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The fate of a tenured University of Colorado professor – who compared victims of the 9-11 World Trade Center terror attacks to Nazis, while praising the suicide hijackers for their “gallant sacrifices” – will be decided at a special meeting of the school’s board of regents Thursday night.

In the meantime, Ward Churchill, who yesterday preemptively stepped down as chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department, remains a professor of Ethnic Studies and Coordinator of American Indian Studies at the Colorado school.

The controversy stems from an essay Churchill wrote titled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” written shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. In it, he describes the thousands of American victims who died in the World Trade Center inferno as “little Eichmanns” (a reference to notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann) who were perpetuating America’s “mighty engine of profit.” They were destroyed, he added, thanks to the “gallant sacrifices” of “combat teams” that successfully targeted the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.

The 2001 essay emerged from obscurity onto center stage when Churchill was invited recently to speak at Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., near Syracuse. Hundreds of relatives of Sept. 11 victims are protesting Churchill’s appearance at Hamilton, which is scheduled for Thursday. However, the college’s president, Joan Hinde Stewart, assured the Associated Press that “however repugnant one might find Mr. Churchill’s remarks,” the college would honor his right to free speech and the show would go on.

To accommodate the large audience Hamilton anticipates due to the uproar, Churchill’s appearance has been re-located from the 300-seat-capacity room originally planned to a facility that will seat 2,000.

On Hamilton College’s website, one page is dedicated to the furor over Churchill’s appearance, and features hundreds of e-mailed comments, most of which express outrage. The first letter (out of 327 as of this report), starts like this:

MS. STEWART, I AM THE MOTHER OF A FIREFIGHTER WHO WAS KILLED ON SEPT. 11, 2001 WHILE TRYING TO SAVE THE LIVES OF THE INNOCENT PEOPLE WHO WERE ATTACKED BY THE BARBARIANS THAT INVADED OUR COUNTRY. I HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE INFORMATION OF YOUR COLLEGE ALLOWING PROF. WARD CHURCHILL TO CONDUCT A TALK OF HIS VIEWS ON THE ATTACKS. HOWEVER, HIS VIEWS SEEM TO BE SO OUTRAGEOUS AND FILLED WITH DERANGED VIEWPOINTS, I WONDER HOW YOU COULD ALLOW SUCH AN ILL-ADVISED PERSON ON CAMPUS! … AS A FAMILY MEMBER I CAN TELL YOU, YOU ARE ALL POURING SALT IN A FESTERING WOUND …

Stewart, in response to the controversy, notes on the college’s website that Hamilton invited Churchill to speak long before becoming aware of his comments about Sept. 11: “However repugnant one may find Mr. Churchill’s remarks, were the College to withdraw the invitation simply on the grounds that he has said offensive things, we would be abandoning a principle on which this College and indeed this republic are founded.”

Meanwhile, in a statement released Sunday, the CU board of regents announced it’s “taking this unusual action” of convening a special meeting of the regents’ board specifically to consider what to do with Churchill.

“Mr. Churchill’s comments regarding the events of Sept. 11, 2001 have resulted in substantial controversy and the Board of Regents intends to consider the concerns of members of the public and the university community at the special meeting,” the statement said.

“While Professor Churchill has the constitutional right to express his political views, his essay on 9/11 has outraged and appalled us and the general public,” interim CU-Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano said, according to AP.

Some students on Hamilton’s campus last week protested Churchill’s scheduled appearance.

According to the Colorado Daily, Regent Michael Carrigan said he and his fellow regents have been “deluged” with e-mails and messages over the Churchill controversy.

“We are hearing a lot of concern from the public and we share the public’s concern,” Carrigan told the Colorado paper Sunday. “That’s why we called this special meeting; to discuss our options.”

Regent Cindy Carlisle said she is “appalled” by Churchill’s essay and insisted “something needs to be done,” according to the local paper’s report.

Last Friday, Isaiah Lechowit, chairman of CU’s College Republicans, urged his student colleagues to protest Churchill in an e-mail titled “Oust the Auschwitz Lunatic.”

The Republican student organization is holding a protest rally this afternoon, urging students to sign petitions demanding Churchill’s removal.

“Churchill said what he did with confidence because he thinks he can hide under his security blanket of tenure,” Lechowit told the Colorado Daily, “but even tenure has its limits.” While Lechowit said Churchill deserves to be ousted from the university altogether, some students are defending the controversial professor.

Ethnic studies senior Dustin Craun and other students, many from Churchill’s ethnic studies department, liken the controversy to a “witch hunt,” said the paper. “White men trying to get an Indian out of Boulder? That’s nothing new,” said Craun. “That’s how this city was started.” Churchill is reportedly a Cherokee Indian by birth.

In an interview Sunday with the Colorado Daily, Craun said: “I see it as an academic freedom issue.” Describing Churchill’s “Roosting Chickens” essay as a revolutionary scholarly discourse by an expert on genocide, Craun added: “It’s a theory; it shouldn’t have anything to do with fact.”

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