Ward Churchill Wins in Court!

Ward Churchill has won a symbolic victory. From the New York Times:

Jury Says Professor Was Wrongly Fired

Published: April 2, 2009

DENVER — A jury ruled Thursday that Ward L. Churchill, a former University of Colorado professor who drew national attention for an essay in which he called some victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks “little Eichmanns,” was wrongfully terminated.

The jury found that his political views were a “substantial or motivating” factor in his dismissal, and that the university had not shown that he would have been dismissed anyway.

But the jury, which deliberated for a day and a half, awarded Mr. Churchill only $1 in damages.

The judge in the case, Larry J. Naves, is to determine later whether Mr. Churchill should be reinstated to his job teaching ethnic studies at the university’s Boulder campus. A reinstatement would likely draw a sharply negative reaction among many on the faculty, since a faculty committee was instrumental in his firing.

The judge ordered the packed courtroom to be silent as the verdict was read. Afterward, Mr. Churchill slipped on a pair of sunglasses and spoke to reporters outside the courtroom.

“I didn’t ask for money, I asked for justice,” Mr. Churchill said when asked about the $1 award, adding that he expected to get his job back because the jury had found he was dismissed for political reasons. “Reinstatement follows rather naturally, wouldn’t you say?”

Ken McConnellogue, a spokesman for the university, said that the $1 award was “some vindication” and that the university would oppose any reinstatement. Noting that the faculty committee had determined that Mr. Churchill had an “ongoing pattern” of academic misconduct, he said: “What happened with the jury’s verdict doesn’t change that at all.”

The university had said that Mr. Churchill plagiarized and falsified parts of his academic research, particularly on American Indians, and cited this as grounds for his dismissal in July 2007. Mr. Churchill brought a wrongful termination suit against the university, seeking monetary damages for lost wages and harm to his reputation. He also wanted to be reinstated.

Around 3 p.m. local time on Thursday, jurors asked the judge two questions about the awarding of damages. First, they asked whether it was possible to award no damages. A few minutes later, they asked whether, if all but one jury member could agree on a dollar amount, that person could be replaced by another juror. (The answer was no.)

The jury then resumed deliberations for about an hour before returning its verdict at 4:20 local time.

The case has been seen as a struggle between freedom of speech and academic integrity, and it revived the longstanding debate about whether hate speech deserves protection by the First Amendment.

“If we win,” David Lane, Mr. Churchill’s lawyer, had said before the verdict, “the symbolic First Amendment moment of Ward Churchill’s walking back into a classroom will be overwhelmingly positive.”

Mr. Churchill, 61, had been a tenured faculty member at the university’s campus in Boulder since 1991, and chairman of the ethnic studies department.

On Sept. 12, 2001, he wrote an essay in which he argued that the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself. He said that some of those working in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 were not innocent bystanders but “formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire.” He described these financial workers as “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who has been called the architect of the Holocaust.

His suggestion was that their participation in the global financial system made them complicit in the terrorist attacks, just as Eichmann, who had said he was only following orders, was responsible for the extermination of the Jews.

The essay garnered little notice at the time but gradually seeped through the Internet, coming to light in 2005, and then creating an uproar.

At the time, the university defended his essay as free speech. But accusations began to emerge that in some of his other academic writings, especially about the persecution of American Indians, he had plagiarized other scholars and set forth false information.

The university said that questions about his scholarship — not the 9/11 essay — prompted a faculty investigation. And in May 2006, a faculty committee found that his work — including his theory that Capt. John Smith intentionally introduced smallpox among the Wampanoag Indians in the 17th century — was seriously flawed and had no basis in fact. In July of that year, the university’s Board of Regents voted 8 to 1 to fire him.

His lawyer, Mr. Lane, accused the university of conducting a McCarthy-era style “witch hunt” against Mr. Churchill, saying officials trumped up the charges of academic fraud as a pretext for getting rid of him. On the witness stand last week, Mr. Churchill, a somewhat flamboyant figure wearing his long hair in a ponytail, said he understood that his essay had been hurtful to the families of those who were killed on 9/11. But he also said he wanted the United States to take more responsibility for how it treated others around the world.

“If you make a practice of killing other people’s babies for personal gain, they will eventually give you a taste of the same thing,” he said.

Throughout the trial, the university maintained that it fired Mr. Churchill solely “for his research misconduct, for taking other people’s work and making it his own, for fabricating research, for falsifying research,” as Steven K. Bosley, a university regent, told the court.

The jury got the case Wednesday afternoon, after hearing closing arguments in the morning.

In their closing arguments, lawyers for both sides urged the jury to focus on the First Amendment and what the right of free speech entails. But they suggested very different interpretations.

Mr. Lane, Mr. Churchill’s lawyer, said his client had been a spokesman throughout his academic career for disempowered people and causes — a trait, Mr. Lane said, that has never made Mr. Churchill popular with people in power.

“For 30 years he’s been telling the other side of the story,” Mr. Lane said. What the university did in firing Mr. Churchill, he told the panel, was political payback, a rigged pre-ordained inquiry into Mr. Churchill’s work that Mr. Lane described as a “pious little routine” and a “charade of fairness.”

The university’s lawyer, Patrick O’Rourke, said the jury should think about standards. He said the faculty members who assessed Mr. Churchill’s work uncovered a pattern of behavior that was simply wrong, and that Mr. Churchill had made up his own rules to justify whatever he wanted to say and write.

“There’s the real university world, and there’s Ward Churchill’s world,” he said. “Ward Churchill’s world is a place where there are no standards and no accountability.”

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