Denver District Court judge rules against Churchill

By Staff

A Denver judge has ruled that former University of Colorado at Boulder ethnic studies Professor Ward Churchill should not return to the classroom or receive back pay.

The decision came despite the fact that Churchill won a lawsuit in April when a jury agreed with the former CU-Boulder professor's position that his free-speech rights had been violated when the Board of Regents dismissed him in 2007. In issuing its decision to dismiss Churchill, the board cited academic misconduct that emerged during a university investigation.

Denver District Court Judge Larry Naves issued his legal opinion on Tuesday, and Churchill is expected to appeal the decision. In his ruling, Naves denied Churchill's motion for employment reinstatement as a tenured professor, and concluded that back pay "is not an appropriate remedy in this case," according to the 42-page ruling.

"We believe the judge appropriately applied the rule of law to recognize the Board of Regents' role as a quasi-judicial body," CU President Bruce D. Benson said in a statement issued to the press. "This ruling recognizes that the regents have to make important and often difficult decisions, and the threat of litigation should not be used to influence those decisions."

CU Board of Regents Chair Steve Bosley said Naves' ruling "affirms that in dismissing Professor Churchill, the Board of Regents did the right thing, in the right way for the right reasons."

University Counsel attorney Pat O'Rourke, who argued the case before Naves, said the judge agreed with the university's position that the Board of Regents acts as a quasi-judicial body charged with setting university laws and policies as provided under the Colorado Constitution.

Naves cited Article 5.C.1 of regent law in his opinion: "Among the constitutional powers vested in the Board of Regents is the power 'to enact laws for the government of the university.'"

The article also states that, "A faculty member may be dismissed when, in the judgment of the Board of Regents and subject to the Board of Regents' constitutional and statutory authority, the good of the university requires such action."

The Board of Regents fired Churchill in 2007 after an investigation led by other faculty members concluded that the former professor had plagiarized and falsified academic work over several years. Churchill's lawsuit alleged he had been fired for an essay he wrote following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Following a four-week trial this spring, a Denver District Court jury returned an April 2 verdict in Churchill's favor, but only awarded him $1 in restitution. Soon after the decision, Churchill filed a motion for reinstatement to his tenured faculty position. At a July 1 hearing, Churchill's attorney, David Lane, argued that reinstatement was the appropriate remedy in light of the jury verdict.

CU argued that the nominal sum the jury awarded reflected that Churchill had damaged his own reputation, and that reinstating him would continue to damage the university's academic reputation and cause disruption on campus, O'Rourke said.

Resources for the Churchill Case: