Ward Churchill Is Defiant in Second Day on Witness Stand

March 24, 2009

Ward Churchill acknowledged some flaws in his scholarship, but strenuously denied that any merited his 2007 dismissal by the University of Colorado, in testimony delivered today in a trial in which he is attempting to prove that his firing violated his First Amendment rights.

Throughout his second day on the witness stand, the controversial ethnic-studies scholar expressed defiance toward his accusers at the university, according to reports on the courtroom proceedings published in The Denver Post, the Colorado Daily, and The New York Times. At one point, he called several of the university administrators and faculty members who faulted his scholarship “pathetic,” the Daily’s account says.

Asked by his lawyer, David A. Lane, what he hoped to gain from the proceedings, Mr. Churchill said, “I want my job and I want restitution and acknowledgment that the entire process to remove me from the university was fraudulent.” He testified that he has been out of work since his 2007 dismissal from his job, which had paid $94,000 a year, and has been so distracted by the need to defend himself that he has been forced to put aside work on four books.

As was the case yesterday, Mr. Churchill repeatedly sought to make the point that the university’s real motive for firing him was a desire to calm the furor surrounding an essay he wrote about the September 2001 terrorist attacks, in which he characterized some of the office workers killed in the World Trade Center as “Little Eichmanns,” rather than innocent victims, because he viewed them as complicit in U.S. oppression of people in foreign lands.

Under cross-examination from the university’s lawyer, Patrick T. O’Rourke, Mr. Churchill admitted several mistakes in his scholarship. He said he may have been imprecise in identifying the American Indian tribe that he accused the U.S. military of deliberately infecting with smallpox in 1830, that he should not have said contaminated blankets were used to spread the infection when the sources he footnoted had not specifically referred to blankets, and that he committed an oversight in failing to catch how his wife had included an essay that was not his in a list of his accomplishments she helped him put together. He and his lawyer, however, have characterized such mistakes as minor.

Much of the cross-examination by Mr. O’Rourke focused on Mr. Churchill’s ghostwriting for other scholars of essays that he then cited to support his own theories. Mr. Churchill argued that such ghostwriting and undisclosed self-citation is common and does not violate academic standards. When Mr. O’Rourke said that none of Mr. Churchill’s witnesses described the practice as standard, and a panel of 20 faculty members at Colorado had concluded that it was wrong, Mr. Churchill argued that none of the university’s witnesses had cited any rule against the practice and that others outside the courtroom might accept it.

Mr. Churchill argued that the university’s allegations against him should have been investigated by a panel consisting of scholars who did not work for the university, to prevent bias.

The trial is expected to conclude later this week. —Peter Schmidt