U. of Colorado Makes It Official: Ward Churchill Is Not Welcome Back

May 21, 2009

The University of Colorado has filed a court brief formally responding to Ward Churchill’s bid for court-ordered reinstatement to the faculty. As university officials had suggested would be the case, their stand on his reinstatement is a very emphatic no.

In the brief, filed yesterday in state court, the university’s lawyers note that the jury that found last month that Mr. Churchill had been fired unjustly, in violation of his free-speech rights, also determined that he was due only $1 in damages. The jury’s decision to award Mr. Churchill such a nominal sum “can be seen only as a complete repudiation of Professor Churchill’s scholarship and the jury’s ultimate conclusion that he destroyed his own reputation.”

The brief also seizes upon remarks by Mr. Churchill’s lawyer, David A. Lane, as reason to deny the professor’s reinstatement. In an interview with The Denver Post following the jury’s verdict, Mr. Lane said university officials would face another lawsuit by Mr. Churchill if they so much as “look at him cross-eyed” after his reinstatement. Likewise, Mr. Lane told the Colorado Daily that Mr. Churchill would sue if the university put him in a basement office or stripped him of class time.

The brief argues that such threats place the university in an untenable position, where it faces the threat of litigation over routine academic decisions and must effectively immunize Mr. Churchill from complying with professional scholarly standards if it does not want to be sued for investigating any new complaints of misconduct brought against him.

If the court decides to award Mr. Churchill anything, the brief says, it should only be compensation for the pay he would be earning if he had kept his job. The brief argues, however, that he should not even be given that. —Peter Schmidt