A judge refused Tuesday to reinstate a University of Colorado professor who was fired on plagiarism charges -- essentially reversing a jury ruling that seemed to have vindicated him.
If it stands, the ruling means Ward Churchill cannot return to the classroom even though a jury ruled in April that his firing was politically motivated.
"We believe the judge appropriately applied the law to recognize the Board of Regents' role as a quasi-judicial body. This ruling recognizes that the regents have to make important and difficult decisions. The threat of litigation should not be used to influence those decisions," said University of Colorado President Bruce D. Benson on Tuesday.
CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano told students in a letter, "While legal maneuvers in this case will likely continue, I believe this to be an appropriate ruling that vindicates our defense of academic integrity at CU-Boulder."
"From the beginning, we have held that this was not a case involving free speech, but a case centered in the most fundamental of our values: academic honesty and truth in scholarship," DiStefano said. "These are values that guide our faculty, that we impart to our students, and that the public expects of us. We stood for them in a court of law, and more importantly, we must continue to stand for them in our daily work at CU."
Churchill wrote an essay after the 2001 terrorist attacks calling the World Trade Center victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who helped orchestrate the Holocaust.
University officials were pressured to fire Churchill after that essay gained wide attention in 2005, but they concluded they couldn't because of First Amendment protections.
However, they launched an investigation into the research behind his other writings, and in 2007 he was fired on the plagiarism charges and other research misconduct allegations.
But a Denver jury in April 2009 ruled that he wasn't fired over academic issues but because of his controversial political views.
That ruling included only a symbolic damage award of $1.
In court last week, Churchill testified that money was not his motivation for this lawsuit. He said he simply wanted his job back.
The university vigorously opposed Churchill's reinstatement, saying his firing was justified and that if he did return, the relationship between him and the university "would not be an amicable one."
University officials also said they feared other teachers would leave if Churchill returned.
Naves agreed saying: "If I granted reinstatement, I believe there is a substantial likelihood that there would be future disputes about the propriety of Professor Churchill's academic conduct ... Under these circumstances and recognizing that the University's faculty must have the ability to define the standards of scholarship, I am persuaded that reinstatement is not an appropriate remedy in this case."
"The fundamental disagreements between the parties lead me to conclude that 'an absence of mutual trust' makes reinstatement unfeasible," Naves said.
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, said he will appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Lane said the judge's ruling means the regents could fire Churchill if they don't like what he says, or even because of his race or religion.
"This judge says that's OK," Lane said. "If your First Amendment rights are violated by the state of Colorado, don't look for justice in Denver District Court."
Timeline Of Churchill's Case
If it seems like this controversy has lasted for years, it has.
While his controversial essay "The Justice Of Roosting Chickens" was written shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, they became widespread knowledge after Churchill was invited to speak at a college in New York in 2005.
Within a week that appearance had been canceled and Churchill had resigned as the chair of the ethnic studies department at CU.
By March 2005, a faculty committee was looking into charges of plagiarism and Churchill's ethnicity because he had claimed to be a Native American.
In May 2006, the committee ruled Churchill fabricated his research and plagiarized others' work.
It took another year for the regents to fire Churchill for plagiarism, academic fraud and research misconduct allegations. That was July 2007. A day later, Churchill sued.
In April of this year, a jury hearing his civil suit ruled Churchill was wrongly fired but on Tuesday, a judge refused to reinstate Churchill as a CU professor.
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