Victory for Churchill or Reprieve?

Inquiry by faculty panel at Colorado apparently clears professor on two charges and asks for additional study of seven others.
August 23, 2005

Another stage in the University of Colorado's long process of reviewing Ward Churchill is done -- and his lawyer is claiming that it was a victory for the controversial professor.

The university, citing confidentiality rules, is not commenting on the review by a faculty panel of a series of misconduct allegations against Churchill, who teaches ethnic studies at the Boulder campus. Likewise, Churchill's lawyer is not releasing a report that Churchill received from a faculty panel Monday -- so characterizations of the report's findings cannot be confirmed.

But David Lane, Churchill's lawyer, told Colorado reporters that the report was a "victory for Professor Churchill" in that there were not conclusive findings of wrongdoing. Lane told the reporters that the panel could not determine whether seven allegations were valid and asked that another panel review them -- and the panel decided that two other charges did not deserve further investigation.

The allegations that are going forward for additional review, Lane said, involve charges of plagiarism or misrepresentation of work. Churchill has repeatedly denied that he committed any scholarly misconduct and has accused Colorado officials of investigating his academic work to punish him for his political views -- and especially for the furor over his statements about 9/11, in which he compared victims in the World Trade Center to "little Eichmanns."

Lane told The Denver Post that one charge that is not being forwarded for additional review concerns allegations that Churchill has misrepresented himself as being an American Indian. Churchill has always said that he is a Native American, but as the controversy over the professor has grown in the last year, several newspaper reports -- with backing from some Indian groups -- have questioned his ethnicity. Lane told The Denver Post that he was pleased that the committee had rejected these charges.

The reason that the faculty committee could not reach conclusions on most of the charges against Churchill, Lane said, was that most committee members were scientists and did not feel able to judge the plagiarism issues. (At many universities, research misconduct panels are dominated by scientists because most of the cases they review involve science.)

While Churchill's lawyer is declaring victory -- and the committee's findings assure that Churchill cannot be fired by Colorado at this time, and likely in the months ahead that the additional review will take place -- it is far from clear that any victory will be a lasting one.

The charges on which most academic experts believed that Churchill was most vulnerable to a finding that could lead to a dismissal from his tenured post are those that remain under review. And many academic experts believe that those charges are strong.

Churchill has been a popular speaker on college campuses and an activist on Native American issues for years. And some scholars have, for years, questioned some of his research. But the investigations into him did not begin in full force until this year. His comments about 9/11, which had been posted online, were publicized widely before a speech he was scheduled to give at Hamilton College. The speech was called off due to threats of violence, but the furor over Churchill never subsided.

Many Colorado politicians demanded that the university fire Churchill, and the university appointed a special panel to explore whether his statements were grounds for dismissal. That panel found that his statements -- however offensive to many people -- were protected by the First Amendment. But that panel said that other charges (those considered by the panel that provided its report to Churchill Monday) did merit investigation and if true could be grounds for dismissal.

The apparently delay in reaching a conclusion on the misconduct allegations has not stopped Churchill's critics from continuing to demand his resignation. An editorial in today's Rocky Mountain News called the university's review process "preposterously complex" and "ludicrously protracted."

The editorial urged the university committee to review a series of articles published by the newspaper in June. "There investigators will discover chapter and verse on how Churchill gradually appropriated a 1972 environmental document as his own, how he invented facts surrounding the 1836 epidemic among the Mandan Indians, how he misrepresented the Dawes Act, and how he reproduced as his own parts of a 1992 essay by Professor Fay Cohen -- just to mention four examples of academic misconduct." Added the editorial: "By all means, let the academics double-check the research. It's sound, and it points in but one direction. Churchill must go."



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