The University of Colorado has completed the first baby step in its dragonquest to decide the employment fate of Ward Churchill. The ethnic studies professor ignited a firestorm of controversy over his tenure at the beleaguered university for equating victims of 9-11 with infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann, which has inevitably led to an examination of virtually his entire life and career.
A review committee led by Chancellor Phil DiStefano has concluded that Churchill's speech is protected. While "some of his statements advocate violence as a means to a political end in an abstract way, they do not rise to the level of inciting imminent and concrete violence as that line has been drawn by the United States Supreme Court," says the report. There will thus be no further official university action on what Churchill has written or said.
The university will, however, initiate a full cap-and-gown investigation into whether Churchill has engaged in research misconduct, specifically "plagiarism, misuse of others' work, falsification and fabrication of authority." In addition, the university will investigate "whether Churchill committed research misconduct by misrepresenting himself to be American Indian to gain credibility, authority, and an audience by using an Indian voice for his scholarly writings and speeches."
The latter stems from allegations that Churchill "lied on his [original job] application about his Indian heritage." Note, however, that the university is not pursuing that as an issue regarding unfair employment advantage, but only "whether Professor Churchill has attempted to gain a scholarly voice, credibility, and an audience for his scholarship by wrongfully asserting that he is an Indian."
What obtains, you ask. Well, as it turns out, in 1994, "the then Boulder campus chancellor reviewed this complaint and concluded that University policy permitted self-identification. The chancellor noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took the position that observation and self identification are the most reliable indicators of ethnicity. The chancellor declined to pursue the matter. The question about Professor Churchill's employment application must be considered closed as a result of this ten-year old review."
Welcome to the Hotel Colorado. It's such a lovely place. You read the previous paragraph correctly. At CU, ethnicity claims for the purposes of gaining employment advantage may be verified by "self-identification," or at least they could in 1994, even after challenge by the ethnic group in which lineage is claimed.
We don't like double jeopardy any more than the next navel gazer, but by taking the position it has, CU's administration has conveniently removed itself from the next stages of the investigation, possibly prolonging the entire process.
All remaining charges against Churchill will be referred to the CU Boulder campus "Standing Committee on Research Misconduct." That is a 12-person faculty committee, three of whose members have previously self-identified themselves as defending Churchill, with varying degrees of nuance. Inquiries by Denver Post reporter Arthur Kane produced, "no one at CU...[who] could recall a case in the past 20 years in which the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct had disciplined a professor."
The committee's work is projected to take as long as seven months. If the committee does find cause for the university to pursue Churchill's dismissal, then those charges will be referred to CU's "Committee on Privilege and Tenure." That inquiry could take two years. Then the Board of Regents will have to make the final decision. Then Churchill can sue. Then…hey, we ain't the oracle. This is academia we're talking about here.
In the meantime and for the foreseeable future, Churchill collects his $94,000 salary and is busy making speeches, in which he says he will not cooperate with the investigation and ends with "Power to the People." The audience at the 10th Annual San Francisco Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair (and tofu cook-off) loved that highly original, scholarly line.
We are equally entranced by a partial verse from the already paraphrased "Hotel California," that eerily prescient tome by the Eagles:
"And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast.
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast."
To learn more about the problems at the University of Colorado, read “Character and Chaos at the University of Colorado” and “Roosting Chickens: Ward Churchill and the University of Colorado.” You can also read the Center’s Open Letter the President of CU.March 31, 2005