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Professor Ward Churchill Vows to Sue University of Colorado over Controversial Firing

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The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado in Boulder voted 8 to 1 Tuesday evening to fire tenured professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his controversial political views. One day after his firing, Churchill calls the charges a sham and vows a suit against the school. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado in Boulder voted 8 to 1 Tuesday evening to fire tenured professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill on charges of research misconduct, they said. But Professor Churchill maintains the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views.

Churchill has written a number of books on genocide against Native Americans and the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program — that’s Counter-Intelligence Program. After yesterday’s verdict, Churchill said he planned to sue the university.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The controversy dates back to early 2005, when a college newspaper reprinted Churchill’s three-year-old essay on the attacks on the World Trade Center. He described the attacks as a response to a long history of U.S. abuses and called those who were killed on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns” who formed a “technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire.”

Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi bureaucrat convicted for war crimes, who political theorist Hannah Arendt famously described as embodying the “banality of evil.” Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly repeatedly attacked Churchill for his comparison. Soon after, Colorado Governor Bill Owens wrote a letter to the university calling for Churchill’s resignation.

A special panel at the university immediately conducted an investigation into Churchill’s comments. They concluded that he could not be fired for his statements, which were protected by the First Amendment. However, another panel later determined that Churchill plagiarized and fabricated material in his scholarship and recommended his dismissal.

AMY GOODMAN: Supporters of Ward Churchill organized a rally before the Regents delivered their decision to fire Churchill at 5:30 last night in Boulder. They had been deliberating behind closed doors all day.

Today we’ll be joined by Ward Churchill on the phone from Boulder, but first to a clip of yesterday’s rally. We turn now to Ward Churchill, his lawyer David Lane, American Indian Movement activist Glenn Morris, and one of Churchill’s students.

ANN ERIKA WHITEBIRD: And the decision to fire Ward Churchill is really sad for me. He’s the only professor that I’ve taken a class, where I really felt empowered as an Indigenous person. And our history, the history of genocide against our people, the history, the policy, the U.S. policy of extermination against our people, the forced sterilization of our women — that was found out as early as the '70s — it was all something that Ward talks about in his books. So I'm not just talking about the class that he’s offered, the FBI at Pine Ridge, but, you know, other classes that he teaches and then the books that he’s written is really affirming as a Native person.

The history that we hear growing up about the smallpox blankets, it’s not something that you question. It’s something that is part of our oral history. And it’s part of the history of other indigenous peoples. So when I’m here at CU Boulder and I talk to other students who are Dene or from other nations, it’s a common understanding.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a student talking about Ward Churchill. Now, we turn to the ethnic studies professor, who joins us on the phone from his home in Boulder. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ward Churchill.


AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts today on the morning after your firing?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, a period of glaciation, which was this process of creating the illusion of research misconduct to cover a firing for political speech, has come to an end. That process has now run its course, so there’s a new phase that’s begun, which is, I suppose, for lack of a better way of putting it, my period of defensive posture has come to an end and the offense has begun, kicks off this morning with the filing of a suit.

AMY GOODMAN: Who will you be suing?

WARD CHURCHILL: Regents of the University of Colorado for accepting, in full knowledge at this point, a non-scholarly sham of an investigative report, creating the pretext. And I say “non-scholarly” because the university has withdrawn the entire investigative report from any scholarly scrutiny. They refuse to allow it to be subject to scrutiny by competent scholars. And there are research misconduct complaints in place at this point against the members of the investigative committee for serial plagiarism, wholesale falsification, outright fabrication — in other words, fraud. It’s a fraudulent finding.

So there is no defensible scholarly conclusions that anything I’ve said in my writing is even inaccurate, much less fraudulent, or that I committed the so-called plagiarism. All they’ve got is public outrage in the form of very well-organized right-wing, active-style lobbying blocs, and the statements of public officials, and so on, saying I should be removed as the basis for removing me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The amazing thing about this is that the so-called — the investigation focused on everything but the apparent reason why there was such a determination to investigate you. The essay having to do with 9/11, that wasn’t even a subject, supposedly, of this investigation, was it?

WARD CHURCHILL: No. And a point to be made there is that while I was a target, was a target that would serve as a sort of conduit, in a way, they considered me to be, and said so, considered me to be kind of at the forefront of a sort of critical line of analysis, historically speaking. And they wanted to roll back that line of analysis altogether, to discredit it, so that you basically have a return to that triumphalist, celebratory, white-supremacist interpretation of American history with all of the denial and falsification that that is known to entail. That’s the reason, in part. And it’s in large part for the charade that they have acted out over the last two-and-a-half years, the going after the historical analysis, as well as a purveyor of it. And so, this goes way beyond me. I’m intended to symbolize the cost and consequence of challenging orthodoxy in certain critical domains, at least.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what has been the response of the press in Colorado? Have any of the newspapers or any of the press defended your right to speak your mind?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, yeah. They’ve created this false dichotomy, in a way: “Well, it’s reprehensible, we disagree with it, blah, blah, blah, but he had a right to say it, however repugnant it may have been. On the other hand, he did all these things that constitute research misconduct. Basically he’s pedaling lies to the public that cause discontent with the status quo.” And that’s what the issue is. The specific acts of research misconduct has nothing to do with that speech.

The press was instrumental in framing that. There’s been a symbiotic relationship between the administration at the university and the press all along. The press really took the lead in drumming up furor. There were 400 feature articles on my case, or what is supposed to be my case, in the Denver metro area newspapers in barely 60 days. Pope died; I had the front page of the Rocky Mountain News. The Rocky Mountain News was at the very forefront of creating the appearance that there was scholarly impropriety involved in my work and to be able to separate that set of issues then, the scholarly impropriety from the speech issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Ward Churchill, we have to go. But in addition to the lawsuit you’re filing, what are your plans now?

WARD CHURCHILL: Well, my plans now are to continue to do what it is that I’ve always done: I mean, being a professor at the University of Colorado hardly defines the nature of my life. In fact —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us from Boulder, Ward Churchill, just fired by the University of Colorado.

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