Hoffman warns lawmakers not to be rash in punishing controversial professor
DENVER – University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman warned lawmakers on Tuesday against rushing to punish a professor who likened some Sept. 11 victims to Nazis, saying a misstep could land the university in court and make the embattled teacher “a very wealthy man at our expense.” Furious lawmakers threatened to take state funding away from the university over an essay by Ward Churchill, a tenured professor of ethnic studies, who wrote that some “technocrats” killed in the World Trade Center were like Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the Nazi holocaust.Gov. Bill Owens has said Churchill should be fired, but Hoffman told a caucus of Republican legislators that the professor’s future has to be handled the right way.
“If we approach this issue wrong, not only will every regent be sued personally, but every administrator will be sued personally and professor Churchill will win his lawsuit with triple damages and be back on the faculty, a very wealthy man at our expense,” Hoffman said.The university has launched a review of Churchill’s writings and speeches to see if he overstepped academic freedom and should be dismissed. But Hoffman said public debate about firing him only clouds the issue.”The more talk there is about the need to fire him, the more difficult it becomes for us to do that, if that’s what we decide to do,” she said.
Hoffman said the law protects public employees’ right to free speech, “no matter how odious it might be.”Some members of the Board of Regents have suggested reviewing the university’s policy of granting tenure, essentially a lifelong appointment. Owens has said lawmakers might want to consider setting statewide standards for when tenure is granted, instead of leaving it to universities.Hoffman told lawmakers that tampering with tenure would be a mistake that could drive away other faculty members and make it difficult to hire new ones.
“They need to know we have not engaged in a witch hunt,” Hoffman said. “We’re taking a careful and measured approach.”Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins said the governor wants the Legislature to review tenure, not eliminate it.”The governor has never said tenure should be abolished. He said at some point the Legislature should review tenure and see how it is handled in other states,” Hopkins said.
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