HONOLULU – A University of Colorado professor whose essay about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ignited a national controversy has accepted an invitation to speak next week at the University of Hawaii.
Several university and community organizations are sponsoring Ward Churchill's (search) visit Tuesday to the Manoa campus.
University President David McClain on Friday criticized Churchill's comparison of victims of the World Trade Center attacks to Holocaust organizer Adolph Eichmann (search), but defended the appearance as an expression of free speech.
In an essay written shortly after the 2001 attacks, Churchill called some victims "little Eichmanns." The ethnic studies professor said later that his essay referred to "technocrats" who work for what he calls repressive American policies around the world. He has defended his essay and said he owes no one an apology.
McClain said Friday that he finds Churchill's comments "personally offensive, wildly inaccurate and remarkably hurtful to those who lost loved ones there on that day."
But he added, "Freedom of inquiry and of expression are what universities are all about and freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy."
The essay drew attention after a campus newspaper reported on it in advance of Churchill's planned visit to a New York school last month. That visit was canceled, as were several others to U.S. colleges, but other schools have invited him to speak in support of his free-speech rights (search).
On the floor of the Hawaii Senate on Friday, Sen. Fred Hemmings said Churchill's sponsors invited, "under the guise of academic freedom and freedom of speech, a very evil person."
The visit jeopardizes the "reputation and the wisdom of the University of Hawaii and those who bring him here," said Hemmings, a Republican. "It also jeopardizes financial support."
A professor in one of the departments sponsoring the speech defended the invitation.
"We wanted to signal that we really believe in free expression not just for non-controversial ideas, but for controversial ideas, because that's what free expression is for," said Robert Perkinson, a professor of American studies.
Churchill's comments led Colorado's governor to call for his firing and the University of Colorado Board of Regents to launch an investigation into whether a tenured professor could be removed. Churchill resigned from his post as chair of Colorado's Department of Ethnic Studies but has threatened to sue the university if he is fired from the faculty.