Charges of research misconduct against controversial Colorado University
professor Ward Churchill are moving ahead as the CU-Boulder faculty
assembles a special Investigative Committee. A final decision on Churchill
is expected within five months.
University officials announced Sept. 9 that seven of nine original charges
deserved further investigation. Two others, including the charge that the
professor misrepresented himself as a tribal member to gain academic
advancement, fell outside of the committee's jurisdiction, said CU-Boulder
spokesman Pauline Hale.
The 11-member Standing Committee on Research Misconduct will refer the
seven charges to a special committee now being selected. University
officials declined to comment on the selection of the new committee or its
makeup, citing "strict confidentiality requirements," but did say in a
statement that the committee could have a chair and three to five members,
and "would be expected" to make a report 120 days after it convened. The
committee will be named in early October.
The seven charges include "alleged instances of plagiarism, misuse of
others' work, falsification and fabrication of authority," said the
"I think the entire inquiry is unfair," Churchill's lawyer, David Lane,
told the Colorado Daily. He said Churchill was under fire because of his
exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech. He called for the new
committee to include specialists in Native studies.
The inquiry began in early February after national media gave intense
publicity to an essay Churchill had written shortly after the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The emotional piece denounced American policy
and some of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks, and called the
terrorists "soldiers." The piece drew little notice at the time, and
Churchill expanded it into a book without much more attention. But it
became a cause celebre when a critic discovered it and circulated it in
advance of a scheduled appearance by Churchill at Hamilton College in
upstate New York.
Perhaps ironically, the UC-Boulder administration quickly ruled out that
article as a topic of review. In a preliminary report completed March 24, a
panel led by Acting Chancellor Philip DiStefano said that Churchill's
political expression was "constitutionally protected against government
The same review also ducked charges from several Native people that
Churchill falsely claimed to be American Indian. "The reviewers received
multiple generalized accusations that Professor Churchill is not, in fact,
Indian, and that he has misrepresented his Indian status in a way material
to his employment status and his work as a scholar," said the chancellor's
But the chancellor concluded the employment charge had already been settled
10 years earlier. "This question arose in 1994," he said, "when certain
Indian leaders communicated with the University claiming, among other
things, that Professor Churchill had lied on his application about his
Indian heritage. The then Boulder campus chancellor reviewed the complaint
and concluded that University policy permitted self-identification."
But the chancellor did give serious weight to the charges of research
misconduct, passing them on to the faculty committee "for further inquiry
in accordance with prescribed procedures." The Standing Committee on
Research Misconduct has now decided that seven of these charges warrant
further study by the new committee.
Perhaps the most widely known of these complaints concerns Churchill's
assertion that the U.S. Army deliberately induced a devastating smallpox
epidemic among the Mandan Indians of the upper Missouri River in 1837 by
distributing blankets infected with the virus. The UC-Boulder committee
will review a published charge that Churchill "fabricated the most crucial
details of his genocide story."
According to a critique by professor Thomas Brown of Lamar University,
himself an American Indian, "Churchill radically misrepresented the sources
he cites in support of his genocide charges, sources which say essentially
the opposite of what Churchill attributes to them."
The new committee will also review several allegations of plagiarism.
Professor Fay G. Cohen of Dalhousie University in Canada complained that
Churchill substantially reprinted an essay of hers in a 1992 compilation
entitled "The State of Native America," but attributed it to an "Institute
for Natural Progress." The chancellor's report said legal counsel for
Dalhousie University had concluded in 1997 that her chapter was
plagiarized, but that Cohen alleged that she did not pursue the issue
because of intimidation by Churchill.
The Investigative Committee will not deal with another set of allegations
from the family of Churchill's late wife, Leah Renae Kelly, charging that
he made "inaccurate and defaming" statements in a preface he wrote for a
collection of her essays. The Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution
in 2004 supporting Kelly's family and denouncing the book, but the
UC-Boulder review said the charges "did not fall within the definition of
According to UC-Boulder, the committee could reach one of three
* Finding of misconduct;
* Finding of no culpable conduct, but serious research error; or
* Finding of no misconduct and no serious research error.
In the event of a finding of research misconduct, the university provost
could impose potential sanctions ranging from warning to dismissal. Other
actions could include a reprimand, reduction in pay or suspension.
"If any form of discipline is imposed," said the university statement, "the
respondent may choose to pursue a hearing before the system-wide Committee
on Privilege and Tenure."