Aborted Speech

Citing death threats, Hamilton calls off a planned talk by a Boulder professor. Colorado's governor seeks his resignation.
February 2, 2005

The controversy over Ward Churchill refuses to end -- even if the planned speech that set off the fury will never take place.

Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was scheduled to appear at Hamilton Thursday. But the college called off the speech Tuesday, citing "credible threats of violence."

A statement from President Joan Hinde Stewart said, "We have done our best to protect what we hold most dear, the right to speak, think and study freely. But there is a higher responsibility that this institution carries, and that is the safety and security of our students, faculty, staff and the community in which we live."

Hamilton has faced increasing criticism over the invitation to Churchill because of his writings after 9/11 that suggested that many who died in the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns." Churchill, while not taking back those statements, has said that they have been distorted.

Nancy Rabinowitz, the Hamilton professor who runs the program that invited Churchill to speak on the campus, said that she did not have a reaction to the decision to call off his appearance, "but I trust that the experts assessed the situation."

While there will not be a showdown at Hamilton tomorrow, there may be one in Colorado, where the Board of Regents has scheduled a special meeting to talk about Churchill. Bill Owens, Colorado's governor, issued a statement calling on Churchill to resign his position at Boulder. Churchill quit a department chairmanship this week but retains his teaching position.

"Ideas have consequences, and words have meaning," Owens wrote. "Mr. Churchill's views are not simply anti-American. They are at odds with simple decency, and antagonistic to the beliefs and conduct of civilized people around the world. His views are far outside the mainstream of civil discourses and useful academic work."

Colorado officials, while criticizing Churchill's remarks on 9/11, have defended his right to express his views.

Faculty groups have been watching the controversy with concern.

Robert M. O'Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, at the University of Virginia, said that Hamilton's decision to call off the talk was "certainly understandable" in light of the threat of violence.

O'Neil, who also leads an American Association of University Professors committee on academic freedom, said he was more concerned about the potential outcome of the meeting of the Colorado regents.


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