Ward Churchill Wins, Awarded $1

University of Colorado professor Ward L. Churchill, left, with attorney David Lane after the verdict. (David Zalubowski, Associated Press) April 2, 2009

University of Colorado professor Ward L. Churchill, left, with attorney David Lane after the verdict. (David Zalubowski, Associated Press) April 2, 2009

A Colorado jury yesterday decided that Ward Churchill had been fired, not for his blatant plagiarism, but for saying outrageous things that embarrassed the University of Colorado.  He was awarded a dollar in damages, presumably because his actual plagiarism mitigated the fact that it wasn’t the reason for his termination.

The former ethnic-studies professor won his civil case against CU on Thursday after a unanimous jury found he was fired in retaliation for his controversial essay about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the jury awarded Churchill only the paltry amount in damages, allowing both sides to claim some measure of victory in a four-year battle pitting free speech and tenure against the value of academic purity.

It’s not over, however:

Denver Chief District Judge Larry J. Naves will decide in a separate hearing whether the former Boulder professor can return to his job or receive “front pay” for future years he could have worked at CU.

[Churchill’s attorney, David] Lane says he will file a motion to recover legal fees for hundreds of hours of work he and co-counsels Qusair Mohamedbhai and Robert Bruce put into the case — but he deferred questions about a dollar amount. “We work cheap,” he said. Still, the bill, if assessed to CU, is likely to be well into seven figures.

And, so, we’ll be hearing more from Churchill.

Churchill briefly spoke outside the courtroom and said, “It took four years. It took a while. And it was quick, it was justice.”  CU “has been exposed for what it is,” Churchill said.  “It was found by a jury that I was wrongly fired,” he said. “They not only violated my rights, but my students’ rights and the community’s rights.” Churchill said he was satisfied with a $1 judgment and said his case was not about money.  “Reinstatement, of course,” he said. “I did not ask for money. I asked for justice.”

Ultimately, Scott Robinson is right that the university acquitted itself poorly throughout this mess. I also agree with Margaret Soltan on this much:

Churchill’s massive academic misconduct was easily discovered; and yet he was chair of a dept. at Colorado. No one cared.

The principle has to be equal treatment. If your university typically overlooks plagiarism among your professors, you don’t get to randomly brutalize one plagiarizing professor because he said something that pissed off people.

I find it a non sequitur, however, that a University has no right to be upset with professorial misconduct if it houses a big time athletic program with a history of NCAA violations.  Academics are, after all, the university’s raison detre whereas sports are a side business.

UPDATE: I also concur on all points with Freddie, especially points 1, 4, and 8.

Photo: LAT. The caption, which is theirs, is premature.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Plunk says:

    “randomly brutalize”? I thought Churchill was tough guy posing with a gun? Isn’t he well over six feet tall? Firing him for all the reasons he was fired was brutalizing him? If so he’s a bigger wimp than thought he was.

    I can guarantee he randomly brutalized students that had to sit through his B.S. classes. Did they get the jury from the Womens Studies department?

    It’s no wonder people are disgusted with academia. Examples like this expose the soft corruption of colleges today.

  2. Floyd says:

    This is a great victory for politicians and used car salesmen everywhere,pushing them up a notch on the trust scale. They can now continue to look down with smug disdain on job of professor!

  3. Steven Donegal says:

    I find it a non sequitur, however, that a University has no right to be upset with professorial misconduct if it houses a big time athletic program with a history of NCAA violations. Academics are, after all, the university’s raison detre whereas sports are a side business.

    Really? If push came to shove, which program would the University of Alabama jettison first–the football team or the history department? How about Kentucky–basketball or philosophy?

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Churchill said he was satisfied with a $1 judgment and said his case was not about money. “Reinstatement, of course,” he said. “I did not ask for money. I asked for justice.”

    Is that true? Did his lawyer ask the jury for money? Lawyers have asked for $1 when it’s the principle of the matter. How come I don’t believe that happened here?

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Was or is he guilty of plagiarism or not. If so and he was fired because the University has a policy to not allow that act. What is the problem? Al Capone was busted for tax evasion, not everything else he was guilty of. He was still off the streets for a while because of it. Someone should just kick his ass. Too bad dueling is not lawful.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    The following background from the NYTimes suggests to me that the jury thought there was a wide range of damages to be considered:

    First, they [the jury] asked whether it was possible to award no damages. A few minutes later, they asked whether, if all but one jury member could agree on a dollar amount, that person could be replaced by another juror. (The answer was no.)

    Possible compromise verdict, with some thinking Churchill didn’t prove his case, other’s thinking he deserved a lot of money.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Someone should just kick his ass.

    Ohhhh…tough guy! Are you offering to do that?

  8. sam says:

    James writes, with a naivete I had thought gone out of the world:

    Academics are, after all, the university’s raison d’etre whereas sports are a side business.

  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    He was awarded a dollar in damages, presumably because his actual plagiarism mitigated the fact that it wasn’t the reason for his termination.

    He was overly-compensated for his damages; if I had a dollar for every time I said or did something that violated common sense, I would be a rich person.
    Churchill is a certifiable nut case, existing in the world of modern-day academia. Think about when this person could exist outside the world of modern-day high-level scholars and a tax-payer funded educational environment.
    Wanna send off your kids to this fool’s rantings and ravings.
    No, I had rather my kid be a man, not fall for the idiocy of failed ideas, moral confusion, and separate themselves from the overly stimulating emotional and foolish ideas of those who requires an overly-stimulating emotion and very little common sense.
    Personal rectitude, no matter the age will overcome silliness, dishonesty, and the urge to believe because what a mass of your young contemporaries and his fellow professional educators believe. The man should have been recognized as a fool by his fellow professional and by his students.

  10. Steve Plunk says:

    Eneils point out the true scandal. How on earth did Churchill’s colleagues justify his scholarship, position as department head, or even being allowed to teach? The other professors failed in their responsibility to the paying students. Was it just professional courtesy to ignore him? Was it fear of being subject to a high standard themselves? Were they fooled?

    The guy was a fake, a fraud and I bet most students could see it a mile away but the faculty pays no mind to students. The administration would pay no mind to students. Like Eneils this is making me rethink how much involvement I will have in my son’s college education. Turning him over to a profession that cannot police itself seems foolish.

  11. Floyd says:

    So… “Walking Eagle has returned to his perch?

  12. Eneils Bailey says:

    Yeah,
    Sometimes, I guess it is OK for kids to be smitten and taken by authoritarian figures, no matter what they preach. Right from wrong, good from evil, and how to recognize fools should be taught to kids at home before these lecherous bastards get their hands on them.

    But, it is unforgivable, and should be illegal for these supposedly educated, responsible, and people you pay to educate your kids fail see no harm in people like Churchill.

  13. Tlaloc says:

    James writes, with a naivete I had thought gone out of the world:

    Academics are, after all, the university’s raison d’etre whereas sports are a side business.

    I had the same reaction. Take a look at any major university budget and it become very clear what the priorities are…