A University of Colorado professor who ignited a firestorm by likening the World Trade Center victims to Nazis received a standing ovation Tuesday from a crowd of more than a thousand who packed a ballroom to hear him speak.
University officials had announced plans to cancel the speech because of security concerns then backed off after Ward Churchill filed a lawsuit earlier Tuesday asking a judge to force the school to let him speak.
More than two dozen campus police officers inside the ballroom used handheld metal detectors to scan attendees for weapons. It was not immediately clear if police found any.
CU Professor Ward Churchill came under fire for an essay he wrote about the the World Trade Center attacks.
Outside the ballroom, about 250 people who were turned away, listened to Churchill's speech on speakers set up by university officials.
The crowd was loud and orderly as an Churchill, who's writings and speeches face a 30 day university review that could lead to his dismissal, spoke: "I do not work for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado. I do not work for (Gov.) Bill Owens. I work for you," he said to thunderous applause.
"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."
Most of those attending the rally were in support of 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 ethnic studies professor and American Indian Movement activist called some Sept. 11 victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jews.
Churchill said he was referring to "technocrats" who participate in what he calls repressive American policies around the world. He said those include Iraqi trade sanctions after the first Gulf War that have been blamed for the deaths of 500,000 children.
The university allowed Churchill to speak, after earlier canceling the speech over security concerns.
The announcement from CU came as a federal judge was prepared to rule on a motion for a court order to allow Churchill to speak at the university. Churchill, the students who organized the speech, and others were in federal court in Denver earlier, asking for the temporary restraining order and injunction to allow the speech to continue as originally scheduled.
CU Vice Chancellor Ron Stump issued a statement Tuesday afternoon that said earlier fears of death threats were unfounded:
"We met again with students who retracted their earlier reports of death threats and urged us to allow the event to go forward. In this meeting, the organizers provided additional information about the structure of the event. Therefore, based on this information, we have decided to allow the event to proceed as originally contemplated."
Before he spoke Tuesday evening, Churchill was asked why he felt his message should be heard.
"That's the function of a professor. Thats the function of the institution. That seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of whether people like what I said or not. I'm supposed to say what they don't like to hear in order to force them to confront it," Churchill said in an exclusive interview with 7NEWS.
Churchill attorney David Lane said CU was obligated to provide security for Churchill -- and that the real reason officials canceled the lecture was because they're embarrassed by him, and don't want to deal with the controversy.
Churchill's essay caught little attention until he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Hamilton later canceled the appearance because of security concerns, as did Eastern Washington University in Washington state, and Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
Churchill has resigned as chairman of the ethnic studies department at CU, but his "welcome letter" written as head of the department to students is still posted on the school's Web site.
To read Churchill's complete essay, "Some People Push Back," click hereTo read what Churchill has to say in his defense, click here. To read Gov. Owens' letter, calling for Churchill to resign click here.To read CU's rules for dismissal for a tenured professor, click here.
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