CODEN101
Cyrus Mccrimmon  /  The Denver Post
Philip DiStefano, acting Chancellor of the University of Colorado, addressed the media on Thursday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 3/24/2005 11:27:26 PM ET 2005-03-25T04:27:26

The University of Colorado responded Thursday to issues challenging its reputation, with the school's chancellor promising to review tenure policies, defending an embattled professor’s controversial comments about Sept. 11 victims, and warning that allegations of academic misconduct against the professor had “sufficient merit to warrant further inquiry.”

At a news conference from the university's Denver campus, acting Chancellor Philip DiStefano said an essay by Ward Churchill, the tenured ethnic studies professor at the heart of much of the current controversy, was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and as such no academic disciplinary actions were warranted.

Churchill’s essay said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks should have come as no surprise because some people at the World Trade Center were part of “a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire.”  And Churchill referred to some of those who died on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi SS official and an architect of the Holocaust.

Gov. Bill Owens has called on university officials to fire Churchill, and suggested the Legislature consider imposing statewide standards for tenure.

DiStefano on Thursday defended Churchill's right to write it. “We found his speech, which we reviewed, is protected by the First Amendment,” DiStefano said of the review of Churchill's views in the essay. “Content and rhetoric, no matter how repugnant, are protected by the First Amendment.”

Other allegations loom
But DiStefano said that a faculty committee review of other allegations — including allegations of a 1997 act of plagiarism, and more recent allegations of copying artwork and misrepresenting himself as a Native American — had “sufficient merit to warrant further inquiry,” in a process that DiStefano said could take “up to seven months.”

The allegations have gained visibility in recent months; if confirmed as true, they could be the one way to remove Churchill from his post, despite his tenure, which protects a college’s faculty members from being fired except for blatant misconduct.

“Research misconduct is one of the most serious allegations against a faculty member at the university,” DiStefano said.

Churchill, who has denied any misconduct, has said he would sue if the university attempts to fire him.

Tenure under review
The university also ordered a review of its tenure system, an action again prompted by Churchill.

Since the publicity about his essay, Churchill and the university have faced questions about how he gained tenure. Assertions have surfaced that Churchill, tenured in 1991, may have circumvented some of the vetting process, and that he may not have satisfied qualifications for tenure.

The university’s governing Board of Regents has voted to form a panel to examine the way the school awards tenure and the way professors are evaluated after they get it. Outgoing university President Elizabeth Hoffman said Thursday that some changes to the process are likely.

Churchill has announced his intention to travel to a Washington state college for an April 5 appearance before Native American students, despite having been disinvited by the college's president.

MSNBC.com's Michael E. Ross, The Associated Press and NBC affiliate KUSA contributed to this report.

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