BOULDER, Colo. A besieged University of Colorado professor who likened Sept. 11 victims to Nazis got a standing ovation when he told a campus audience of more than 1,000 people that “I’m not backing up an inch.”
Ward Churchill, who had filed a lawsuit after the state-funded university threatened to cancel his address, was interrupted several times by thunderous applause.
Churchill has resigned as chairman of the university’s ethnic studies department. Gov. Bill Owens has called for Churchill to be fired, and the university’s Board of Regents is investigating whether the tenured professor can be removed.
“I don’t answer to Bill Owens. I do not answer to the Board of Regents in the way they think I do. The regents should do their job and let me do mine,” Churchill said to thunderous clapping. “I’m not backing up an inch. I owe no one an apology.”
In an essay, Churchill wrote that workers in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who ensured the smooth running of the Nazi system. Churchill also spoke of the “gallant sacrifices” of the “combat teams” that struck America.
The ethnic studies professor said yesterday that his essay was referring to “technocrats” who participate in what he calls repressive American policies around the world.
A longtime American Indian Movement activist, Churchill said he was also culpable because his efforts to change the system hadn’t succeeded. “I could do more. I’m complicit. I’m not innocent,” he said.
The Boulder Faculty Assembly, which represents professors at the Boulder campus, has said Churchill’s comments were “controversial, offensive and odious” but supports his right to say them based on the principle of academic freedom.
During his 35-minute speech, Churchill said the essay was not referring to children, firefighters, janitors or people passing by the World Trade Center who were killed during the attacks.
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.
Citing those same concerns, University of Colorado officials on Feb. 7 canceled Churchill’s talk, prompting Churchill and several groups to file a lawsuit yesterday asking a judge to force the school to let him speak. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn had scheduled a hearing but canceled it after the university backed off plans to cancel Churchill’s speech.
According to the Denver Post, Vice Chancellor Ron Stump issued a statement yesterday, saying that the university decided to allow the talk to proceed after meeting with student organizers “who retracted their earlier reports of death threats and urged us to allow the event to go forward.”
The crowd last night was loud and orderly as Churchill spoke: “I do not work for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado. I do not work for Bill Owens. I work for you,” he said.
About two dozen police officers were scattered inside and around the ballroom where the speech was given. Most of those attending supported Churchill.
“I’ve read some of Ward’s work,” said 26-year-old Vinita Laroia, an environmental studies major. “I think what he has to say is true and interesting. I wanted to hear his actual voice say what he’s thinking.”
The ACLU issued a statement defending Churchill’s right to speak out and called on regents, legislators and the governor “to stop threatening Mr. Churchill’s job because of the content of his opinions.”
David Horowitz, a champion of conservative causes who has long accused American universities of overstocking their faculties with leftists, has said firing Churchill would violate his First Amendment rights and set a bad precedent.
He called instead for an inquiry into the university’s hiring and promotion procedures to see how Churchill managed to rise to the chairmanship of the school’s ethnic studies department.