University of Colorado officials find themselves boxed in a corner as they try to figure out what to do about Ward Churchill.
The controversial professor of ethnic studies at Colorado's Boulder campus has said repeatedly that he will sue the university if he is fired because his statements on 9/11 offended many. And many lawyers are telling the university that however offensive Churchill's statements may be, he's not overstating the extent to which the First Amendment protects a public university professor in a case like this. But not a day goes by in Colorado without politicians and others demanding that Churchill be fired.
So now the university is floating a new idea: paying Churchill to quit. The Denver Post reports that the university is considering a buyout offer as the best way to make the problem (Churchill) go away.
The article in The Post has all the appearances of a trial balloon, with two sources privately saying that the buyout idea is being considered, but no one talking on the record.
David Lane, Churchill's lawyer, told The Post that no offer has been made, but that he would listen to a serious proposal. "If they offer $10 million, I would think about it. If they offer him $10, I wouldn't," Lane told the newspaper.
In recent weeks, Churchill's record has been the subject of intense scrutiny, with journalists and critics questioning his scholarship, his Indian heritage and his path to tenure at Colorado.
In the last flap, Churchill has been accused of copying artwork he made and sold. The Denver Post article includes comparison photos of a Churchill artwork and the piece he has been accused of copying. Churchill told Denver television reporters that he had permission to use the work. The artist has since died.
With politicians calling for Churchill's firing, Elizabeth Hoffman, president of the Colorado system, told Republican legislators last week that their statements could help the embattled professor.
"You have to keep in the back of your minds that the more talk there is for the need to fire him, the more difficult it is for us to do that, if that is what we decide to do," Hoffman said, according to press reports. "If we approach this issue wrong ... professor Churchill will win his lawsuit with triple damages and be back on the faculty, and a very wealthy man at our expense."