The top official at the University of Colorado's flagship campus on Monday recommended that the school fire the firebrand professor who compared some of the World Trade Center victims to a Nazi and later was accused of academic misconduct.
Churchill, who did not return telephone messages, has 10 days to appeal the recommendation to a faculty committee. A tenured professor of ethnic studies, he has denied allegations of plagiarism and other misconduct and has called the school's investigation a joke.
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, said Churchill will appeal through university channels, but does not think the school will reverse the firing.
"I can't imagine that CU is going to suddenly decide the First Amendment deserves some respect," Lane said, adding that a lawsuit would be filed if the firing is upheld. "I trust juries to make these decisions, not bureaucrats," he said.
In an essay written shortly after the 2001 attacks, Churchill described some of the victims in the World Trade Center as "little Eichmanns," a reference to Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann. The essay was largely ignored until January 2005, when it came to light before Churchill was to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York.
The essay caused an outcry and launched a national debate, with Churchill held up alternatively as a pillar of free speech rights or a symptom of liberal academia run amok. University officials concluded he could not be dismissed because of First Amendment protections, but they did order an investigation into allegations of academic misconduct.
The school's committee on research misconduct last month concluded Churchill "has committed serious, repeated, and deliberate research misconduct," findings DiStefano agreed with.
University officials said Churchill has been relieved of all academic work including teaching and work on committees but will remain a paid faculty member as long as the firing is in the appeals process. Churchill is currently on a leave and is not teaching any classes.
Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who has called for Churchill's dismissal for months, praised DiStefano's decision.
"If a university is a marketplace of ideas, then Mr. Churchill is the rotten fruit among hundreds of good apples. Hopefully, we can soon say good riddance to Ward Churchill once and for all," Owens said.
Kate Holt, a junior at the university, said the uproar over Churchill's Sept. 11 remarks was "stupid" but said the research allegations raise concerns.
If Churchill appeals to the faculty committee — known as the Faculty Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure — a subcommittee would review the case and make a recommendation to CU System President Hank Brown, university spokeswoman Jeanine Malmsbury said.
Brown would make a recommendation to the university's governing Board of Regents, which would have the final say, she said.
If Churchill does not appeal, DiStefano's recommendation would go directly to Brown, who would then make a recommendation to the regents for a final decision, Malmsbury said.