At a meeting Thursday disrupted by demonstrators, the University of Colorado Board of Regents issued an apology to "all Americans" for a professor's comparison of World Trade Center victims to Nazis as administrators began a probe that could lead to his firing.
A 30 day review of Ward Churchill's speeches and writings would determine whether the American Indian Movement activist and tenured professor should be removed from his post, interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano said. At least one person was arrested and another led away in handcuffs for disrupting the meeting called after a week of high-profile criticism of Churchill's comments. The regents said they would not take public comment because it was a special meeting, prompting an outcry from some of the 35 students who showed up to support Ward Churchill with signs that read "protect academic freedom" and "witch hunt." "Please understand you're going to start a new era of McCarthyism if you allow this," ethnic studies major Dustin Craun shouted at the regents before he was escorted out of the meeting. Another man shouted, "please invite us to your next book burning." University officials said Craun had been arrested for disrupting a public meeting.Gov. Bill Owens quickly issued a statement condemning the disruptions:"I appreciate the fact that the C.U. Regents have taken the necessary first step in the formal evaluation of Ward Churchills employment status. However, I deplore the behavior displayed by some students at the Regents meeting," he said in a prepared statement. "Their abhorrent behavior underscores the culture of violence that can be spawned by inflammatory speeches and essays, such as those by Mr. Churchill." 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.Churchill has resigned as the head of CU's ethnic studies department but now there are calls for Churchill to leave the university entirely -- either by his own accord or by force.Thursday's meeting is not the usual course of action for the board but in light of the national furor over Churchill's Sept. 11 essay, the regents felt it was necessary to hold a special emergency meeting to discuss whether he is and can be protected by tenure.The regents will hear from Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano on what actions he plans for the professor, as well as from a university lawyer on what they can legally do.Earlier Thursday, the state Senate passed a resolution similar to the one the house unanimously approved Wednesday. The Senate resolution condemns Churchill's writings and calls for Colorado's most prestigious public university to place Churchill on immediate administrative leave while the university gives the professor due process and resolves legal questions in terminating his contract. It also said Churchill should immediately removed from the classroom."Even if we have to continue to pay his $94,000-a-year salary for a period to time, it is worth it to make sure he is not teaching our kids and continuing to damage the reputation of the University of Colorado," said Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock. "By passing this resolution, we say forthrightly to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world that we stand with the families of the victims in 9-11 and we in no way view the innocent people who were in the Pentagon, or who died in a pasture in Pennsylvania, or in the World Trade Center, were anything but innocent bystanders."
The resolution passed on a vote of 34-1, with the lone dissenter being Democratic Sen. Peter Groff.Gov. Bill Owens is also weighing in on the professor and is asking CU president Betsy Hoffman to fire Churchill if he refuses to resign. Owens said he doesn't believe tenure should protect Churchill in this instance."I support academic tenure if it's given to those people who earned it and have shown by their views that they respect the institution and the country that they live in," Owens said.Owens said that after reading more of Churchill's writings, he is extremely upset that Churchill is using his position as a professor to spread his distorted beliefs."I think he should have the right to say whatever he wants to as an American. I don't think we should have to legitimize him from the university standpoint by giving him that title," Owens said.Owens believes that CU has the legal grounds to terminate Churchill's employment.In his essay, which is incorporated in his book "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," Churchill characterized the 2001 attacks as a response to a long history of U.S. abuses.His views had received little notice until Hamilton College near Utica, New York invited him to join a panel discussion that was to have been held Thursday night. School officials canceled the event this week after receiving more than 100 death threats directed toward college representatives and Churchill himself. (Read Related Story About Swastikas Painted On Churchill's Truck.)Despite the death threats and the controversy, Churchill will speak about his book at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in the University Memorial Center's Glenn Miller Ballroom.According to the rules of the university, a tenured professor can only be fired for demonstrable professional incompetence, neglect of duty, insubordination, conviction of a felony or any offense involving moral turpitude, sexual harassment and other conduct that falls below minimum standards of professional integrity. David Lane, who said he would represent Churchill in the event he was fired, said with the threat of a lawsuit would prevent the regents from demanding the professor's dismissal."There will be much tongue-clucking and hand-wringing by the board over Ward Churchill and that's about it, because they know if they harm one hair on his professorial head, they will find themselves in federal district court so fast that they won't have time to write the check," Lane said.He argued that the CU, as a publicly funded university, cannot dismiss employees who engage in inflammatory speech because it would constitute state action to squelch free speech. "That First Amendment prevents the state government from punishing an employee from engaging in free speech. It would be a slam-dunk -- a first-year law student could win this one," Lane had said.The regents meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m.
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Shareef Aleem was the second person arrested during a meeting of the CU Board of Regents.
- 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.
- February 3, 2005: Vandals Paint Swastikas On CU Prof's Truck
- February 2, 2005: Gov. Owens Says CU Professor Should Be Fired
- February 1, 2005: CU Prof's Appearance In New York Canceled
- January 31, 2005: Controversial CU Prof Resigns As Department Chair
- January 28, 2005: School Won't Cancel CU Prof's Controversial Appearance
- January 27, 2005: CU Distances Itself From Prof.'s Controversial 9/11 Remarks
- January 26, 2005: CU Professor Who Suggested 9/11 Attacks Were Justified Stirs Protest