The University of Colorado has been accused by that state's affiliate of the American Association of University Professors of numerous violations of academic freedom and due process in its dismissals of two faculty members: Ward Churchill, a leftist ethnic-studies professor fired for alleged academic misconduct in the midst of a media firestorm over remarks he had made about the September 11 terrorist attacks; and Phil Mitchell, an adjunct history instructor whose contract was not renewed after he complained that his academic department was trying to oust him for his conservative views.
In a prologue to reports issued last week on the two faculty dismissals, the Colorado Conference of the AAUP argues that both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Churchill lost their jobs at the university's Boulder campus "because other people did not like their opinions." Based on its conclusion that the university has shown "indifference to the ideals of academic freedom," the conference recommends "that any faculty seeking employment accept a position at the University of Colorado only as a last resort."
Bronson Hilliard, a spokesman for the University of Colorado at Boulder, responded Tuesday by arguing that both faculty members lost their jobs for valid reasons. In an interview, he denounced as "idiotic" the reports' assertion that Colorado has shown a pattern of firing faculty for their political beliefs. "This is a place of lively discourse and debate," he said, calling the state AAUP conference's warning to potential faculty hires "ridiculous on its face."
"These are not abuses of academic freedom, nor are they cases that are even remotely related to each other," he said.
Both of the state conference's reports were prepared by its standing committee on faculty rights, based on the committee's investigations of the dismissals.
The Churchill Investigation
The report on Mr. Churchill, whose lawsuit challenging his 2007 dismissal remains pending before the Colorado Supreme Court, argues that the university's firing of Mr. Churchill over charges of research misconduct "violated many of its own rules as well as the most basic principles of academic freedom it purports to uphold." It accuses the university of a long list of due-process violations, such as convening an investigative committee that, it says, was stacked against Mr. Churchill, gave him too little time to develop his defense, and judged his research based on standards that were vaguely stated or created out of whole cloth.
The university panel's report "suppressed and misrepresented evidence that worked in Churchill's favor, and contrived evidence against him," the AAUP committee's report says. The university, it says, "repeatedly violated the rules of confidentiality by conducting press conferences, releasing statements to the press, and posting statements and documents on its Web site during the investigation."
Echoing the position the university has taken in defending itself against Mr. Churchill's lawsuit, Mr. Hilliard on Tuesday argued that the professor "was given complete due process," involving several faculty hearings, and clearly found to have committed academic misconduct.
An Adjunct's Termination
The Colorado AAUP's report on Mr. Mitchell, who had been a senior instructor in history at the Boulder campus's Sewall Residence Academic Program, argues that university's history department tried to dismiss him for his conservative political views and Christian religious beliefs in 2005, but backed down after he spoke out against his potential termination in more than 30 media interviews. The department, the report says, then retaliated against Mr. Mitchell for taking such steps by contriving a justification to get rid of him, ending his contract in 2007.
Describing Mr. Mitchell, who had taught at the university for 23 years, as an award-winning instructor who was exceptionally popular with students, the report says the history department built up a case for firing him by subjecting him to exceptional levels of scrutiny, holding him to tougher standards than other faculty members, and heeding only those colleagues who negatively evaluated his performance while ignoring those whose evaluations were positive.
The report calls Mr. Mitchell's dismissal "a prime example" of how adjunct faculty members at the university lack the job protections afforded to those with tenure. It says: "A dual employment structure exists at the University of Colorado, wherein most of the faculty can be fired at any time for any reason, or for no reason, thus allowing the administration and sometimes tenured faculty to suppress the academic freedom of the majority" of instructors, who are adjuncts.
Mr. Hilliard, the university spokesman, on Tuesday said Mr. Mitchell's contract termination had "nothing to do" with his religious or political beliefs and instead stemmed from his failure to comply with directives to instructors in the Sewall Residence Academic Program to make their seminar courses more rigorous.