Colorado Regents Will Investigate Professor Who Compared September 11 Victims to Nazis

Colorado Regents Will Investigate Professor Who Compared September 11 Victims to Nazis
By SCOTT SMALLWOOD Chronicle of Higher Education, Friday, February 4, 2005

As a first step toward possibly firing him, the University of Colorado will investigate the writings and speeches of a professor at its Boulder campus who has compared victims of the September 11 attacks to Nazis. Philip P. DiStefano, interim chancellor of the campus, told the university system’s Board of Regents at a special meeting on Thursday that he and two deans would review the work of the professor, Ward Churchill. The chancellor said he and the deans would determine whether Mr. Churchill “may have overstepped his bounds.” Mr. Churchill, who teaches ethnic studies, has called those who died in the 2001 attacks “little Eichmanns.” Shortly after the attacks, he wrote in an essay that the victims were not innocent civilians but a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire.” (The essay, “‘Some People Push Back’: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” is available online here.) The three-year-old remarks drew attention in the past week after families of September 11 victims and others protested Mr. Churchill’s planned appearance at Hamilton College. He was supposed to be speaking at the Clinton, N.Y., college on Thursday night but the event was canceled by Hamilton’s president, Joan Hinde Stewart, because she was worried about safety (The Chronicle, February 2). As the Colorado regents’ meeting began, several dozen students stood up in the audience. Although they were silent at first, they then began shouting at the regents, demanding to be heard. Police officers removed at least one student, and the regents adjourned to conduct an executive session. When they returned, they approved a resolution endorsing the chancellor’s plan to investigate Mr. Churchill. The regents also said that the professor’s remarks had “brought dishonor” to the university and that the board wanted to “apologize to all Americans.” This week has been a tumultuous one for Mr. Churchill. On Monday, he stepped down as chairman of the ethnic-studies department at Boulder, cutting his $114,000 salary by about $20,000. He also released a statement saying that news-media reports had grossly misstated his views. On Tuesday, Hamilton canceled his speech, saying it had received threats of violence against college officials and Mr. Churchill. That night or early the next morning, according to Boulder County sheriff’s deputies, someone painted two swastikas on Mr. Churchill’s pickup truck as it sat outside his home. On Wednesday, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing Mr. Churchill, saying that his essay “strikes an evil and inflammatory blow against America’s healing process.” The State Senate passed the same resolution Thursday. Mr. Churchill told The Denver Post that he would sue the university if he was fired. “This is exactly what I’m protected from — an attempt to take my job on the basis of a difference of opinion on a burning issue,” he told the newspaper. In a statement released on Thursday, the American Association of University Professors said any questioning of Mr. Churchill’s future at Colorado should be done by the faculty and should ensure the professor due process. Also, the association cautioned that Mr. Churchill should not face harsher standards because of the subject of his remarks. “While members of the academic community are free to condemn what they believe are repugnant views expressed by a faculty member, any charges arising from such statements must be judged by the same standards and procedures that would apply to statements unrelated to the terrorist attacks and the loss of life on that fateful day,” the AAUP said. “We must resist the temptation to judge such statements more harshly because they evoke special anguish among survivors and families of the September 11 victims. The critical test of academic freedom is its capacity to meet even the most painful and offending statements.”

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