March 2005 Having bought time with its “ad hoc” investigation of his every word, the University negotiates with Prof. Churchill. He is willing to take early retirement for nominal compensation, but only on the condition that the Regents formally and publicly affirm the University’s processes of academic review and their own rules on academic freedom. They refuse.
March 24, 2005 Interim Chancellor DiStefano, who has never consulted Ward Churchill or even officially informed him of the investigation, publicly announces the findings of the “ad hoc” committee. The Interim Chancellor has discovered, apparently to his surprise, that all of Prof. Churchill’s writings and speeches are protected by the First Amendment. But in the meantime, he states, other allegations have surfaced which require further investigation.
Spring 2005 Beginning in late January the “Churchill controversy” is highlighted by O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Scarborough, and other neoconservative media personalities; a Denver Clear Channel radio station (closely aligned with Fox News) begins devoting 6-8 hours a day to disparaging Ward Churchill, and The O’Reilly Factor highlights Professor Churchill in over 40 segments. The two major Denver newspapers as well as the two Boulder dailies (three of the four now owned by Scripps-Howard) engage in uniformly negative coverage, running 400 stories in the next two months.
This “news” coverage rapidly turns into an all-out attempt at character assassination. The opinions of an ex-wife, former in-laws, and long-term political adversaries are highlighted. Ward Churchill’s driving record, credit history, employment and military record, high school football team, and even baby pictures are scrutinized. One week the theme is vague accounts of heretofore unreported “intimidation” supposedly occurring a decade or two earlier; then supposed misrepresentations of his academic credentials; then claims that he attempted to incite violence. As each set of claims was proven false, reporters simply moved on to another.
The Interim Chancellor now decides to invoke existing faculty procedures and refers numerous allegations culled from this media barrage to CU’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct (SCRM). One set of allegations concerns Prof. Churchill’s interpretation of the U.S. Army’s participation in the spreading of smallpox to Indians and about the implementation of “blood quantum” requirements pursuant to the 1887 General Allotment Act and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. A second set is widely characterized as “plagiarism,” although it is primarily devolves from a claim that Prof. Churchill wrote material published under someone else’s name. In addition, Chancellor DiStefano instructs SCRM to investigate Prof. Churchill’s American Indian identity. Disregarding the University’s own rules on confidentiality, the allegations are released to the press even before Prof. Churchill receives them.
Prof. Churchill protests the investigation as pretextual punishment of protected speech and contests the convening of a racial purity board, but provides SCRM with evidence countering each allegation, including evidence that he meets three standard federal definitions of “American Indian.”
April 25, 2005 Predictably the media feeding frenzy (as well as organized rightwing writing campaigns) has resulted in a barrage of e-mails, telephone calls and letters to Prof. Churchill and the Department of Ethnic Studies. For several weeks the Department cannot otherwise function. While many express support, Prof. Churchill and the Department each receive several thousand hostile and usually virulently racist e-mails. Students of color on the Boulder campus experience a heightened level of racist hostility. Prof. Churchill receives a steady stream of death threats and his home is vandalized. The University ignores all of this; the racist attacks are not condemned and the Department receives no additional support or security. The Ethnic Studies faculty finally sends an Open Letter to the Regents and all of the relevant University administrators, requesting support and attaching excerpts of e-mails which are racist, homophobic and threaten violence. Interim Chancellor DiStefano apparently finds these neither “abhorrent” nor “repugnant.” The Department never receives acknowledgment of its Open Letter from any University official.
May 17-19, 2005 The office of the Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Tahlequah, Oklahoma is overwhelmed by media inquiries concerning Prof. Churchill’s status. On May 17 Prof. Churchill learns that, in the face of this pressure, the Band has issued a statement falsely asserting that he was never on the band rolls. Prof. Churchill issues a response documenting his May 1994 enrollment as an Associate Member; on May 19 the Band confirms this fact.
Summer 2005 Having taught an overload during the spring semester, Prof. Churchill also teaches a Maymester course. He wins a 2005 teaching award, voted on by students, but its sponsor (the CU alumni association) withholds the award “pending the outcome of the investigation,” despite the fact that the allegations have nothing to do with teaching.
Early June 2005 The Rocky Mountain News, having put at least 5 reporters on “special assignment” for several weeks, runs a 5-part, multi-page series with its conclusions on each allegation being investigated by the SCRM in its purportedly “confidential” process. The University spokesperson says that only allegations from individual complainants, not news reports, can be investigated. Immediately thereafter, Interim Chancellor DiStefano, as complainant, sends 59 pages of stories downloaded off the Rocky Mountain News website to the SCRM, which forwards the entire package to Prof. Churchill with instructions to answer “any new allegations.”
Late June 2005 Prof. Churchill files a formal grievance with the faculty Privilege and Tenure (P&T) Committee concerning the pretextual nature of the investigations against him and the University’s violations of his academic freedom, First Amendment, and due process rights. He subsequently files additional grievances concerning the University’s persistent violations of confidentiality and its refusal to grant him a sabbatical. He is eventually informed that the P&T Committee will only consider the grievances about the investigative process after the process has been completed.
August 19, 2005 The SCRM completes its “inquiry” phase. It drops or disregards numerous allegations, including the charge of “ethnic fraud,” but forwards seven allegations for “investigation.” These involve matters of historical interpretation (Prof. Churchill’s attribution of intentionality with respect to two smallpox epidemics and his characterization of the blood quantum requirements of the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act) and questions of attribution of authorship regarding three articles (one he never claimed authorship of; another a pamphlet which a long-defunct political organization had asked him to use; the third a piece which he readily acknowledged to have ghostwritten).
Late August, 2005 Denver newspapers report that Prof. Churchill is scheduled for a sabbatical in the spring semester of 2006. Interim Provost Susan Avery immediately announces that although Prof. Churchill’s sabbatical had been approved by Dean Todd Gleeson almost a year earlier, she had never forwarded it to the Regents for approval. Prof. Churchill files a grievance and, pending its outcome, announces his intent to “un-bank” two of the six overload courses which he had already taught and for which he was owed the equivalent of “comp time.” In October Dean Gleeson refuses to allow Prof. Churchill to un-bank more than one course in the spring. He states that this is because Prof. Churchill needs to be present on campus, but then contradicts himself by suggesting that Prof. Churchill take an unpaid leave. After Prof. Churchill notifies University officials that he will file suit, they concede that he can un-bank courses in the spring and fall of 2006.
Fall-Winter 2005 The SCRM appoints the investigative committee. Because of the poisoned atmosphere within the University, Prof. Churchill requests an entirely external committee including experts in his field of American Indian Studies. Given the prior actions of law dean David Getches, Prof. Churchill specifically objects to the inclusion of CU law faculty. SCRM chair Joseph Rosse appoints a committee dominated by 3 CU insiders and chaired by a CU law professor. The two outside members include an American Indian Studies expert and a native professor of federal Indian law. Local media pundits immediately begin bashing the two outsiders for having previously made general statements acknowledging the importance of Prof. Churchill’s work. Within 48 hours the two outside members resign, leaving the committee without an expert in the field and without any persons of color. Two additional members are eventually appointed, a white federal Indian law scholar and a Chicano anthropologist. The committee proceeds without any American Indian scholars or experts in American Indian studies.
Winter-Spring 2006 Prof. Churchill submits voluminous responses to and meets with the investigative committee. Because of the committee’s lack of knowledge of the field, much of his time is devoted to basic questions of history and methodology. Four American Indian scholars appear as witnesses to confirm his interpretation of historical matters, as well as the methodology and standards employed in American Indian Studies and in native oral traditions. The committee refuses Prof. Churchill’s repeated requests for extensions of time to submit responses, and only allows him to question witnesses – even his own – by typing questions and e-mailing them.
May 16, 2006 The investigative committee issues an obtuse 124-page report which, despite its many concessions to the flaws in the process, concludes that Prof. Churchill did engage in research misconduct on the seven allegations. Contradicting the evidence presented by all of the American Indian witnesses, the entirely non-Indian committee accuses Prof. Churchill of “disrespecting” American Indian oral traditions. The committee concludes that these are offenses for which a tenured faculty member can be fired, and the members recommend that Prof. Churchill be terminated or suspended for several years. The severity of recommended sanctions appears to be a result of what the report describes as Prof. Churchill’s “bad attitude.” The report was immediately criticized on many grounds, substantive and procedural. (Click here for problems with the report.)
June 16, 2006 Interim Chancellor DiStefano, who has thus far publicly condemned Prof. Churchill, convened an inquiry into “every word” he has published or publicly uttered, solicited allegations and then forwarded them to the SCRM as “complainant,” now serves as sentencing judge, sanctioning the investigative committee’s report and recommending that Prof. Churchill be fired. DiStefano, too, cites Prof. Churchill’s “attitude.”
Prof. Churchill files an internal appeal with the Privilege & Tenure Committee.
April 11, 2007 A review panel convened by CU’s Privilege & Tenure (P&T) Committee concludes that but for the “controversy” over Ward Churchill’s statements regarding 9/11 the investigation would not have occurred. It also finds that the SCRM Investigative Committee “exceeded its charge” in a number of cases, and that the University failed to meet its burden of proof on others, including the claims about misrepresenting the blood quantum requirements of the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the 1990 Indian Arts and Craft Act.
Nonetheless, the P&T Panel concludes that Prof. Churchill engaged in research misconduct on some specifics concerning the 1837 smallpox epidemic, and failed to comply with (unspecified) standards concerning author attribution. The majority of the Panel recommends a 1-year suspension.
May 10, 2007 Research misconduct complaint against the SCRM Investigative Committee filed by 11 professors, including 2 experts in American Indian Studies alleging deliberate falsification and fabrication in their Report. (Never investigated by CU.)
May 28, 2007 Another set of research misconduct allegations filed against the SCRM Committee by 5 professors and 2 attorneys. (Never investigated by CU.)
June 7, 2007 CU President Hank Brown refuses to recuse himself from Ward Churchill case despite his longstanding ties to ACTA. He then overrides the P&T Panel to recommend to the Regents that they fire Ward Churchill.
July 10, 2007 A P&T review panel belatedly addresses a grievance filed by Ward Churchill in September 2005 regarding the University’s violations of its own rules on confidentiality. The panel concludes that “the actions by the University regarding the SCRM process and press releases/conferences violated Churchill’s confidentiality. In addition, the panel finds that further harm to Churchill’s reputation was done by the delay in hearing his grievance by the Privilege and Tenure Committee.”
July 10, 2007 Churchill fired by Board of Regents
This finding, of course, comes too late to redress any of the harm caused by these breaches of University rules.
July 12, 18, and 19, 2007 Still more research misconduct complaints are filed against the SCRM Investigative Committee. (Never investigated.)
July 24, 2007 The Regents of the University of Colorado vote 8-1 to fire Ward Churchill. Only Regent Cindy Carlisle votes to accept the P&T Panel’s findings.
July 25, 2007 David Lane immediately files suit to vindicate Ward Churchill’s rights under the First Amendment.
March 9-27, 2009: Churchill v. University of Colorado scheduled for trial in Denver State Court.