Former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill may have been fired five years ago, but he's not done fighting to get his job back.
The Colorado Supreme Court will hear arguments on Thursday afternoon regarding the 2007 termination of Churchill, according to The Associated Press. CU-Boulder investigated Churchill's academic work after public outcry over his 2001 essay "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens" provoked national outrage and led to an investigation of research misconduct, MSNBC reported.
In the essay, which was originally written shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Churchill argued that American foreign policies provoked the attacks and called workers in the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns," a comparison to Nazi bureaucrat, Adolf Eichmann.
The Denver Post has a clear break down of the case and the three primary questions that the court will consider:
- Is a university's investigation into a professor's writings, which results in termination, a violation of the First Amendment?
- Can university regents make judgements that are comparable to those of judges and are those regents then immune from lawsuits?
- Can Ward Churchill win his job back even if the regents are given immunity?
In 2005, the controversy of his 2001 essay began to grow. Churchill, who was still employed by the university at the time, released a statement that was posted on the University of Colorado Boulder’s website under the Department of Ethnic Studies where he once served as Chair, stating that his remarks had been grossly misunderstood. Churchill sums up the point of the essay, saying:
I am not a "defender" of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable."
CU-Boulder launched an investigation regarding Churchill’s background and academic work. Several academics came forward to state that Churchill had plagiarized some of his published work and CU-Boulder ultimately fired him for what they called academic misconduct, due to the plagiarism claims from other academics.
Churchill then filed suit in state court, arguing that he was actually fired for his constitutionally protected expression. The jury in that suit found that the Regents would not have fired Churchill but for his controversial comments about 9/11 and awarded $1 in damages for this violation of the First Amendment, Churchill then filed a post-trial motion asking the judge to order reinstatement, according to the ACLU. The jury's verdict and Churchill's request for reinstatement were rejected by a trial court, to which Churchill appealed.
The Daily Camera reports that one key argument that will be heard by the state’s Supreme Court is the quasi-judicial immunity doctrine that Churchill and his attorney, David Lane, argue is a threat to free speech and academic tenure at universities. "When the regents violate the Constitution, should they be on the hook for it?" Lane said to The Daily Camera. "The lower courts have said 'No,' and the Colorado Supreme Court is going to chime in and we'll see what they say."
When asked by The Huffington Post about the "little Eichmanns" remark, now more than ten years later, Churchill said this:
I retract nothing. What I said has been validated beyond my wildest expectations, to tell you the truth, so let's just say that I rest my case. A lot of people were outraged by my remark, of course, but, to cop a quote from Rick Perry, 'You throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one who yaps is the one who got hit.' In other words, the people upset were the f***ing Eichmanns. Look in the mirror and own it, guys. You identified yourselves by frothing at the mouth for being called by your right name. See? Perry's good for something, after all.