Former professor Ward Churchill, who infamously likened some 9-11 victims to Nazis in an essay written on September 12, 2001, won a civil trial on a technicality yesterday, winning $1 in damages for having been unjustly dismissed from his teaching position at the University of Colorado.
In a Friday New York Times story from Denver, Kirk Johnson and Katharine Seelye team up to cover the trial of Churchill, who was fired for plagiarism in his scholarly work as a consequence of scrutiny after public attention was focused on his essay calling the "technocratic corps" murdered in the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" who had it coming.
The verdict by the panel of four women and two men -- none of whom wished to be interviewed by reporters, court officials said -- seemed unlikely to resolve the larger debate surrounding Mr. Churchill that was engendered by the case. Is Mr. Churchill, as his supporters contend, a torchbearer for the right to hold unpopular political views? Or is he unpatriotic or -- as his harshest critics contend -- an outright collaborator with the nation's enemies at a time of war?
The jury seemed at least partly undecided on what to think about the man at the center of the fight, whose essay made him a polarizing national figure.
The Times is far too kind. We can safely assume that someone who applauds the death of American citizens for the crime of being American citizens is by definition "unpatriotic." Churchill's statements were only "polarizing" in the sense that he and a few fellow left-wing extremists believed them, while the rest of the country was suitably disgusted.
But on the campus at Boulder, 30 miles northwest of Denver, some faculty members said the announcement had deepened their fears for the university's traditions of open debate, adding that a speech last week by Dr. Hoffman, in which she warned of a 'new McCarthyism' stalking the country, had perhaps heightened pressure for her to resign. Margaret LeCompte, a professor in the school of education who has spoken in support of Professor Churchill, said she believed that a 'concerted attack on the university by the right wing' was a factor in Dr. Hoffman's resignation. The president's comments about McCarthyism, Professor LeCompte added, 'may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for the right wing's desire to have her head.' Many faculty members said in recent interviews that the university was deeply divided over how to respond to the issues raised by the Churchill case. Many denounced the professor's Sept. 11 essay while defending his right to free expression. Others say the controversy has been deepened by personality, especially Professor Churchill's refusal to apologize or back down.
Others worry that subjects like Sept. 11 have become 'sacred,' and cordoned off from unpopular analysis....Many students interviewed on campus in recent days said they feared that the lines being drawn around Professor Churchill were also creating boundaries about what could be freely and safely talked about in the United States.