‘A bias in favor of ... the rules of academia’
The scandal involving ex-University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill and his firing over academic misconduct now seems like a story from the distant past. After all, that was 2007 and there’s been a more recent plagiarism scandal in this state.
But Churchill and his attorney David Lane have continued to press their legal case against the university, claiming Churchill was improperly fired after CU officials determined he had plagiarism, falsification and fabrication in his work.
Fortunately, the Colorado Court of Appeals this week rejected Churchill’s claims, and upheld a lower-court decision that said CU did not have to give Churchill his job back or provide him monetary compensation.
Among other things, the appeals court rejected a claim that the CU Board of Regents acted with bias before deciding to fire Churchill.
“That a university is zealous in policing the academic standards of its faculty does not demonstrate bias against a noncompliant faculty member so much as it demonstrates a bias in favor of compliance with the rules of academia,” the three-judge appellate court panel wrote, according to The Denver Post.
That statement goes to the heart of Churchill’s complaint against CU — that the university had no right to fire him for academic misdeeds because it was his offensive, but protected, speech that was really the driving force behind his firing.
Readers may recall that Churchill wrote an essay in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in which he called some of the victims in those attacks “little Eichmanns” — a comparison to one of Hitler’s henchman.
When news of that essay got out, it caused a furor, but not Churchill’s firing.
Instead, the publicity over that essay led to complaints from others about Churchill’s writing and research. An investigation by the university confirmed the academic violations mentioned above, and led to the regents approval of his firing.
Churchill sued, and won a $1 verdict from a district court jury that determined he had been fired in part in retaliation for his essay. But a Denver District Court judge ruled that the regents had the right to protect the university’s academic standards, and that they acted as a quasi-judicial panel which has immunity from most lawsuits.
We don’t know whether Churchill’s academic misdeeds would have come to light if it hadn’t been for his “little Eichmanns” essay, but once they did, CU had not only a right but an obligation to fire someone who repeatedly violated those rules.
We’re pleased to see the Colorado Court of Appeals recognized the importance of protecting academic standards.