Regents admit Churchill essay sparked probe
By Felisa Cardona
The Denver Post
Posted: 03/30/2009 04:53:59 PM MDT
Updated: 03/30/2009 05:36:47 PM MDT
Three former and current University of Colorado regents testified today that they authorized a review of then-Boulder professor Ward Churchill's speeches and writings only to find out whether they were protected under the First Amendment.
Former regent Patricia Hayes and regent Peter Steinhauer, both Republicans, said they found Churchill's comments in an essay about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "anti-American." But they said they also were concerned about other instances where Churchill made speeches that they thought appeared to advocate violence and terrorism.
They testified that they wanted to know whether the speeches and essays were considered protected speech under the First Amendment if Churchill had made them as a public employee representing the university.
Churchill, 61, has sued CU claiming that he was fired two years ago in retaliation for the controversial essay. The trial is in its fourth week in Denver District Court.
The essay called some of the victims in the World Trade Center attack "little Eichmanns," comparing them to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who engineered the destruction of the Jews during World War II.
Churchill has said he was trying to make a point about America's economic policy and its impact on poorer nations.
CU officials say Churchill was fired in 2007 after a two-year investigation by university committees, which found he had engaged in academic fraud in his scholarly writings.
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, pointed to depositions in which Hayes and Steinhauer testified that they authorized then-chancellor Phil DiStefano to investigate solely based on the Sept. 11 essay and made no mention of concern about other controversial speeches and writings.
Lane asked why it was necessary for the regents to allow DiStefano to look into all of Churchill's writings if all they were concerned with was the Sept. 11 essay.
"Where do you guys get off looking at every word he has ever written when the only thing he wrote that upset you was the 9/11 essay?" Lane asked.
Both regents answered that the inquiry was solely to determine whether his essay was protected speech and what his boundaries were as a public employee representing CU.
Former regent Cindy Carlisle, who also signed the resolution initiating the investigation of Churchill's 9/11 essay but was the only regent to vote against his firing, testified that although she disagreed with terminating Churchill, she accepted the findings of academic-research misconduct.
Carlisle, a Democrat, said the reason she voted against termination was because it went against the recommendation of a majority of the CU Privilege and Tenure Committee, which advised that Churchill be suspended without pay.
"If he was being witch-hunted, what would you have done?" CU counsel Patrick O'Rourke asked Carlisle.
"I would have protested very loudly," she said.
Testimony will continue Tuesday.
Source URL: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_12031454