Ward Churchill wins free speech victory

IssueMay 2009
News by Polina Aksamentova

American Indian activist and former professor Ward Churchill won a wrongful-termination case against University of Colorado on 2 April, convincing the jury that he was fired for controversial remarks about 11 September victims rather than for alleged research misconduct.

Churchill attracted attention in 2005 with his 2001 essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens”, in which he compared the involvement in US policies of finance workers killed on 9/11 to the bureaucratic nazism of Adolf Eichmann.

After right-wing commentators and US congressmen called for Churchill to be sacked, the University of Colorado ordered an investigation. In 2007, he was found guilty of research misconduct and fired. In a New York Times column, professor Stanley Fish commented: “if the standards for dismissal adopted by the Churchill committee were generally in force, hardly any of us professors would have jobs.”

The jury saw the politics in the university’s decision. Juror Bethany Newill said that five out of the six jurors wanted to award at least $110,000 damages, but agreed on a symbolic $1 award in order to avoid a hung jury and mistrial, because the last juror was dead-set against compensation. At the time of going to press, Churchill was now waiting for the judge to decide whether or not he should be reinstated. If not, he will seek $1 million or 10 years’ worth of lost “front pay”.

Topics: Civil liberties