University of Colorado at Boulder: Investigation of Professor for Controversial Essay

Category: Due Process, Free Speech
Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder

Entrenched in vast controversy for referring to the civilians who died in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Ward Churchill stepped down from his position as chair of CU-Boulder’s ethnic studies department. Problems arose, however, when the CU Board of Regents declared they were going to launch an investigation into Churchill’s “writings, speeches, tape recordings and other works.” FIRE wrote to CU noting that Churchill is entitled to due process and should be given the chance to defend himself, and assuring the university that Churchill’s speech, no matter how controversial or offensive, is protected by the First Amendment. Ultimately, the Board of Regents fired Churchill for “serious, repeated, and deliberate research misconduct” after finding that he had committed academic fraud. Churchill sued, on the basis that the investigation had been launched as a result of his controversial statements. FIRE took the position that while the initial investigation of Churchill’s speech was unconstitutional, as he was protected under the First Amendment, Churchill had put himself in the spotlight through his controversial statements, and was therefore susceptible to any further inquiry into his other works. In FIRE’s view, the termination for academic fraud was constitutional.