DENVER – As pressure mounts on a University of Colorado professor who ignited a furor by comparing the World Trade Center victims to Nazis, colleagues have come to his defense — on free speech grounds.
The Boulder Faculty Assembly (search), a group representing professors at the campus, called Ward Churchill's (search) comments "controversial, offensive, and odious," but also expressed support for his right to express them.
"The lifeblood of any strong university is its diversity of ideas which allows for the environment necessary to educate and train young learners and advance the boundaries of knowledge," said a statement released Tuesday by university spokesman Peter Caughey. "Debate is a fundamental characteristic of a university."
[Click here to read Churchill's essay, titled "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens."]
The university's Board of Regents planned to meet in an emergency session Thursday to discuss Churchill, who resigned as chairman of the university's department of ethnic studies this week. He remains a professor.
Churchill failed to show up at a news conference scheduled Tuesday. Instead, four professors from the university's ethnic studies department expressed "unconditional support" for Churchill's "freedom of expression and First Amendment rights."
In an essay written the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, Churchill said white-collar workers in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann (search), who ensured the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Churchill also spoke of the "gallant sacrifices" of the "combat teams" that struck America.
The essay and follow-up book, "On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality," attracted little attention until Churchill was invited to speak Thursday at Hamilton College (search), about 40 miles east of Syracuse, N.Y.
Citing death threats, the school Tuesday canceled the panel discussion featuring Churchill.
In a statement released Tuesday, Churchill said he was not defending the Sept. 11 attacks, "but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned.
"I have never said that people 'should' engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy."
Gov. Bill Owens called on Churchill to resign his faculty position, saying taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize his "outrageous and insupportable" views that defy the facts of history.
Colorado Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald also said he should resign from CU, saying he was compromising the school's reputation. Republican members of the House also introduced a nonbinding resolution expressing sympathy for the Sept. 11 victims and criticizing Churchill's comments.