MADISON, Wis. A Colorado professor who once compared some World Trade Center victims to a Nazi war criminal will be allowed to speak at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater next month, a decision the chancellor said was repugnant but necessary under First Amendment principles of free speech.
The Feb. 10 decision sparked outrage among state lawmakers, who said they would ask the UW System president to intervene to block the speech by Ward Churchill.
UW-Whitewater Chancellor Jack Miller said in a statement he had decided to honor an invitation for Churchill to speak at the campus 40 miles southeast of Madison despite the controversy over comments the University of Colorado professor made about the Sept. 11 attacks.
Miller laid out requirements he said must be met to ensure the March 1 speech would go off as planned, including assurances that the university can guarantee the safety of the campus, visitors and Churchill.
While calling Churchill’s comments “grossly inappropriate,” Miller said it would be up to students, staff and others to judge the professor’s comments.
“I have worked to make an informed decision, not the popular or politically expedient one,” Miller said.
He also said in a statement that no taxpayer money would be used to pay Churchill’s honorarium or travel expenses.
Republican State Rep. Steve Nass began circulating a resolution Feb. 10 to condemn Miller’s decision. Nass said he hoped the full Legislature would vote on the resolution next week. Nass questioned why the university would allow someone to speak who had engaged in what he called anti-American hate speech.
“The bottom line is common sense has to prevail here,” said Nass, who graduated from Whitewater in 1978. “This is hate speech. The chancellor is saying it’s OK to bring hate speech to the university so long as it does not cost the university money.”
Churchill came under fire after it became widely reported that an essay he wrote likened workers in the World Trade Center to “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who ensured the smooth running of the Nazi system.
Churchill made the comparison in an essay written hours after the 2001 attacks and later revised for a book.
The ethnic studies professor has said his essay refers to “technocrats” who participate in what he calls repressive American policies around the world.
The essay and follow-up book attracted little attention until Churchill was invited to speak last month at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., which later canceled his talk out of security concerns. Other schools have canceled planned speeches by the professor because of similar worries.
Churchill, a longtime American Indian Movement activist, was invited to speak at UW-Whitewater six months ago on the topic of racism and American Indians. He did not return a call the Associated Press left at the university or respond to an e-mail.