CU President: 'Dangerous Times' For Academic Freedom

Hoffman Responds To Faculty Concerns Over Churchill Issues

University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said it's a dangerous time for academic freedom.

Hoffman warned faculty members during a passionate speech Thursday about what she called "a new McCarthyism." Hoffman said she's concerned that critics going after controversial professor Ward Churchill now feel "empowered."

Hoffman spoke to about 40 faculty members about a wide range of topics as part of a regularly-scheduled meeting of the Faculty Assembly.

Hoffman only commented briefly on the grand jury report about CU's football recruiting scandal, stating that it's time to focus on solving problems and not rehashing issues.

Most of the faculty wanted to talk about Churchill, many of whom said they are fearful that because of the Churchill debate, any professor who speaks out will be subject to an investigation.

Hoffman said academic freedom comes with a heavy burden of responsibility, and she defended the school's investigation of Churchill's work.

She said the university is bound by federal law to investigate allegations of faculty misconduct and said issues surrounding Churchill go beyond free speech.

She said she's a "tiger" on issues of academic freedom and that if action is taken against Churchill, it will not be because of his controversial statements.

"Obviously, if we find that it is just about speech, there will be no action," she said. "And you have my commitment on that, and we'll take a lot of heat ... I've had really tough discussions with lawmakers, supporters of the university, with the governor himself, about the issue of speech and the fact that you do not even suggest somebody should be fired or disciplined for speech."

The faculty applauded after she gave her remarks.

Next week, CU Regents are expected to review a report on Churchill's writings and speeches to determine if there are grounds to fire him.

Churchill, a tenured ethnic studies professor, has come under intense criticism since a 3-year-old essay he wrote about victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks received worldwide attention.

Gov. Bill Owens has told Hoffman he thinks Churchill should be fired, and that he believes the university has grounds for dismissal.

But Hoffman told a caucus of Republican lawmakers last month that Churchill's future has to be handled "the right way."

On Friday House Republican Leader Joe Stengel called on Hoffman to step down.

"Last week, I criticized the lack of accountability and leadership we've seen this past year at the University of Colorado. The ongoing litany of issues I alluded to includes the way CU's leadership has handled -- or should I say mishandled -- one controversy after another: the football recruiting scandal, spending by its foundation, binge drinking by students, the Ward Churchill situation, and, more importantly, how he got there in the first place, including the hiring practices at CU and tenure," Stengel said.

In response to her remarks about a new era of McCarthyism, Stengel said, "I would note that critics of Ward Churchill include Gov. Owens and almost the entire state Legislature. We voted 65-0 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate to repudiate Ward Churchill's controversial essay that likened the victims of 9-11 to Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann. And his critics have also included many, many constituents, taxpayers and parents of students at CU who are paying the tab for our flagship university.

"To say that President Hoffman's remarks were ill-advised would be an understatement. If anything, she is calling for a reverse form of McCarthyism by defending Ward Churchill's right to free speech while denying those same rights of free speech to others, including legislators and the public. This is absurd," Stengel said. "I reluctantly conclude that she is overwhelmed by the series of controversies facing CU and is unable to right the ship. It is time for her to step down."

Meanwhile, Churchill spoke to a crowd of supporters on campus Thursday afternoon. He said that despite rumors, the university has not offered to buy him out of his contract.

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