Unjustly persecuted professor Ward Churchill waves a dollar after a Denver jury sided with him in his civil suit against the University of Colorado over violation of academic freedom and First Amendment rights. (Paul Aiken, Daily Camera ); From Denver Post, April 3, 2009
While Roger Bowen, former General Secretary of A.A.U.P., can trash Professor Churchill in the Wall Street Journal and claim he does not merit academic freedom protection, an impartial jury argued he does. Dr Bowen in a disgraceful and unseemly letter, claimed Mr Churchill’s hiring and promotion up the various ranks was due to his status as a “provocateur.” Such a reckless, UNPROFESSIONAL charge is an insult to the various review committees that monitored the professor’s publications, teaching and service and is totally unsubstantiated by any evidence. And this calumny from a former General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors? How shameful and egregious.
I know the WSJ loves to print articles that savage and recklessly charge progressive professors. They wrote two editorials calling for my suspension and sanctions in 2002 and never even allowed me to respond. So the Bowens of this world, who were cashiered from A.A.U.P., now become the headhunters for the far right. Well, Dr Bowen, this courageous Colorado jury did not agree with you.
I have written for over a year and a half that like myself, when I was suspended in 2002 for an anti-war e-mail, it was public rage over political ideology that was the primary reason for Churchill’s dismissal. Yes he did commit academic misconduct but such an airing of these issues would not have occurred had governors, right-wing press elites and pusillanimous university presidents not wanted “to fix the problem.” I do not know if Mr Churchill’s publishing transgressions merited firing; I suspect they did not but the lesson here is simple: When a university gangs up on an academic for unpopular and unconventional speech, and then removes him from a tenured position, it better make sure its own house is in order.
Looking forward, I hope Mr Churchill will return to C.U. as a tenured full professor in Ethnic Studies. If the university ignores this jury verdict, then hopefully it will be forced to restore the professor through other legal remedies. Since he was fired for his beliefs and not his research shortcomings, according to the jury decision, he must be allowed to return to teaching at the university beginning this fall.
$1 win for Churchill
Failing to protect Ward Churchill’s free speech will cost the University of Colorado – at least $1.
The former ethnic-studies professor won his civil case against CU on Thursday after a unanimous jury found he was fired in retaliation for his controversial essay about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But the jury awarded Churchill only the paltry amount in damages, allowing both sides to claim some measure of victory in a four-year battle pitting free speech and tenure against the value of academic purity.
Churchill’s attorney, David Lane, lauded the jury’s decision as a victory for free speech.
“I can’t tell you how significant this is,” Lane said. “There are very few moments that give the First Amendment this kind of life.”
CU president Bruce Benson said the small monetary damages show how much the jury believed Churchill.
“While we respect the jury’s decision, we strongly disagree,” he said in a written statement. “It doesn’t change the fact that more than 20 of Ward Churchill’s faculty peers on three separate panels unanimously found he engaged in deliberate and repeated plagiarism, falsification and fabrication that fell below the minimum standards of professional conduct.”
Former Gov. Bill Owens, who may have started the whole affair with a scathing indictment of Churchill’s essay and a demand for his firing, said the verdict was not a victory for the professor.
“I think the $1 in damages accurately reflects the jury’s appreciation for Ward Churchill’s warm and endearing personality,” Owens said.
Further damages possible
Denver Chief District Judge Larry J. Naves will decide in a separate hearing whether the former Boulder professor can return to his job or receive “front pay” for future years he could have worked at CU.
Lane says he will file a motion to recover legal fees for hundreds of hours of work he and co-counsels Qusair Mohamedbhai and Robert Bruce put into the case – but he deferred questions about a dollar amount.
“We work cheap,” he said. Still, the bill, if assessed to CU, is likely to be well into seven figures.
Ken McConnellogue, a spokesman for CU, said the university is looking at all options regarding an appeal to the verdict, legal fees and Churchill’s reinstatement.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it,” he said of allowing Churchill back on campus.
Lane said CU can’t retaliate against Churchill again by giving him a shoddy assignment on campus or a substandard position or he’ll sue again.
Churchill hugged his attorneys after the verdict was read. CU attorneys Patrick O’Rourke and Kari Hershey shook hands with Churchill and his attorneys before leaving the courtroom without making a statement.
Churchill briefly spoke outside the courtroom and said, “It took four years. It took a while. And it was quick, it was justice.”
CU “has been exposed for what it is,” Churchill said.
“It was found by a jury that I was wrongly fired,” he said. “They not only violated my rights, but my students’ rights and the community’s rights.”
Churchill said he was satisfied with a $1 judgment and said his case was not about money.
“Reinstatement, of course,” he said. “I did not ask for money. I asked for justice.”
Churchill thanked his family and his supporters and his lawyers. He also blasted his detractors, including KHOW 630 AM radio talk show hosts Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman and former Rocky Mountain News editorial page editor Vincent Carroll, now a Denver Post columnist, who Churchill said “tried to shape public consciousness in a false fashion.”
Churchill excused himself from the crush of news cameras and said he wanted to “get some silence and repose.”
About two hours before the verdict was read, jurors asked the judge questions that seemed to indicate one of them was holding out on how much money to award Churchill.
The jury of four women and two men declined to discuss their verdict, walking past reporters under escort from sheriff’s deputies.
“Little Eichmanns” reference
Churchill’s essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” became national news in January 2005 as he was set to make a speech at Hamilton College in New York. A student found the essay, written on Sept. 12, 2001, and protested Churchill’s appearance.
Churchill said the speech was intended to criticize America’s economic and foreign policies. In the essay, he compared some of the victims in the World Trade Center attack to “little Eichmanns” after Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who engineered the destruction of the Jews in World War II.
Owens, several CU regents, and hosts of cable and talk radio shows all called for him to be fired from CU because of his comments.
CU launched an investigation to determine whether that essay was protected speech. Once Churchill was in the spotlight, allegations surfaced that he had committed plagiarism or academic misconduct in other writings, and another series of investigations was launched. A review of his work led to a vote by CU regents in 2007 that the tenured professor be fired.
CU counsel O’Rourke argued that the university fired Churchill solely because he had engaged in fabrication, falsification and plagiarism in some of his writings on American Indians. O’Rourke told the jury that Churchill’s termination had nothing to do with the 9/11 essay.
But Lane told the jury there is no way his client would have lost his job from CU had it not been for the “howling mob” at the university gates who wanted him gone because of the essay.
Felisa Cardona: 303-954-1219 or firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Lynn Bartels contributed to this report.
A decision on the job. Denver Chief District Judge Larry J. Naves will decide whether Churchill can return to his job or receive “front pay” for future years he could have worked at CU.