Judge Larry J. Naves has denied former University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill reinstatement despite a ruling from a jury that his termination for plagiarism was politically motivated. The jury awarded Churchill $1 in damages.
The University was under intense public pressure to fire Churchill after he analogized victims of the Sept. 11th attacks to “little Eichmanns.” The University proceeded to apply equal pressure on faculty to fire him. When the faculty refused to fire him for his views as a matter of free speech and academic freedom, the University pushed for an alternative basis to fire him.
Naves ruling is hard to reconcile with the jury decision. If the termination was abusive, the obvious remedy is reinstatement. I do not particularly like Churchill, but it seems bizarre that he would prevail in showing an abusive termination but receive neither substantive damages nor reinstatement.
The clear message received by the University is the wrong one. The University opposed the reinstatement on the ground that, if he returned, the relationship “would not be an amicable one.” That was obvious from the jury verdict. However, that is like using the bias as a defense. First, the University is found to have improperly terminated Churchill due to its hatred for his views but then successfully blocks reinstatement due to its hatred for his views.
University President Bruce Benson said “[t]his ruling recognizes that the regents have to make important and difficult decisions. The threat of litigation should not be used to influence those decisions.” That sounds like the university still believes that it made the right decision despite the jury ruling and considers Naves decision as a vindication.
For the full story, click here.