Fireproof? Suspension urged for controversial Colorado professor
DENVER — A faculty committee reviewing University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s academic misconduct has recommended that he receive a one-year suspension instead of dismissal, his attorney said on May 16.
“We feel any discipline is not warranted, but at least they’re moving in the right direction,” said Churchill attorney David Lane. “This will make it more difficult for Hank Brown and the [Board of] Regents to fire him.”
The disclosure was a blow to critics of Mr. Churchill, who was found last year to have committed plagiarism, fabricating and falsifying research by a faculty-led investigative committee.
“Keeping Ward Churchill on is an insult to the vast majority of university instructors and professors who work hard, do their own research and maintain high standards,” said Brad Jones, a Denverbased political consultant.
The committee’s recommendation muddles what had appeared to be a steady march of events leading to Mr. Churchill’s removal. In June 2006, former interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano recommended firing the ethnic-studies professor based on the results of the faculty investigation.
A few weeks later, Mr. Churchill asked to have the case reviewed by the Privilege and Tenure Committee, a standard procedure for faculty members faced with dismissal.
The panel’s recommendation, along with the results of the investigation and Mr. DeStefano’s advice, will be weighed now by President Hank Brown, who has until May 29 to act on the case.
The report can’t save Mr. Churchill from dismissal, but it certainly buys him more time. If Mr. Brown calls for Mr. Churchill’s dismissal, the case goes back to the Privilege and Tenure Committee for a second review. Mr. Brown can also close the case or call for a lesser punishment.
If Mr. Brown still supports firing Mr. Churchill after the review, the case goes to the Board of Regents, which has the final vote on whether to dismiss tenured faculty.
Jessica Peck Corry, director of the Campus Accountability Project for the Independence Institute, said that the university has come under pressure lately to retain Mr. Churchill.
Last month at Cornell University, Mr. Lane said he would challenge any effort to dismiss or suspend his client. “If they discipline Ward Churchill at all, we’re going to federal court,” said Mr. Lane.
Mr. Brown, a Republican who served two terms in the U.S. Senate, is still studying the panel’s report and plans to consult with the university counsel next week, said university spokeswoman Michele McKinney.
She declined to confirm whether the committee had recommended suspending Mr. Churchill, saying it involved a personnel matter and was therefore confidential.
Mr. Churchill burst onto the national stage two years ago for an essay that compared victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to Nazis. Those comments were declared exempt from the investigation after the university ruled that they fell under the category of protected speech.
Even so, Mr. Lane has maintained that his client is being attacked for his inflammatory remarks, not his job performance.
“The whole thing is motivated by his First Amendment comments. Even the committee has admitted that it was his comments that started the investigation,” said Mr. Lane.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.