AURORA, Colo. University of Colorado administrators have taken the first steps toward a possible dismissal of a professor who likened World Trade Center victims to a notorious Nazi.
CU-Boulder Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano said yesterday he would launch a 30-day review of Ward Churchill’s speeches and writings to determine whether the American Indian Movement activist and tenured professor overstepped his boundaries of academic freedom, and whether that should be grounds for dismissal.
At the same time, the Board of Regents met yesterday and apologized to “all Americans” for Churchill’s comments and voted to support the university’s review.
Afterward CU Regent Peter Steinhauer said the national attention on the university, a year after it battled allegations regarding its football recruiting program, would hurt the school.
“This will affect us financially, not only in students coming here, but in donations. It’s not going to help,” he said.
Dozens of students and observers attended the meeting, sometimes drowning out the regents while shouting out comments and applauding each other. Two people were arrested.
The regents, who have received thousands of e-mails, letters and calls this week regarding Churchill, opened the meeting saying they would not take public comment, prompting an outcry from some students who showed up to support Churchill.
“This is McCarthyism at its best,” ethnic studies major Dustin Craun shouted at the regents before he was escorted out of the meeting. University officials said Craun had been arrested for disrupting a public meeting.
Later, Shareef Aleem was arrested after shouting and struggling with police officers. He was being held in the city jail on $10,000 bond yesterday evening on suspicion of second-degree assault on an officer and disorderly conduct, university spokeswoman Sarah Ellis said. It was unclear whether he was a student.
The furor erupted last month after Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Campus officials discovered that an essay and follow-up book by Churchill characterized the Sept. 11 attacks as a response to a long history of U.S. abuses abroad, particularly against indigenous peoples.
Among other things, he said those killed in the trade center were “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized Nazi plans to exterminate European Jews. The college canceled Churchill’s appearance, citing death threats and concerns about security.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens has called for Churchill to be fired, and Churchill has resigned as chair of CU’s ethnic-studies department.
Churchill, whose pickup truck was vandalized with swastikas in front of his Boulder home on Feb. 1, has promised to sue the school if he is removed.
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about Churchill’s claim of Cherokee heritage. Churchill told The Denver Post he is three-sixteenths Cherokee, though not a full member of the Keetoowah band.
At the regents meeting, Steven Crow, a 64-year-old CU-Denver architecture student, told the students they had prevented the regents from exercising free speech, then called them “fascist thugs.” He said Churchill had a right to free speech but called Churchill’s comments “stupid.”
About a dozen professors were present, including law professor Barbara Bintliff, chairwoman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly. She said the professors were there to support the principle of academic freedom.
CU President Elizabeth Hoffman said she hoped students, faculty and citizens would understand the importance of civil debate and dissent, and that faculty would understand the responsibility that comes with free speech.
Regent Tom Lucero said yesterday he wanted to revise policies for disciplining faculty, and that Churchill’s statements furthered his urge to review whether any university courses or departments need to be cut.
Earlier in the day, the state Senate passed a resolution denouncing Churchill’s comments as “evil and inflammatory.” The nonbinding resolution was identical to one passed Feb. 2 by the House.