Friday, April 3, 2009

Ward Churchill Verdict

The jury is in on the Ward Churchill case. The jury decided that Churchill was wrongly fired by the University of Colorado, and awarded him damages of one dollar.

This will be a controversial decision for Churchill's supporters and detractors, but it makes a kind of sense. Churchill probably did deserve to be fired for academic misconduct, but the University of Colorado does appear to have been looking for an excuse to fire him after his brutal remarks about 9/11 became generally known, injuring both his and the University's reputations, and making a verdict in this case impossibly contradictory.

If the University was right to fire Churchill, it was by implication irresponsible to grant him tenure in the first place, thus creating a circle of institutional error that can't be cleanly mended. The decision may be as much about due process as about freedom of speech.

As of this writing, it is not clear whether the judge will rule that the University must reinstate Churchill.

The New York Times story is here.

Stanley Fish's essay on the case, in the Times for 6 April 2009, is here. Fish writes: "It was the jury’s task to determine whether Churchill’s dismissal would have occurred independently of the adverse political response to his constitutionally protected statements. . . . The answer seems obvious to me and it has now been given authoritative form in the jury’s verdict."

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