In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill quietly penned an essay from his gut about the day's events.
And, until 2005, the ethnic studies professor's online essay -- which argued the attacks were not senseless, but a direct result of American policies -- went unnoticed.
That all changed on Jan. 26, 2005, when students at Hamilton College in New York protested their school's invitation to have Churchill speak on campus. Churchill, and his essay, were catapulted into the national spotlight, setting into motion a chain of debates and protests regarding academic freedom.
Churchill attracted critics, such as conservative author David Horowitz, who included the professor in the book "The Professors: The 101 most dangerous academics in America." And Churchill also had loyal supporters, including Russell Means, a well-known Native American activist and actor.
CU's regents in 2007 voted 8-1 to fire Churchill because of academic-misconduct violations, after faculty members charged with investigating Churchill's body of work found patterns of plagiarism, fabricated facts and other academic-misconduct violations they said were deliberate.
Churchill sued the university, alleging he was really fired because of his controversial speech. The 9/11 essay ignited national furor because it called some victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who helped carry out Hitler's plan to exterminate Europe's Jews during World War II.
A Denver jury found that CU unlawfully fired Churchill for exercising his right to free speech but awarded him only $1 in damages. After considering the jury's ruling, Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves decided against awarding Churchill his job back at CU or any compensation.
Churchill and his attorney David Lane have appealed the ruling.
University officials expect appellate court judges to rule on the appeal in 2010.
The case of Churchill prompted CU to reform its policies surrounding tenure, which is higher education's coveted job protection.
The outside review CU commissioned of its tenure system found that although policies were well-designed, there were some flaws with how tenured professors are evaluated, and said it was too difficult to remove them from their classrooms even if they are falling below professional standards.
CU implemented the 40 tenure recommendations, which includes a random audit of tenure case files to be conducted every five years to make sure policies are being followed.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ward Churchill answers questions during cross examination in his civil suit against the University of Colorado earlier this year. A judge ruled in the university s favor, an action that Churchill is appealing. ( MARK LEFFINGWELL )
A juror’s question, posed Tuesday after former professor Ward Churchill had been on the witness stand for more than seven hours, gave him the opening to argue — succinctly — that he was the victim of his controversial views, not his scholarship.
The question, read by Denver District Judge Larry J. Naves, went to the heart of Churchill’s lawsuit — his assertion that he was stripped of his job not for academic fraud but because he called some victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks “Little Eichmanns,” a reference to a Nazi war criminal.
“Would any of these allegations have surfaced if it was not for the 9/11 essay?” the unidentified juror asked.
“I think the easy answer on that question,” Churchill said, “is, no, they would not.”
The exchange came near the end of a long day in the courtroom, one that saw Churchill face cross-examination by a University of Colorado lawyer for the first time.
But the hours of questioning were more fizzle than fireworks. Much of the talk involved a tedious examination of smallpox, sources, Indian deaths, ghostwriting and academic standards.
Still, there was some drama.
Churchill acknowledged for the first time that a Canadian college professor’s essay was plagiarized, although he denied that he was the one who lifted the piece by Fay Cohen, arguing that he merely edited it for inclusion in a 1992 book assembled by his then-wife, M. Annette Jaimes.
Both Churchill and CU attorneys made points.
The CU Board of Regents fired Churchill in 2007 after an investigation concluded he had committed numerous acts of academic misconduct. He filed suit, alleging that his scholarly work was examined because of his controversial Sept. 11 essay.
“I want my job back,” Churchill testified. “I want restitution and acknowledgment the entire process under which I was terminated from the university was fraudulent.”
Churchill conceded that sections of an essay by Cohen, a Canadian professor, were lifted and published in a book he helped to edit.
“Plagiarism occurred,” Churchill said — but denied that he had had anything to do with it. He said that he had merely copy edited the essay for inclusion in a book.
Patrick O’Rourke, a CU attorney, saw his questioning backfire at one point when he asked Churchill if he was really arguing that he didn’t recognize the Cohen essay when he had edited it once before, for another book, just months earlier.
O’Rourke had the title pages of both versions of the essay put up on a big screen in an attempt to show that they had the same title. But they did not.
At another point, however, O’Rourke challenged a different essay that Churchill claimed to have written, even though it was published under another name.
“Why not put your name on all of them as co-author?” O’Rourke asked.
“And why would I?” Churchill responded.
“Because you wrote it,” O’Rourke said.
“I have an option not to,” Churchill said.
Much of the day was devoted to long, drawn-out discussions of the various instances of academic misconduct the university’s investigative panel concluded that Churchill perpetuated.
There were discussions of source materials, of various population estimates, of Indian oral tradition.
At one point, Naves suddenly called a recess after he saw that one of the jurors was having trouble staying awake.
Kevin Vaughan: 303-954-5019
A look at the research misconduct charges lodged against Ward Churchill and his explanations for them in court
Plagiarism of professor Fay Cohen: The committee found that Churchill was “at least an accomplice, if not a principal” in stealing an essay that Cohen wrote and publishing it under the byline of the Institute for Natural Progress, a group that Churchill co-founded.
In court, Churchill acknowledged that Cohen’s essay was plagiarized but said it was not done by him. Instead, he said, he merely copy edited the essay for inclusion in a book being put together by his then- wife, M. Annette Jaimes, and that he did not recognize it as an essay he had used in another book the year before.
“My role was copy editing,” Churchill testified.
Misrepresentation of the General Allotment Act of 1887: A CU investigative committee found that Churchill committed deliberate research misconduct when he repeatedly claimed that the federal law, used to assign land tracts to American Indians, required a “eugenics code” or a “blood quantum” — the idea that those eligible had to be “of at least one-half ‘blood.’ ”
The law does not include that language.
In court, Churchill acknowledged that the language is not in the act but argued that it had that effect when it was carried out by the federal government and, therefore, that his interpretation was correct.
“The law cannot be taken simply at face value, reading the text,” Churchill testified.
Misrepresentation of the Indian Arts & Crafts Act: The committee found that Churchill “seriously and deliberately misrepresented” the law by claiming it required “one quarter or more degree of Indian blood by birth.”
The law does not include that language.
In court, Churchill said he wrote an initial article for a “movement newspaper” that was mistaken but that he followed up several years later with a “scholarly article” that was accurate.
“The major essay corrected all those problems,” Churchill testified.
Misrepresentation of sources in a claim that Captain John Smith intentionally spread smallpox in New England: The committee found that Churchill “fabricated” the claim because his cited sources do not support his assertion.
In court, Churchill argued that numerous sources support him and that the footnotes he used were not meant to imply that his original source material confirmed all the details of his conclusions.
“I’m trying to provide people with places they can look to get additional information, not to try to confirm every single thing I said, although usually they can confirm some if not all,” Churchill testified.
Falsification and fabrication of assertions that the U.S. Army deliberately infected Indians with smallpox at Fort Clark in 1837: The committee found that Churchill engaged in a “pattern of deliberate academic misconduct” by misrepresenting published sources.
In court, Churchill argued that many of his conclusions about the smallpox epidemic near Fort Clark are “common knowledge” and that numerous sources support his assertions.
“We’ve had a process here where I can say nine things in a statement, and eight of them are supported by the source I cited, and the ninth one we have an issue,” Churchill said. “In some of these instances, we’re dealing with a single sentence.”
Plagiarism of a pamphlet by the group Dam the Dams: The committee found that Churchill lifted language from a 1972 pamphlet called “The Water Plot” and used it in his later writings, action it found was “not accidental, but deliberate.”
In court, Churchill said that he took the pamphlet and other materials, updated it and submitted it to a magazine with detailed information on all of those who contributed to it. He blamed the magazine for changing the credit line on the piece.
“There is no attempt to deceive or take credit for,” Churchill testified.
Plagiarism of professor Rebecca Robbins: The committee cleared Churchill of the plagiarism charge but concluded that he committed research misconduct when he wrote an essay and published it under Robbins’ name — “another actual scholar in his field.”
In court, Churchill said that he served as a “ghost” writer on the piece, a practice that he said is widely practiced in academic circles. At one point, Patrick O’Rourke, a CU attorney, asked Churchill whether he disagreed that it was “deceptive practice” to write an article, publish it under someone else’s name, and then cite it as a source.
“Yes,” Churchill testified, “I disagree.”
Churchill said he “was helping her making some articulations of positions she endorsed.”