By DAN FROSCH
Published: March 24, 2009
DENVER — A former University of Colorado professor spent nearly six hours defending his scholarly work on Tuesday during cross-examination in his lawsuit contending that he was fired for an essay he wrote about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After spending much of Monday explaining his political opinions, the former professor, Ward L. Churchill, faced extensive cross-examination by the university’s lawyer, Patrick O’Rourke.
A faculty committee concluded that Mr. Churchill had plagiarized and fabricated sections of his work on the persecution of American Indians, leading to his dismissal in July 2007, the university says.
But Mr. Churchill maintains that he was forced out because of the controversial essay, in which he characterized workers in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns.”
In a back-and-forth that was intermittently cutting and congenial, Mr. O’Rourke delved into the details of Mr. Churchill’s work, much of which focused on the spread of smallpox among Americans Indians and assorted aspects of law affecting Indian country.
Mr. O’Rourke said Mr. Churchill’s admission that he had ghostwritten works for other scholars and occasionally cited them to support his own theories clearly violated academic standards, as the faculty committee had concluded.
“The only evidence we’ve heard from anyone other than you about this scholarly practice is from 20 people tenured at C.U., all of whom say this is wrong,” Mr. O’Rourke said.
Mr. Churchill said the practice violated no academic standard at the university. And he argued that it was acceptable for one scholar to ghostwrite for another and then cite that work in other writings as long as the second scholar embraced the original premise.
Mr. O’Rourke acknowledged that the university and Mr. Churchill had drawn extensive criticism over the essay, with Mr. Churchill facing “half a million” accusations and the university under enormous pressure to discipline him.
But even after firing Mr. Churchill, the university allowed him to continue lecturing when invited by students — proof, Mr. O’Rourke said, that his dismissal had nothing to do with limiting his First Amendment rights to free speech.
“The same university that fired you for speaking out is the same university that let you come back and talk on any subject that you wanted, whenever you were asked to,” Mr. O’Rourke said.
Mr. Churchill responded, “I don’t see how the point you’re making actually changes the situation at all.”
Mr. Churchill conceded that parts of an essay written by Prof. Fay G. Cohen of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia on Indian fishing rights appeared without permission in a book he helped edit and write. But Mr. Churchill denied that he was responsible for lifting any part of the essay, which he had worked on with Ms. Cohen.
When asked by his lawyer, David Lane, what he hoped to gain from his lawsuit, Mr. Churchill said: “I want my job back. I want the university to acknowledge that the entire process by which I was terminated from the university was fraudulent.”
Throughout the day, Mr. Churchill argued that he had done nothing wrong and that he had been railroaded by the university.
Mr. O’Rourke questioned that premise. “All of these fully tenured faculty members went along with a fraudulent and fictional report just to get you out of the university?” he asked.
Mr. Churchill said he believed that outside influences had helped seal his fate. “It’s just wrong,” he said.
Mr. O’Rourke responded, “It’s just wrong to put somebody else’s name on your work and then to cite it.”
After Mr. Churchill’s testimony, a juror submitted a question, asking him if the accusations of academic misconduct would have arisen had it not been for his essay.
“I think the easy answer on that one is no, they would not,” Mr. Churchill replied.