BOULDER, CO—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today praised the chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder for announcing his intention to dismiss ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill for academic misconduct.
Interim chancellor Philip DiStefano’s decision was announced at a press conference following more than a year of internal reviews of Churchill. The process culminated in a report earlier this month by the Standing Committee on Academic Misconduct, which concluded that Churchill had engaged in gross fabrications, factual misrepresentations, and plagiarism. Pending an appeal, the chancellor’s recommendation is subject to final action by CU’s president and regents.
“Ward Churchill’s academic misconduct was serious and deliberate,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “No university dedicated to the disinterested search for truth can tolerate such conduct.”
In announcing his decision, DiStefano emphasized that academic freedom confers both rights and responsibilities upon faculty members. He also noted that the decision to dismiss Churchill was unrelated to Churchill’s inflammatory political opinions which, as ACTA noted last year, are protected speech under the First Amendment and do not justify his firing.
“CU should be commended for understanding—and stating publicly—that academic freedom does not license professors to ignore their duties to teach and research responsibly,” Neal said. “But the need to guard against irresponsible teaching and research does not end with the firing of Ward Churchill.”
The committee that recommended Churchill’s firing also proposed structural reforms to prevent future problems. Specifically, it called on the university to ensure that existing internal procedures identify violations of accepted scholarly standards at both the hiring and performance review levels. Churchill was given a tenured position in ethnic studies with only a master’s in communications.
“The lesson to be learned here is the urgent need for CU—and institutions across the country—to assess much more closely and systematically whether and how professors are doing their jobs,” Neal said. “It is imperative that the president and regents see that appropriate review is undertaken.”
Just last month, ACTA issued a report entitled How Many Ward Churchills?, placing Churchill in context. Using publications and websites available to students, parents and taxpayers, the study concludes that “throughout American higher education, professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically.”
The report calls on colleges and universities to “take steps to guarantee a proper balance between students’ academic freedom to learn and professors’ academic freedom to teach, research, and publish” and to demand that colleges and universities fulfill their professional obligations. It also offers a variety of concrete steps institutions can undertake to ensure a vibrant learning environment, including:
Faculty post-tenure review;
A self-study to assess the atmosphere in the classrooms;
A review of hiring and promotion practices to ensure that scholarship and teaching—not ideological litmus tests—are the foundation for lifelong job security; and
The hiring of administrators who are committed to intellectual diversity and evaluated according to that commitment.
The report calls on “students, parents, alumni, and trustees…to demand better information about what is happening in classrooms across America and more accountability from the colleges and universities they support.”
ACTA is a national education nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence and accountability.