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Thursday
Mar122009

Churchill v. University of Colorado, Thursday Morning

Ward Churchill’s attorneys began Thursday morning by calling another witness, Deward Walker, a professor at the University of Colorado. Mr. Walker has been at CU since 1969 and knows Professor Churchill very well. He began by discussing his background and that he has known Professor Churchill since the seventies. That line of questioning developed into questions about his opinion of Professor Churchill’s truth, honesty, and scholarship. This line of questioning brought the first objection and the parties approached the bench.

 

After the objections, Mr. Walker said that he had “no question” that Professor Churchill is a very honest and truthful person. Lane then traveled down the path of American Indian studies and its differences with mainstream academic fields. Dissention, Mr. Walker said, is necessary to the field and Professor Churchill is one of the most well respected scholars on this topic.

 

The rest of his testimony centered on the lack of history of American Indian affairs and how it was proper to sometimes connect the dots of a story by providing your own thesis, "so long as that individual has a good faith belief in what they are writing." In other words, you can not make things up, you must have reason to believe it is true, but a scholar can fill in some of the details, especially in this field. Lane wrapped up his questioning on the topic of Professor Churchill’s character. Mr. Walker said that Professor Churchill is a courageous man for calling into question the majority’s belief of history and that he believed Professor Churchill is speaking for those who do not have a voice.

 

The cross-examination focused on the point that while it may be acceptable for a professor to connect the dots, he must say that is what he is doing and he can not falsify any of the dots themselves. The Defense also honed in on who was on the faculty committees, telling the court that some of Professor Churchill’s friends were on the committees that eventually found he plagiarized and falsified information.

 

The Defense focused on a quote that Professor Churchill wrote with respect to a small pox outbreak among American Indians. Each point and fact was broken down by the defense and Mr. Walker replied on redirect that it would be acceptable to include certain facts and circumstances even if he was not 100% sure because he had an educated reliable guess that is sometimes necessary in this field. Mr. Walker goes on to say that while a professor might be highly criticized if these “facts” are later proved wrong, so long as they had a reasonable belief for believing them and saying them, then there was nothing wrong about it and that it is not grounds for dismissal.   Mr. Walker also backed the redirect's line of questioning that even "academic wakos" who, in good faith believe that the Holocast never occurred is protected speech.

 

After Mr. Walker stepped down and the court took a short recess, Ms. Hillary Old was called to the witness stand to testify on behalf of Professor Churchill. While she currently resides in New York City, she was a student of Professor Churchill in the mid 1990’s, took several classes from him, and considered him to be a mentor.

 

She was in New York at the time of the 9-11 attacks. She described the mood and atmosphere in the city as tense but hushed, individuals were talking to each other asking why. She went on to say that while she understands how Professor Churchill’s 9-12 essay could have offended some, it was misinterpreted. Its point was not to vilify, it was to explain the minorities point of view, to answer those "why" questions that people were asking. Consequently, at a couple of points in her testimony, she said, in her interpretation of the essay, that it was "offered" to help explain what happened on 9/11.  Once she heard about the outcry of Professor Churchill’s essay and the investigation into his academic record, she wrote an email to CU on his behalf.  However, she was disappointed that she only received a “canned” response.

 

The cross was short. Ms. Old admitted that she did not know how many emails, phone calls, and letters the University of Colorado received in response to the publicity of Professor Churchill’s controversy. The Defense also focused on the fact that her response to his essay was subjective and asked her if she thought that others could have a negative reaction to reading it and she replied that she could, but that they were misinterpreting it. Ms. Old also acknowledged that whenever she reads something in a book or in an essay, she expects the facts to be true. The Defense was trying to get what they could out of her to show that regardless of everything else she testified to, the facts that she reads should be accurate, or at least explained.

 

The last witness of the morning was former United States Senator Hank Brown. Senator Brown was also the President of the University of Colorado and recommended Professor Churchill’s dismissal to the Board of Regents. Mr. Brown was also a former President of Northern Colorado University, President of the Daniels Fund, and held other political positions.

 

Right after the background was laid for Mr. Brown, the questioning was intense and contentious. After going through a few questions of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and recommendation, Mr. Brown refused to agree with Mr. Lane’s interpretation of that report. Mr. Brown said that the committee did not say not to dismiss Professor Churchill, rather three voted for discipline and two voted for dismissal.

 

The examination was also contentious once Mr. Lane began asking question about Mr. Browns politics and if he thought that there was a “liberal bias” in academia across the country. Once Mr. Brown declared that he never made that statement, Mr. Lane moved in to impeach him by playing a video clip of his deposition. In that clip, Mr. Brown nods his head when that same question is being asked. However, he claims that it was merely an acknowledgement of the question, not that he agreed with it. After that answer, Mr. Lane attempts to get Judge Naves to instruct the witness to answer the question he asked with respect to the head nodding and the liberal bias. Judge Naves refused to do so and said that the witness was trying to answer the question.

 

Later on, Mr. Lane comes back to the political questions when asking Mr. Brown about his prior affiliation with a group called ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni), a group of academics who, Mr. Lane says, are dedicated to getting rid of a liberal bias and liberal professors to replace them with more conservatives and conservative minded studies to balance out academia. Mr. Brown vehemently disagrees with this statement calling it a mischaracterization of that group and what it stands for.  As an aside, according to the ACTA website, part of its mission states:  


ACTA works with college and university trustees to ensure responsible management of higher education resources, end grade inflation, establish a solid core curriculum, and restore intellectual diversity on campus.

 

Mr. Lane attempted to impeach Mr. Brown again after he asked if he knew of Professor Churchill other than through this controversy; Mr. Brown replied that he did. That is when the court was shown a video deposition of Mr. Brown saying that he did not remember hearing about him before the essay, but after the controversy he had.

 

With questions about how he learned of the controversy, Mr. Brown testified that he heard about Churchill largely though the media and that based on his interpretation of what the media was reporting, Professor Churchill made offensive anti-Semitic comments when he used the term “little Eichmann’s” in his essay.

 

Mr. Lane went back to the position that Mr. Brown held right before he became the President at CU, the President of the Daniels Fund. The Daniels fund provides scholarships for students at the University of Colorado as well as other grants to the school for general use. Right before Mr. Brown left the Daniels Fund, the Board of Directors voted to withhold the grant money from the University of Colorado over concerns about the many ongoing scandals, including Professor Churchill. While Mr. Brown would not testify that Professor Churchill’s controversy was one of the top reasons, he thought it might have been for those members of the board that requested a delay and further investigation before they provided the grant money to CU.

 

There was a difference of opinion between the witness, Mr. Brown, and Professor Churchill’s attorney, Mr. Lane, about whether or not the vote that took place, that Mr. Brown voted in favor of, was a vote to withhold money from CU. It was characterized instead by Mr. Brown as a vote to investigate, and all the funds that were going to go to CU eventually did, and once Mr. Brown became president of CU, the money came in. When asked what information the Board of the Daniels Fund looked at in their investigation, Mr. Brown said that he had no knowledge of what they looked at to come to their determination.

 

They sparred further over Mr. Lane’s characterization of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and Mr. Brown’s job as the President of CU. Mr. Lane suggested that the President’s decision to dismiss a member of the faculty is a subjective decision because he is required to give a recommendation to the Board of Regents that can either follow the committee’s recommendation or give it less weight in light of other evidence. Mr. Brown refused to answer the question without being able to explain it because he thought it was mischaracterizing the true role of the President in this scenario.

 

Cross examination came and Mr. Brown was given an opportunity to explain his answers and go through a timeline of the committees and meetings and other events with respect to this controversy. Mr. O’Rourke went through each one and each step in the process of dismissing Professor Churchill asking Mr. Brown if the Board of Regents or anyone else said that they were going to fire Professor Churchill but had to find a way. Mr. Brown said, “all of that is absurd and any reasonable person would know it is absurd.” The committees were made up of people that even Professor Churchill recommended and they were not biased in anyway. When asked if he had day-to-day involvement, he chuckled and said no, it was up to the faculty and other committee members to do the day-to-day investigation.

 

When asked why, if three of the five recommendations were to not fire Professor Churchill, why did he still recommend termination to the Board of Trustees. He said that because he felt that the offenses which were found to have occurred by all the committee members--that he had plagiarized and falsified information--were so severe, how could he kick a student out for committing these acts, but not a professor.  At this point, there was a great deal of jousting between Lane and Mr. Brown on whether there was any legal limitation on what Mr. Brown could recommend to the Board of Trustees even in the face of an unanimous decision by the committee not to terminate Churchill.  Finally, Mr. Bown admitted that there was no legal limitation on this power to made this termination recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

 

The first two witnesses went by relatively smoothly with few disagreements and interruptions, other than the occasional objection. However, Mr. Brown’s testimony did not go smoothly and was very contentious. The jury seemed very aware of the courtroom action and very engaged, listening intently and following along closely.  Responding from a question from CU's attorney, Mr. Brown took the opportunity to give a speech directed at the jury that CU had to terminate Ward Churchill due to the number and gravity of the breaches in academic research.  The judge then adjourned the court until after lunch.

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