BOULDER, Colo. –
Ward Churchill wore his trademark black shades to one of the most important meetings of his life — a session of the University of Colorado Board of Regents convened to decide whether Churchill would keep his job.
As it turned out, the members were an hour-and-a-half late with their announcement, prompting Churchill's attorney, David Lane, to joke, "What are they doing in there? Deciding whether to flog him and lay his body out on the campus steps?"
Waiting to hear his fate, Churchill won a small battle: He told a radio talk show host who had been one of his biggest critics to get out of his face. The radio guy had a live microphone and Churchill's comments went out over the airwaves. The professor wondered why the man was wearing make-up for a radio gig.
A reporter asked Churchill if the professor was a fraud.
"Is it some kind of fraud to pretend you've got a mind?" Churchill responded.
When we asked Churchill to give an interview to the FOX News Channel, he refused. He wouldn't talk with "Bill O'Reilly or anyone else on Rupert Murdoch's payroll," he said. Another small victory for Churchill, but I still had my notepad.
While he waited for the big moment, Churchill threw his arms over the back of a chair and swapped stories with the former students and supporters who had shown up Tuesday to wait with him. Among the pro-Churchill crowd was American Indian activist Russell Means, his hair in long braids tied in front with black leather.
Some people wore T-shirts indicating their support. On the front: "I am Ward Churchill." On the back: "I won't be silent."
There were signs, too: "Shame on you, Hank," a reference to UCB President Hank Brown who, a month before, recommended to the Board of Regents that Churchill be fired for "academic misconduct."
When the CU Board of Regents members finally filed into the Glenn Miller Ballroom to announce their decision, Churchill's supporters — numbering more than 50 — fell silent. Signs up. Heads up.
And then the big news. In short, after many layers of committees and a long investigation, Churchill was found to have stolen from other authors and to have inaccurately described historical facts in some of his writings.
Within minutes, the Board's votes were cast out loud: Eight of the nine agreed with President Brown: Churchill was out.
Upon hearing the news, Churchill pumped his fist up, gesturing victory when, in fact, he had just lost his job. There were boos and cuss words from the crowd. Boom, boom, boom... someone had brought in Native American drums.
The one regent who voted against firing Churchill said she thought he was guilty of academic misconduct, but she didn't want him terminated.
One student sat in the middle of the chanting crowd applauding the Board's decision. When I asked him what he was doing in a crowd of Churchill sympathizers, he said he wanted Ward Churchill to know that not everyone wants him at the university. He was smiling.
"Churchill is a disgrace," he said.
Afterward, the drums and the press moved to another room for a press conference.
"I am going nowhere," Churchill said to a media he openly scorned.
"A great university cannot be intimidated," Brown told reporters at a separate, simultaneous press conference. Brown then outlined new rules Churchill — the first tenured professor the university has ever fired for "academic misconduct" — would have to follow in his future dealings with the university.
Churchill is allowed to come and go at the University of Colorado, but he cannot teach there. Under the agreement, he will get a year's pay: $96,000.
But Churchill had some plans of his own. He'll sue the university in Denver District Court for violation of his First Amendment rights. His attorney said he wants the suit heard by a Denver jury — which he said will be more friendly toward the professor and diverse than one he might find in federal court.
Other universities are watching CU as a test case.
Carol McKinley is a reporter in the Denver bureau of FOX News Channel.