DENVER – A judge refused Tuesday to reinstate a University of Colorado professor who was fired on plagiarism charges after he likened some Sept. 11 terrorist attack victims to a Nazi leader.
If it stands, the ruling means Ward Churchill cannot return to the classroom even though he won a lawsuit in April arguing that his firing was politically motivated.
Churchill wrote an essay after the 2001 terrorist attacks calling the World Trade Center victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who helped orchestrate the Holocaust. University officials were pressured to fire Churchill after that essay gained wide attention in 2005, but they concluded they couldn't because of First Amendment protections.
However, they launched an investigation into the research behind his other writings, and in 2007 he was fired on the plagiarism charges and other research misconduct allegations.
Churchill sued, alleging his firing was improper and seeking his job back. A jury ruled Churchill shouldn't have been fired, but the decision on whether to reinstate him was left up to the judge, Larry J. Naves of Denver District Court.
Naves ruled Tuesday that the decision by the university's governing Board of Regents "occurred with sufficient procedural protections." He also noted that jurors awarded Churchill only $1 in damages. He said the low figure meant that the jury concluded Churchill did not incur any damages.
Churchill's attorney, David Lane, said he will appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Lane said the judge's ruling means the regents could fire Churchill if they don't like what he says, or even because of his race or religion.
"This judge says that's OK," Lane said. "If your First Amendment rights are violated by the state of Colorado, don't look for justice in Denver District Court."
University President Bruce Benson issued a statement saying the judge had "appropriately applied the law." "This ruling recognizes that the regents have to make important and difficult decisions. The threat of litigation should not be used to influence those decisions," he said.
The university vigorously opposed Churchill's reinstatement, saying his firing was justified and that if he did return, the relationship between him and the university "would not be an amicable one."
University officials also said they feared other teachers would leave if Churchill returned.
Lane said Churchill has been spending his time writing and lecturing.