Report on the Termination of Ward Churchill

Following is the Executive Summary of the Report on the Termination of Ward Churchill conducted by the the Colorado Committee to Protect Faculty Rights (CCPFR), a standing committee of the Colorado Conference of the AAUP. The Report on the Termination of Ward Churchill was written by Don Eron and Suzanne Hudson, officers in both the AAUP chapter of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado Conference of the AAUP, and Myron Hulon of the Colorado State University chapter of the AAUP and former president of the Colorado Conference.

Read the report in its entirety here: Churchill Report.

Executive Summary

Ward Churchill was dismissed from the University of Colorado (CU) in 2007, having been convicted of plagiarism as well as fabrication and falsification of evidence for his claims that the United States government had been complicit in the genocide of Native Americans. It was Churchill’s essay of September 12, 2001, that drew attention to him—an essay that called victims of the attack on the WorldTradeCenter “little Eichmanns.” For four years the essay, titled “Some People Push Back,” went unnoticed, but in 2005 it caught the attention of faculty and administrators at Hamilton College in New York, and from there it went viral, becoming the topic of nonstop media commentary that lasted for months.

Beginning in February 2005, a firestorm of public opinion raged. Politicians, media commentators, and citizens clamored for Churchill’s dismissal from the University, threatening to withhold both state funds and private donations. Realizing that Churchill’s right to express an opinion was protected by the First Amendment and that therefore they could not dismiss him for publishing what they felt to be a vile remark about innocent Americans, the University sought other reasons to dismiss Churchill.

During his employment at CU, Churchill had published more and won more recognition for his scholarship, teaching, and service than, perhaps, any other member of the faculty. He had also become a controversial figure in the field of American Indian Studies—incurring both the admiration and the wrath of other Indian activists and scholars. One antagonist—John LaVelle—had complained to CU officials about some of Churchill’s scholarly claims several years earlier, but his concerns had been dismissed as not worth pursuing. But now that the University needed to find a means to fire Churchill, it sought LaVelle’s help in constructing a case against him for research misconduct. Several charges were lodged against Churchill for falsification and fabrication of evidence as well as plagiarism.

It is obvious that the University would never have begun its investigation of Ward Churchill were it not for his “little Eichmanns” comment, which he made as a citizen, not as a scholar or as a representative of the University. It is also obvious that dismissing Churchill from his position as a professor at the University violated his First Amendment rights. Most U.S. citizens will agree that what keeps America vital are the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, foremost of which is speech. Without free speech, the U.S. is just another totalitarian state. This is why citizens must jealously guard the rights of their fellow citizens to express opinions, even opinions with which they disagree or that anger them. If Churchill is not allowed to speak freely, none of us are.

In its prosecution of Churchill, the University violated many of its own rules as well as the most basic principles of academic freedom it purports to uphold. The following is from the University of Colorado’s own highest laws:

“Faculty members can meet their responsibilities only when they have confidence that their work will be judged on its merits alone. For this reason the appointment, reappointment, promotion, and tenure of faculty members should be based primarily on the individual’s ability in teaching, research/creative work, and service and should not be influenced by such extrinsic considerations as political, social, or religious views, or views concerning departmental or university operation or administration. A disciplinary action against a faculty member, including dismissal for cause of faculty, should not be influenced by such extrinsic consideration.” (Laws of the Regents V.D.2.b.)

There is no doubt that Churchill’s dismissal was influenced by an extrinsic consideration—his political views.

Following are other violations of CU’s own rules for guaranteeing Churchill a right to a fair hearing:

  • The University convened an Investigative Committee (IC) that contained no experts in the field of American Indian Studies. This became a crucial obstacle to justice, since several of the allegations against Churchill involved matters of historical interpretation that the members of the IC were unqualified to judge.
  • The University declined to appoint to the IC any member of the faculty who had expressed support for Churchill’s right to academic freedom, while appointing a faculty member who had expressed a strong personal bias against him to chair the committee.
  • The number and timing of the allegations made it difficult for Churchill to defend himself. The IC refused to extend its 120-day time frame explicitly because doing so might work in his favor.
  • Since “established standards” of research conduct vary, and since the field of American Indian Studies is cross-disciplinary, it was incumbent on the IC to set out the standards they would apply. Yet the IC was obstinately vague about which standards it would apply. Where no standards existed that would fault Churchill, the IC created its own.
  • The IC proceedings were supposed to be “nonadversarial,” yet they were expressly conducted as a prosecution with Churchill as the defendant.
  • In its final report, the IC suppressed and misrepresented evidence that worked in Churchill’s favor, and it contrived evidence against him.
  • The University repeatedly violated the rules of confidentiality by conducting press conferences, releasing statements to the press, and posting statements and documents on its website during the investigation.
  • The University swept people who might have impeded progress toward Churchill’s termination out of the way—CU President Elizabeth Hoffman and Indian scholar Michael Yellow Bird, as examples—and brought in people who would ensure Churchill’s termination—former U.S. Senator Hank Brown, for example, a member of the neoconservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which was overtly committed to the destruction of Churchill’s career and reputation because he was an outspoken critic of American foreign and domestic policy.
  • Hoffman’s successor as President of CU, Hank Brown, disregarded the fact that the Committee for Privilege and Tenure (P&T) had dismissed several of the charges. Brown unilaterally reinstated them with his recommendation to the Board of Regents that Churchill be terminated.

As this report will demonstrate, the allegations against Churchill for fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are almost entirely false or misleading; the slivers that remain standing are trivial in the extreme, given the volume of Churchill’s work and the high regard in which it is held by other experts in the field. Few scholars’ work would survive under the microscope held to Churchill’s work. In our opinion, the members of the IC would be condemned as academic frauds if their report were subjected to the scrutiny that they applied to Churchill’s work—and if they had said “little Eichmanns.”

According to experts in the field of American Indian Studies, the IC report, upon which disciplinary recommendations against Churchill were based, is an extended series of falsifications and fabrications offered in the name of correcting the scholarly record.

The seven allegations against Churchill can be broken into three parts: matters of historical interpretation, plagiarism, and use of sources.

Matters of Historical Interpretation

  • The allegations that Churchill misrepresented the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act disappear when one understands that Churchill was interpreting the Acts’ meaning by taking into account their implementation and effects, a normative approach to historical interpretation practiced by numerous scholars.
  • Churchill’s accounts of the smallpox epidemics of 1616 and 1837 are defensible, based on the evidence he presents, according to experts in Churchill’s field.
  • The strength of the circumstantial evidence regarding Captain John Smith’s complicity in the spread of smallpox is debatable, and it should be debated—among historians, not in disciplinary hearings.
  • All of the allegations regarding matters of historical interpretation focus on minor details offered in support of Churchill’s much broader themes; these details are supported by reputable sources that the IC either disregarded or rejected. None of the allegations tarnish Churchill’s broader themes, all of which are supported by thousands more details and examples with which the University found no fault.

Plagiarism

  • None of the authors whom Churchill is accused of plagiarizing have ever accused him publicly.
  • The Dam the Dams group asked Churchill to publicize their issue, and Churchill cited the group as his source numerous times. There was clearly no attempt on Churchill’s part to steal their work.
  • The IC was unable to prove that it was Churchill who plagiarized Fay Cohen. Indeed, the preponderance of evidence points elsewhere.

Use of Sources

  • Where the IC cannot substantiate its allegations of plagiarism, it substitutes them with other allegations, primarily a failure “to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications.” The failures in this regard are not Churchill’s, but the authors who neglected to credit him as co-author.
  • The University’s charge that Churchill had plagiarized the Robbins essay, which was easily disproven, morphed into a complaint that he had committed an act of academic dishonesty by citing a source that he himself had written in order to support his claims that were otherwise unsupportable. However, many sources besides Robbins corroborate Churchill’s claims. The choice to cite one essay over another was not made to deceive the reader.
  • The IC claims to respect Indian oral traditions and that Churchill disrespects them. In fact, the IC suppressed evidence that Churchill had fairly and accurately represented oral traditions in his publications.
  • Churchill is accused of misrepresenting the contents of works by Russell Thornton, Patricia Limerick, and Neal Salisbury. According to experts in the field, such an accusation amounts to falsification of evidence against Churchill.
  • The IC faults Churchill for citing books without including page numbers; they claim he does this in order to conceal the “fact” that the book does not support his claims. In Churchill’s case, the books he cites do support his claims. Furthermore, citing books without page numbers is accepted practice when one is referring to the book as a whole and not to any specific passage within the book. In fact, one of the members of the IC has employed this very practice on at least 92 occasions.
  • Both the IC and P&T have claimed that the practice of ghostwriting violates accepted academic practice. Both committees disregarded evidence that it is widely accepted practice in certain fields.

Besides contriving their evidence against Churchill, the IC also takes him task for refusing to defer to their findings.

Finally, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP recommends that faculty in search of employment consider a position at the University of Colorado only as a last resort because of the University of Colorado’s indifference to the ideals of academic freedom.

Read the report in its entirety here: Churchill Report.