First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
University of Colorado balks at firing professor for comments

By The Associated Press
03.25.05

DENVER — University of Colorado officials said yesterday the First Amendment bars them from firing a professor for comparing some of the Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi, but they launched an investigation into claims he committed plagiarism and falsely claimed to be an American Indian.

Professor Ward Churchill’s comments were “profoundly offensive, abusive and misguided” but “constitute political expression” protected by the Constitution, acting Chancellor Phil DiStefano said in a report anxiously awaited by faculty at the Boulder school and beyond.

However, DiStefano said a faculty committee would examine the other allegations and could recommend that Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, be fired or disciplined. That review could take up to nine months, he said.

Churchill touched off a national furor with an essay calling some of the World Trade Center victims “Little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the Holocaust.

Churchill said the finding on free speech was a vindication but called the other allegations a pretext for an attempt to fire him.

“The motive remains the speech,” he said in an interview. He denied plagiarizing anyone, defended his scholarship and insisted he is part Indian.

His attorney, David Lane, called the report “slanted and biased.”

“Every aspect of this was on free speech, then it became a ‘let’s trash Ward Churchill’ marathon,” he said.

The report, issued after a seven-week investigation, said three professors at other universities accused Churchill of plagiarizing an article on Indian fishing rights, misinterpreting federal Indian law or fabricating details in arguing that the Army committed genocide against Indians.

It also said Churchill may have gained credibility and a wider audience for his writings by claiming Indian ancestry, “yet there is serious doubt about his Indian identity.”

Churchill’s 9/11 essay has sparked outrage from two governors and prompted a national debate about free speech and tenure, which generally protects university faculty from discipline for their views. The school yesterday also said it would review its tenure process.

The university’s Board of Regents voted to form a panel to examine the way the school’s four campuses award tenure and the way professors are evaluated after they get it. University President Elizabeth Hoffman said some changes were likely at the conclusion of the review.

Churchill wrote his 9/11 essay hours after the 2001 attacks, but it received little attention until January, when he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in New York. A professor there said he found the essay on the Internet and called it to the attention of the student newspaper.

Churchill has said the essay argues that some of those killed in the World Trade Center were not innocent victims because they were participating in what he said is an unfair American economic system that provoked the terrorist attacks. But New York Gov. George Pataki and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens called for Churchill’s firing, as did relatives of the victims.

The essay also resulted in a number of death threats against Churchill.

Owens said yesterday he still believes Churchill should be fired, but understands the school must review the separate allegations.

The Board of Regents for a time considered a buyout of Churchill’s contract, but talks were scrapped after the plagiarism allegations surfaced.

DiStefano said he and Deans Todd Gleeson and David Getches, who assisted him in the investigation, did not review allegations that Churchill had physically threatened or intimidated others because they fell outside the scope of the panel. Churchill has denied those allegations.

The university has a strict, lengthy review process it must follow before firing a tenured professor. The school has dismissed two tenured professors in the past five years: one case took two years; the other took three, university spokeswoman Pauline Hale said.

Churchill’s case will now proceed as follows, according to Hale and DiStefano:

  • The panel’s report will be given to the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct, a panel of university faculty members. Their review could take up to nine months.
  • The committee, which could recommend that Churchill be fired, will give its report to the vice chancellor for academic affairs, who will make a recommendation to the chancellor.
  • If the chancellor believes Churchill should be fired, a “notice of intent to dismiss” will be given to the professor. Churchill could appeal the decision to the Committee of Privilege and Tenure, which would hold a series of hearings and make a recommendation to the university president.
  • The president is not required to follow the recommendation.
  • If the president believes the professor shouldn’t be fired, the case ends.
  • If the president believes dismissal is warranted, the recommendation will be given to the Board of Regents, the university’s publicly elected governing board.
  • The nine regents then make the final decision on whether to fire a tenured professor.

Update
Faculty committee finds fault with controversial professor
University of Colorado panel says Ward Churchill repeatedly fabricated research, plagiarized others' work, veered from basic principles of scholarship. 05.20.06

 
First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
Court hears dispute over another Tennessee commandments display

By The Associated Press
05.07.02

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge heard two hours of arguments yesterday on whether to order the Ten Commandments removed from the Rutherford County Courthouse.

U.S. District Judge Robert Echols did not rule from the bench nor indicate when he would rule on the request for a preliminary injunction filed by the Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union and several local residents.

Commissioners in Rutherford County, southeast of Nashville, voted in April to post the Ten Commandments along with eight other documents, including the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independence.

The county was represented by Erik W. Stanley, an attorney for Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Fla.-based group that describes itself as a civil liberties advocacy group devoted to preserving religious freedom.

Stanley argued that the Ten Commandments are historical as well as religious.

"This is a historical display intended to convey a historical message," he told Echols. "The message we are sending is that the Ten Commandments and other religious documents have played a role in the foundation of our system of law and government."

Nashville attorney George Barrett argued on behalf of the ACLU that the Ten Commandments are the only religious document in the display and said that constitutes an endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment.

"What message do you send if you take all these secular documents and stick one religious document in there?" he said. "That it has the same weight as the others. That is an establishment of religion. It promotes a religion. It is an impermissible intertwining of state and religion."

Stanley argued that a ruling May 3 by U.S. District Judge Allan Edgar in a Chattanooga case should have no bearing on Echols' decision because the Chattanooga displays included the Ten Commandments only. Edgar ordered the display taken down.

Barrett made repeated reference to a Kentucky case handled by Stanley in which what he called "tinkering" — the addition of non-religious documents in an effort to find something the courts would uphold — also failed to pass the court's scrutiny.

"History is replete with the disaster of government supporting one religion over another," Barrett said. "There is nothing more divisive than this. The founders were clearly mindful of that history."

Rutherford County is the latest of several Tennessee counties to post the biblical laws. More than half of the state's 95 counties have approved the displays and more than 30 have posted the Ten Commandments — some decades ago. Washington County in northeast Tennessee has had such a display for more than 80 years.

Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers issued an opinion last month deeming Ten Commandments displays on government property an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

Echols did not take testimony from either side. He accepted their written legal arguments as well as the tapes from three county commission meetings at which the Ten Commandments were discussed.


Previous
Update
University head says professor won't be fired for comments
But Colorado president, who resigned today, says Ward Churchill could face dismissal if 30-day review uncovers misconduct. 03.07.05

Related
Another Tennessee county ordered to remove commandments display
Judge says it was difficult 'to reach any conclusion other than that the sole purpose of erecting the challenged display was for the advancement of a religious purpose.' 06.24.02

Related


University of Colorado explores dismissing outspoken professor

Interim chancellor launches 30-day review of Ward Churchill's speeches, writings to determine if his comments about 9/11 victims overstepped boundaries of academic freedom. 02.04.05

State attorney general calls Ten Commandments displays unconstitutional
Opinion comes amid push to have all 95 Tennessee counties adopt resolutions in favor of posting religious codes in government buildings. 04.05.02

Push for Ten Commandments displays gains momentum in South
Supporters see effort as way of encouraging morality, but civil libertarians view campaign as affront to nation's fundamental principles. 04.12.02

County loses fight over Ten Commandments displays
Federal judge orders Tennessee officials to remove plaques from two courthouses, ruling postings violate church-state separation. 05.06.02

Maryland teen questions commandments monument in city park
Student's letter prompts debate over whether Frederick officials should remove stone tablet. 05.16.02

Ohio judge told to remove Ten Commandments poster
Federal court rules James DeWeese's courtroom display is unconstitutional 'because the debate he seeks to foster is inherently religious in character.' 06.13.02

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News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Monday, September 22, 2008 | 20:34:07
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Sings™
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links