A University of Colorado professor has been fired after a two-year saga with the university in which the professor was accused of plagiarism and research misconduct.
The CU Board of Regents announced its 8 to 1 vote to fire Ward Churchill just after 5:35 p.m., bringing the daylong executive session to an end Tuesday.
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, said he will file a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the school accusing CU of violating Churchill's free speech rights.
"Within a year, hopefully, we will have a trial," Lane said. "We are out of kangaroo court and going to real court and that's a plus for today."
"I am going no where," Churchill said.
If Churchill wins the lawsuit, Lane said the school could end up paying Churchill's legal fees and may have to reinstate him.
"(Today's) message is, there will be a payback for free speech," Lane added.
The board cited academic misconduct as its reason for firing Churchill.
Churchill's supporters met him with T-shirts, signs and drums following the board's decision.
Lane said he and his client are now on the offense. Churchill will receive one year's salary as a tenured professor, following his dismissal, CU officials said.
Rep. Mark Udall supported the board's decision to fire Churchill in a released statement: "Academic freedom goes hand-in-hand with freedom of speech. Even the most controversial and unpopular of views will inevitably find a safe haven in our colleges and universities. That doesn't mean that all ideas are equal in force or that inflammatory ideas are beyond reproach. Nor does it excuse teachers or professors for uttering nonsense and calling it instruction."
Udall added that Churchill's actions went far beyond giving voice to reprehensible points of views and that his dismissal was about his academic conduct.
"It is a shame that Ward Churchill still tries to deny the disservice he has done to CU by claiming the University is interfering with his right to free speech. It is self-serving, dishonest, and quite frankly, deeply disappointing," Udall said. "I am grateful that this sad chapter in CU's history is closed so that we can better focus attention on the exceptional work being done at our world-class university."
Within minutes of an 8 a.m. meeting Tuesday, the CU Board of Regents decided to go into executive session to discuss whether to fire Churchill.
Churchill and Lane argued their case before the board, but said they wanted to do it publicly. But the board voted to go into executive session, behind closed doors, to hear the case.
"I have not so much agreed as demanded that the process be open for public review today," Churchill said. "Regents have refused, citing rules that have been violated by the university every step along the way, as you all well know, because you've been at the press conferences reporting our comments."
Churchill spoke from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. before the board. His attorney, David Lane, said that the regents were genuinely interested and asked a lot of questions. Lane said he still thought they would fire Churchill, adding that if that happens, he will file a lawsuit in Denver District Court.
Lane called the closed-door meeting a "scripted performance" by the regents, saying he believes that the board had already made their decision to fire Churchill.
"This is all being done behind closed doors out of the public's eye and that's wrong. This a matter of first amendment public concern and the public should see exactly how this process works. Secret proceedings are an anathema to a free society," Lane said. "Executive session, it's you know, when you turn the light of day on these kinds of things, you get a different result than when things are done behind closed doors.
"The more the public sees, the more the public knows, the more they will realize that this is a political maneuver and that Ward Churchill's termination is based solely on his free speech," Lane said.
Lane and Churchill had a set amount of time to talk to the board. No new evidence was presented at Tuesday's meeting. The board also heard from university counsel before they opened the meeting to announce their decision to either fire Churchill or to discipline him.
"Well, the scripted performance calls for the body to be brought out at 4 p.m. and laid on the front steps of the UMC, for media purposes. The regents will then have a press conference and then the newly, dearly departed will also be addressing the media probably at that point also. So that is how the regent's scripted performance will be proceeding," Lane said.
Lane said if they do fire Churchill, they will be headed to federal court on Wednesday.
"They do not want the public to see their deliberative process. We oppose that. We think this should be wide open to the public. And all court proceedings tomorrow, after they fire Professor Churchill today, starting tomorrow, the public will have access to all court proceedings, which is one of the reasons we want this aired in court," Lane said.
Churchill has a lot of detractors, but a few supporters as well.
"I don't think there's been any kind of a witch hunt like this before. I've been here for 17 years and I've never seen anything like this, on any campus that I've been a part of," said CU Professor Margaret LeCompte.
Churchill came under fire for an essay likening the victims in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, who helped carry out the Holocaust.
After a yearlong investigation, the school determined that Churchill's essay is protected under the First Amendment but the investigation uncovered new claims of plagerization and falsification of research.
An investigating committee found that Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, manufactured facts in some of his essays and plagiarized the work of others, including articles and art.
"We determined his writings were protected under the First Amendment. But there were allegations of research misconduct," said CU interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
"This process has only dealt with his falsification of research -- not at all with his public opinions and views. It's 40 percent of what our tenured faculty get paid for. It's the source of $640 million," said CU President Hank Brown.
Both Brown, an interim chancellor and a faculty committee have recommended that Churchill be fired. But another panel -- the Privilege and Tenure Committee -- recommended that he be suspended for one year without pay and a demotion.
Regent Cindy Carlisle cast the only no vote. Board Chair Pat Hayes said during a press conference that Carlisle didn't deny the charges, but was more concerned about the effort to discharge Churchill.
Churchill said the allegations of academic misconduct are completely bogus. He has remained on paid administrative leave since May 2006, at a salary of $96,000 a year -- a salary paid by Colorado taxpayers since CU is a public school.
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