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Colorado regents fire controversial professor

Officials said that Ward Churchill's firing was not related to his calling 9/11 victims 'little Eichmanns.' Officials said that Ward Churchill's firing was not related to his calling 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns."

BOULDER, Colo. -- The University of Colorado yesterday fired professor Ward Churchill, whose controversial statements comparing victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to Nazis triggered a debate over free speech and scholarship.

University regents insisted that their decision was unrelated to Churchill's 2001 essay that called workers in the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns," a reference to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of sending Jews to death camps.

The regents said they were acting because a faculty committee had found that Churchill, 59, a tenured professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, had committed plagiarism and fraudulent research in other writings.

"I'm not sure we had much of a choice," said the university's president, Hank Brown, whose recommendation to dismiss Churchill was upheld by the regents. "The integrity of our research is an integral part of our university."

Churchill and his supporters argued that the move was motivated by a dislike for the leftist professor's views, and that it would keep other professors from discussing unpopular subjects.

"This is a political firing with academic camouflage," said Tom Mayer, a sociology professor at the university.

Churchill's attorney, David Lane, said he planned to file a lawsuit in Denver today, challenging the dismissal as a violation of the First Amendment. The message of the university's action, he said, "is there will be a payback for free speech."

The controversy began in 2005, when Churchill was scheduled to speak at Hamilton College in New York. Critics seized on a little-read essay he wrote after the Sept. 11 attacks, titled, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." In it, Churchill contended that workers in the World Trade Center were "a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire," and compared them to the Nazi leader who carried out superiors' orders for genocide.

Churchill was roundly attacked on the Internet and television, and his speaking engagement was canceled. The University of Colorado's regents apologized for the essay, and the governor of Colorado at the time, Bill Owens, called for Churchill to be fired. He was not, but did step down as chairman of the university's ethnic studies department.

The university later launched an investigation into allegations that Churchill's writings on genocide of American Indians involved research fraud. Last year a panel found several problems in the professor's writings, and its findings were accepted by two other faculty panels. Last month Brown recommended Churchill's dismissal.

"We were guided by the findings of three faculty committees and 25 tenured faculty members," chairwoman Pat Hayes said of the regents' decision.

After an all-day closed-door deliberation, the regents voted 8 to 1 to accept Brown's recommendation that Churchill be dismissed. In their motion, they stressed that they supported academic freedom.

Dozens of Churchill supporters, some wearing T-shirts reading, "I Am Ward Churchill," booed and cursed when the vote was announced. At a news conference afterward, Churchill blasted the findings against him as fraudulent and said he was going to stay in Boulder and fight to regain his position.