Churchill Investigation Uncovers Academic Misconduct · 15 May 2006

By Sara Burnett and Kevin Vaughan--Scripps Howard News Service--05/16/06

BOULDER, Colo. - A University of Colorado investigative committee reported Tuesday that it uncovered serious cases of misconduct in the academic research of Ward Churchill, the professor who caused a national uproar by likening some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi war criminal.

The committee said the misconduct by Churchill, an ethnic studies professor, included plagiarism, fabrication, and "serious deviation from accepted practices in reporting results from research."

It also noted Churchill was "disrespectful of Indian oral traditions" when he wrote the U.S. government distributed blankets infested with smallpox to Mandan Indians in 1837 on the Upper Missouri River.

Three of the five members of the committee said the transgressions were serious enough that the university could revoke Churchill's tenure and fire him. But two of those three said the most appropriate sanction would be a five-year suspension without pay.

The other two committee members said they were "troubled by the circumstances under which these allegations have been made," and "believe his dismissal would have an adverse effect on other scholars' ability to conduct their research." Those two recommended that Churchill be suspended without pay for two years.

Research misconduct encompasses a spectrum of academic wrongdoing - everything from plagiarism to fabrication to falsification.

The committee also said it was concerned about the timing and motives of the investigation, which was launched amid public outcry over an essay Churchill wrote about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The university knew Churchill was a "controversial public intellectual" when he was given tenure in 1991, the committee said in the report.

Last year, as the Churchill inquiry gathered momentum, Joseph Rosse, chairman of the standing committee on research misconduct, explained why the allegations had to be taken seriously.

"Research misconduct is one of the most serious allegations that can be brought against a faculty member," Rosse said, "because it strikes at the very heart of integrity and public trust so crucial to the mission of a university."

The five-member investigative committee was chaired by university law professor Mimi Wesson. It also included two other faculty members, history professor Marjorie McIntosh and sociology professor Michael Radelet, as well as Jose Limon, professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, and Robert N. Clinton, professor of law at Arizona State University.

The Churchill controversy erupted in January 2005 after the editor of the student newspaper at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., published a front-page article about a little-known essay the professor wrote immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In it, Churchill - who was scheduled to talk at Hamilton - wrote that the attacks were retaliation for a U.S. foreign policy that had resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children.

"The most that can honestly be said of those involved on September 11 is that they finally responded in kind to some of what this country has dispensed to their people as a matter of course," Churchill wrote.

He then went on to say the terrorists did not strike "innocent victims," but "military targets, pure and simple."

And, in the phrase most widely repeated in the furor that followed, Churchill described the white-collar employees killed in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns" - a reference to the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, responsible for sending millions of Jews to concentration camps.

News of the essay quickly spread, igniting criticism from everyone from cable news host Bill O'Reilly to Gov. Bill Owens and the state Legislature.

The media and some of the more outraged public turned a microscope on Churchill, questioning everything from how he earned tenure and whether he has the American Indian ancestry he has claimed.

They also began picking through Churchill's many books, essays and speeches.

After an initial investigation, Phil DeStefano, interim chancellor of the university's Boulder campus, said he disagreed with Churchill's opinion about those who died on Sept. 11, but that it was protected by the First Amendment. DeStefano said the statements weren't, by themselves, enough reason for university to fire him.

But at the same time, the university launched an investigation into allegations that Churchill fabricated material and may have copied the work of others.

The university's 12-member Standing Committee on Research Misconduct reviewed the case and decided there was enough merit to forward seven charges to an investigative committee for further review.