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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:51 a.m., Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Professor in 9/11 dispute files lawsuit day after firing

Associated Press


Ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill filed a lawsuit today, saying the University of Colorado retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech.

AP file photo | May 2006

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DENVER — The University of Colorado professor who was fired after comparing some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi fought back with a lawsuit on Wednesday, saying the school retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech.

Ward Churchill was ousted by the university's governing Board of Regents after three faculty committees accused him of plagiarism, fabrication and other research misconduct.

Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, had triggered a national outcry with an essay comparing some World Trade Center victims to Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann.

The Regents said his dismissal was based on other writings and that his firing was unrelated to his Sept. 11 comments. The academic investigation did not include the Sept. 11 essay but began after university officials concluded it was protected by the First Amendment and that he could not be fired for writing it.

Churchill has denied the research misconduct allegations and called the investigation "a farce" and "a fraud."

Back in May, five professors, including three from the University of Hawai'i, accused the investigative panel of misrepresenting, falsifying, fabricating and suppressing evidence.

Churchill spoke in February 2005 at the University of Hawai'i Free Speech Forum.


His lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, charged that after the essay came to light, "the university vowed to examine every word ever written or spoken by Professor Churchill in an effort to find some excuse for terminating his employment."

University spokesman Ken McConnellogue said the school stands behind the Regents' vote to fire Churchill.

"We believe this is a matter of academic integrity for the university, so we will not be settling the lawsuit," he said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Churchill's lawyer, David Lane, said earlier that reinstatement was "definitely on the table" if Churchill wins.

The suit claims that both the academic investigation and the decision to fire Churchill were retaliation. It also says Churchill's right to due process under the U.S. and state constitutions was violated and accuses the university of breach of contract.

The Regents voted 8-1 on Tuesday to fire Churchill on the recommendation of university President Hank Brown. Brown's recommendation came after the faculty committees accused Churchill of research misconduct.

Regent Cindy Carlisle cast the sole vote against termination. She did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages Wednesday. Regents Chairwoman Pat Hayes said Carlisle disagreed with the punishment, not the finding of research misconduct.


Brown said the Regents had little choice but to fire Churchill.

"This case is a very clear example of an effort to falsify history, to fabricate history," he said immediately after the Regents vote. He also said Churchill refused to apologize or change his methods.

Churchill was accused of, among other things, misrepresenting the effects of federal laws on American Indians, fabricating evidence that the Army deliberately spread smallpox to Mandan Indians in 1837, and claiming the work of a Canadian environmental group as his own.

The essay that thrust Churchill into the national spotlight, titled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," was not part of the investigation.

That essay and a follow-up book argued that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were a response to a long history of U.S. abuses. Churchill said those killed in the World Trade Center collapse were "a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" and called them "little Eichmanns."

In the uproar that followed, the Regents apologized to "all Americans" for the essay and the Colorado Legislature labeled Churchill's remarks "evil and inflammatory."

School officials concluded Churchill could not be fired because he was exercising his First Amendment rights. But they launched the investigation into his research in other work that ultimately led to his dismissal.