While University of Colorado officials defend controversial professor Ward Churchill in the name of free speech, an evangelical Christian professor at the school claims he’s about to be dismissed for religious or political reasons.
Professor Phil Mitchell, who has a doctorate in American social history from the university, says he recently was informed his contract would not be renewed after this year because “his teaching was not up to the department standards,” according to Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi.
Mitchell, winner in 1998 of the prestigious SOAR Award for teacher of the year, told the columnist he has wondered how long he would last.
“I’ve had enough. I am clearly being closed out for political or religious reasons,” Mitchell says. “I am one of the top-rated professors in the history of the department.”
A colleague, William Wei, described by Harsanyi as “hardly a conservative,” said, “Phil is a great person, a good teacher and highly regarded by his students.”
Harsanyi said Mitchell, who has taught at the Hallett Diversity Program for 24 straight semesters, upset the head of the department by presenting a diverse opinion.
After quoting respected black intellectual Thomas Sowell in a discussion about affirmative action, Mitchell was berated as a racist.
“That would have come as a surprise to my black children,” said Mitchell, who has nine children, two of them adopted African-Americans.
Then, says Harsanyi, the professor used a book on liberal Protestantism in the late 19th century.
Harsanyi writes: “So repulsed by the word ‘god’ was one student, she complained, and the department chair fired him without a meeting.”
The columnist points out that unlike Churchill’s case, there was no protest by faculty and students.
Mitchell later was reinstated, Harsanyi said, but never was able to teach in the history department again.
“People say liberals run the university. I wish they did,” Mitchell told the Denver columnist. “Most liberals understand the need for intellectual diversity. It’s the radical left that kills you.”
Mitchell said he has stuck it out this long “to create enthusiasm and love for history. And I am successful at that. I love the classroom, and I love my students.”
Controversy erupted around Churchill last month, when one of his essays made it into the national spotlight.
Written shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, it 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.
Churchill resigned his position as head of the Colorado University ethnic studies program but kept his $96,000 per year teaching post. He steadfastly has refused to apologize for his comments.
In addition, he’s accused of writing essays with passages “almost identical” to those of other authors and of copying an original art piece and claiming it as his own.
The University of Colorado Regents is probing whether Churchill has violated tenure and expects to announce a decision this month.