In the next few weeks, the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado (CU) will vote on the dismissal of Professor Ward Churchill. This is the final opportunity for public input in this process.
Over the past two and a half years, many of you have opposed CU’s attempts to fire Ward. Ward and I have engaged in this struggle not for the sake of his job (he will always write, speak and teach), nor because we enjoy battling bureaucracy, but because it has become emblematic of contemporary efforts to silence those who insist on discussing uncomfortable truths.
Since February 2005, CU administrators have been under intense political and financial pressure to fire Ward for his statements about the 9/11 attacks. To avoid blatantly violating the First Amendment, they have resorted to a pretextual investigation of his scholarship.
After combing through a media barrage of unfounded allegations and his more than 20 books, 100 articles, and over 12,000 footnotes, CU has settled for firing Ward Churchill, a tenured full professor, for six instances of alleged improper footnoting or author attribution (see details below).
Predictably, this has provided sufficient excuse for those who wish to distance themselves from this “controversy” and still believe they support academic freedom. For organizations like Lynne Cheney’s neoconservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), it is a major victory for the corporatization of higher education.
However, those who look beyond the headlines and CU’s self-serving pronouncements have recognized it as a charade.
First, the evidence has established that all of the charges investigated were solicited or invented by University administrators. None were filed by the allegedly aggrieved parties.
The specific charges against Ward have been debunked. Recently, fifteen professors and two attorneys filed two sets of formal research misconduct allegations against the investigative committee which wrote the report used to justify sanctions. These illustrate that the committee members were so determined to convict Ward that they engaged in falsification and fabrication of evidence, twisting the facts to fit their conclusions. In addition, CU Professor Tom Mayer has exposed the pretextual nature of the so-called plagiarism charges.
More generally, Indigenous scholar/activists and their allies have recognized that this is an attack on those who challenge mainstream “truths” about U.S. history, as well as an attempt to eliminate ethnic and gender studies. Public intellectuals including Derrick Bell, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Howard Zinn, and Immanuel Wallerstein published an open letter in the NY Review of Books denouncing CU’s actions as part of the repressive post-9/11 “militarist reflex.” A petition opposing Ward’s dismissal was signed by nearly 500 scholars and activists with Teachers for a Democratic Society. Many other groups have submitted letters and petitions denouncing CU’s tactics and calling for Ward’s reinstatement.
What has meant the most to us, however, has been the support of elders like Carrie Dann of the Western Shoshone and Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama, young people who are searching for a way to cope with an uncertain future, and regular people on the street–parking lot attendants, baggage handlers, homeless people–who consistently express their appreciation that Ward refuses to be silenced. They know this is not about footnotes.
I hope you will take the time to e-mail the CU Regents and urge them not to fire Ward Churchill. They can be reached c/o Millie.Cortez@cu.edu , or individually at
(For maximum effectiveness, please cc: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We have no illusions that the Regents will suddenly wake up and decide to take academic freedom seriously. However, the resistance they encounter in firing Ward Churchill will determine how readily others will be subjected to similar treatment. Resistance is never futile, for it defines the terms of the next struggle.
Natsu Taylor Saito
June 20, 2007
Key Facts in the Ward Churchill Case
CU’s grounds for dismissal now consist solely of the charges that Prof. Churchill:
(1) failed to provide sufficient evidence that in the 1837 smallpox epidemic
(a) infected blankets were obtained from an infirmary;
(b) an Army doctor or post surgeon told the Mandans to scatter; and
(c) 400,000 people, as opposed to possibly 300,000, ultimately died;
(2) cited to material he has consistently acknowledged as ghostwritten;
(3) published an article in Z Magazine in which the editors, without telling him, deleted his attribution of co-authorship to “Dam the Dams;” and
(4) copyedited a piece in a book edited by a third party which, unbeknownst to him, plagiarized Fay Cohen.
The invalidity of each charge has been shown demonstrated by Prof. Churchill and numerous other scholars. But even if they were true, they illustrate the pretextual nature of the process. No prolific scholar could withstand such fine-tooth combing of his or her work.
The Bottom Line: Recognizing that they could not fire Prof. Churchill directly for his political speech, CU administrators created a pretext to do so by soliciting/inventing “research misconduct” allegations. A biased investigation generated a handful of technical charges which the University has falsely labeled “plagiarism” or “fabrication of evidence.” To date, external political and financial pressures have trumped the First Amendment and the principle of academic freedom at the University of Colorado.
Feb. 2, 2005: Then-Colorado Governor Bill Owens demands that Professor Ward Churchill be fired for his 2001 op-ed web posting on the 9/11 attacks.
Feb. 3, 2005: The Regents denounce Ward Churchill’s statements and authorize then-Interim Chancellor Philip DiStefano to investigate “every word” he has published. Though billed as a public meeting, two people are arrested and prosecuted for attempting to speak in support of Prof. Churchill.
Mar. 3, 2005: Then-President Betsy Hoffman warns the Boulder Faculty Assembly of a “new McCarthyism,” pointing out that there is “no question that there’s a real danger that the group of people [who] went after Prof. Churchill now feel empowered.” Within 5 days Pres. Hoffman announces her resignation.
Mar. 24, 2005: Interim Chancellor DiStefano, who has never bothered to inform Prof. Churchill of the investigation, publicly announces that although all of Prof. Churchill’s writings and speeches are protected by the First Amendment, the University has received other allegations which require investigation. Subsequently it comes out that all of the allegations actually investigated were either created or solicited by University administrators.
Spring 2005: The University feeds the media frenzy, holding press conferences to announce each step of the “investigation” in direct violation of confidentiality rules. In turn, news coverage is submitted for investigation by Interim Chancellor DiStefano as “complainant.”
Fall 2005: An Investigative Committee is appointed, chaired by CU law professor Mimi Wesson. Prof. Churchill is not informed that Prof. Wesson had circulated a memo in Feb. 2005 comparing Prof. Churchill to “charismatic male celebrity wrongdoers” like OJ Simpson, Bill Clinton, and Michael Jackson. The Committee includes no American Indians and no one specializing in American Indian or Indigenous Studies.
May 9, 2006: The Investigative Committee holds a press conference to release its Report, claiming to have found 7 instances of research misconduct. One committee member recommends termination, four recommend suspension.
June 16, 2006: Interim Chancellor DiStefano, the “complainant,” now becomes sentencing judge, recommending dismissal.
May 3, 2007: An internal faculty appeal panel finds the University has not met its burden of proof on some charges, but upholds others (documentation of the 1837 smallpox epidemic and questions of author attribution). Two members of the panel support dismissal; three recommend a 1-year suspension.
Prof. Churchill requests that CU President Hank Brown recuse himself from the dismissal process, based upon Brown’s biases, including his close ties to ACTA, which has consistently denounced Prof. Churchill (see ACTA’s How Many Ward Churchills?).
May 10 and 28, 2007: Two groups of professors and attorneys file research misconduct charges against the Investigative Committee for falsifying and fabricating evidence against Prof. Churchill in their Report . The governing board of the Colorado Conference of AAUP chapters calls on the University not to take action against Prof. Churchill until the legitimacy and objectivity of the Report has been investigated.
June 7, 2007: CU President Hank Brown refuses to recuse himself or delay action, and overrides the majority of both the Investigative Committee and the faculty appeal panel to recommend that the Regents fire Prof. Churchill.
July/Aug 2007: The CU Regents will vote on dismissing Prof. Churchill.
Quick links :
Two sets of research misconduct charges filed against CU Investigative Committee:
Debunking plagiarism charges: http://wardchurchill.net/files/mayer_on_plagiarism_charges_0607.pdf
The ACTA connection: http://wardchurchill.net/files/cu_acta_ad.pdf
Indigenous Studies: http://wardchurchill.net/files/indig_conf_resol_020307.pdf
NY Review of Books Open Letter: http://wardchurchill.net/files/open_letter_for_nyrb.pdf
Teachers for a Democratic Society petition: http://www.teachersfordemocracy.org/?q=node/19