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Faculty committee supports sanctions against Churchill

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BOULDER, Colo. – Ward Churchill deserves to be fired, said a majority of the University of Colorado at Boulder faculty committee charged with investigating his alleged research misconduct.

But only one of the five-person committee recommended outright dismissal of the activist on Indian issues who was chairman of the institution’s Department of Ethnic Studies until a belated national furor arose last year over his political essays. The committee said it did not consider his political writing, but only more longstanding complaints about his academic work. Two other members of the majority agreed that his misconduct warranted dismissal, but instead recommended a five-year suspension without pay. Two other members opposed revocation of his tenure and advocated two-year suspension without pay.

All five, however, agreed that Churchill had committed “deliberate” and “serious” research misconduct in a number of his published works. They warned that the controversy had damaged the reputation of Indian and ethnic studies in general.

The university’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct issued its findings in a 20-page report on June 13. The provost and academic officials of the Boulder campus will make the final decision on sanctions.

The committee emphasized that it dealt only with complaints about Churchill’s academic writings. It said it made no judgment about his inflammatory essay on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, in which he called some of the victims “little Eichmanns” (a reference to a Nazi bureaucrat in the genocide of European Jewry.) It also refused to consider longstanding charges that Churchill falsely claimed tribal membership to enhance his career.

The furor over Churchill’s 9/11 essay prompted the committee’s investigation. Some of the charges dated to 1995. But the report denied that it was infringing Churchill’s freedom of speech or academic freedom. It said it based its vote on the detailed findings of an independent Investigative Committee, issued a month earlier.

The 124-page Investigative Committee report included detailed studies of Churchill’s use of sources. Its longest section dealt with Churchill’s repeated charge that the U.S. Army had deliberately caused a devastating smallpox epidemic in 1837 among the Mandan and Arikawa tribes, a charge it said that was not supported – and, in fact, directly contradicted – by his citations. The five-person Investigating Committee included well-known scholars from outside the University of Colorado, notably Prof. Robert Clinton of the Sandra Day O’Connor Law School at the Arizona State University and Jose Limon, director of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Texas – Austin.

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The Investigative Committee found “serious, repeated, and deliberate” misconduct in Churchill’s writings, including falsification and fabrication on four separate topics, two instances of plagiarism and “failure to comply with established standards regarding author’s names on publications.” It also sharply criticized unnamed University of Colorado officials for their “high-risk” decision to hire Churchill in the first place. The hiring, the investigative report said, was “largely the consequence of Professor Churchill’s effectiveness as a polemicist.”

The Standing Committee said the charges were especially serious because they had eroded “public trust” in the academy at large and Indian and ethnic studies in particular: “These doubts and accusations have particularly challenged other, legitimate scholars in the fields of ethnic and Indian studies.”

“We consider the harm that his behavior has done to his field and to the academy more generally to be an aggravating factor in our determination of an appropriate sanction.”

The Standing Committee also indirectly criticized university and department leaders involved in Churchill’s advancement. “Many have asked how Professor Churchill received a tenured Associate Professor position, and subsequent promotion to Full Professor, apparently without going through normal review processes,” its report noted. It recommended higher standards for faculty reviews, including “more careful reading of the faculty member’s materials.”

It also asked the university chancellor to “consider means” to restore the reputation of other faculty in the Department of Ethnic Studies, who, it said, “have suffered from the fallout of this investigation.”

“We have taken pains in this report,” the Standing Committee said, “to explain that the findings apply only to Professor Churchill and should not be casually generalized to others in his department or field of study.”

The Committee also asked the chancellor to make a statement “that highlights academic integrity and academic freedom as the dual cornerstones of scholarly life.”