Violence at Regents Meeting

Violence at regents meeting By Tom Mestnik Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2005 Article Tools: Page 1 of 2 For 72-year-old Bonnie Johnston of Denver, the recent controversy over Professor Ward Churchill is all too familiar. “I was in Morris Judd’s class 54 years ago when he was dismissed for being communist,” said Johnston, as she stood outside the CU regents meeting holding a sign in support of academic freedom. “Judd and 11 other professors were fired – (CU) President Stearns was under a lot of pressure to do it,” said Johnston. Johnston, who is retired, said it is starting all over again. “The regents just put up a plaque on campus apologizing for what the university did during the McCarthy era and now look – it is happening all over again.” The regents saw the issue differently. At the special meeting held Feb. 3, the CU Board of Regents declared their intention to launch a thorough investigation to see whether Churchill violated the university’s code of ethics. According to Regent Tom Lucero, R-Johnstown, “There are limits to free speech – you cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” “How do we provide assurances to the public that the quality of scholarly research associated with the university is at the caliber so that we will remain a world class institution?” said Lucero during the meeting. Lucero then listed reasons why Churchill fails to meet these standards of scholarly qualifications saying his “characterization of those murdered in the World Trade Center is abhorrent.” Several of the regents read from the hundreds of e-mails they reported receiving. “The university cannot be associated with the likes of the Jane Fondas of the world, whose actions aided and abetted the enemy,” read one of the regents. Taking issue with the regents was former CU student Gina Huett who had taken several courses from Churchill in the 90s. “This is an institution of higher learning. These ideas need to be brought out into the open,” said Huett. “The purpose of higher learning is public discourse.” Bernadette Garcia, a CU-Boulder administrator, held a sign that read, “CU staff for Academic Freedom.” “One of the main voices that has not been heard has been the staff. I’ve talked to about 50 of my co-workers all supporting Ward but they are afraid to speak out because we’d lose our jobs,” Garcia said. As the regents began their meeting approximately three dozen students and community members stood up to voice their objections to not being able to speak at what they felt was advertised as a “public meeting.” One CU student, Dustin Craun, was arrested for speaking out. As he was escorted out by police he shouted – “Be sure to invite me to your next book burning.” While those standing yelled, “Let the students speak,” even those who were in the meeting in opposition to Churchill got into the act and began yelling, “Let the taxpayers speak.” Adding to the carnival-like atmosphere was the live KHOW show which was being aired in the lobby outside the regents meeting. Due to the shouting of attendees the board of regents, along with President Betsy Hoffman and Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano, left the auditorium and conducted a closed executive session. After two hours  in executive session they returned and DiStefano read a unanimously passed resolution which declared that all of Churchill’s writings, speeches, publications and recordings will be scrutinized. While the regents were reading their statements explaining why they supported the 30-day investigation into Churchill’s past, students sitting in the gallery began to shout and demand to be allowed to speak in Churchill’s defense. As local civil rights activist Shareef Aleem was demanding to speak, a half- dozen campus police arrested him, injuring nearby citizens in the process. Chris Maes, a CU anthropology student, called it a “flagrant case of police brutality – pure and simple.” The leaders of Boulder’s student government released a statement that was delivered to each member of the CU Board of Regents, Hoffman and Di Stefano. It stated, “while Professor Ward Churchill’s remarks may cause unfavorable publicity to CU, if he is removed, our message to the public and community of academia would be one that does not defend freedom of speech on our campus.” The statement was signed by Joseph Neguse, Veronica Crespin and Garrett Stanton. The CU faculty senate sent a letter to the regents asking them to “defend vigorously our constitutional right of the university’s long, firm tradition of supporting academic freedom.” Several members of the UCD student government were in attendance at the regents meeting, including Andra Zeppelin, Katie Spurr, David Garner and Jason Thacher, but they were there only as spectators, curious to “see how things were going to turn out.” Zeppelin said she does not condone the violence that occurred at the meeting, and that the Associated Students of CU-Denver would not take an official position on the issue due to internal conflict and the controversy of the issue. She also stressed that the violence of one does not reflect CU students in general.

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