Churchill v. CU

Ward Churchill was a highly praised CU professor for decades; what happened?

In January 2005 Ward Churchill was a tenured full professor of American Indian Studies, chair of the Ethnic Studies Department, and the recipient of the University of Colorado’s highest awards for teaching, scholarship and service. Then the rightwing stumbled on an old op-ed piece about 9/11 on an obscure website and a media feeding frenzy ensued. Politicians and donors put intense pressure on CU to fire Ward Churchill.

Didn’t CU admit his speech was constitutionally protected?

Then the “controversy” broke, University officials launched an investigation of “every word” Ward Churchill had ever published. They knew it was all protected by the First Amendment, but needed time to find some other excuse to fire him. So, first, they tried the case in the media, in violation of all their own rules on confidentiality.

Weren’t there complaints about his scholarship?

CU had received no complaints about Ward Churchill’s scholarship so, with the help of the Rocky Mountain News, University officials spent months soliciting allegations. Even then, they only had some random allegations but still no actual complaints, so Interim Chancellor Distefano stepped in as “complainant,” using the newspaper stories as the “complaints.”

Wasn’t there an investigation by his peers?

An Investigative Committee dominated by CU insiders and including no American Indians or Indigenous Studies scholars was appointed. The Committee never told Ward Churchill what standards it was using, and arbitrarily limited his time to respond. It was chaired by a “feminist” who, before even meeting Ward Churchill, had sent out an e-mail comparing him to “male celebrity wrongdoers” like OJ Simpson.

Didn’t the investigating committee find misconduct?

After combing through more than 4,000 pages and 12,000 footnotes of Ward Churchill’s publications, CU found only a handful of minor points to dispute. CU called them “fraud” and “plagiarism” but they were really questions of historical interpretation and claimed deviation from unspecified “standards.”

Many people have been fooled by the heft of the Investigative Committee’s 124-page Report. In fact, most of the allegations were dropped. The charges boiled down to:

  • 4 questions of interpretation of sources concerning smallpox epidemics or
    “blood quantum” laws.
  • 3 charges of ghostwriting and attribution of authorship, under “standards” the
    Committee never could identify. The author whose work was supposedly
    plagiarized never accused Ward Churchill of doing so.    . . . Click here for more details

Click here to read the documents for yourself.