A national umbrella group of trustees and alumni is among the first to publicly applaud the University of Colorado’s president for recommending that professor Ward Churchill be fired.
But CU scholars backing Churchill say they are wary about university and state leaders’ past connections with that Washington, D.C.-based group, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA, which they say has a right-wing agenda.
The group has had ties, both formal and informal, with leaders including CU President Hank Brown, Regent Tom Lucero, R-Johnstown, and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens.
The council, which leaders say has bipartisan membership, issued a statement Tuesday calling Brown’s recommendation that Churchill be fired a “victory for academic freedom and professional standards.”
Brown—in a 10-page report dated Friday and addressed to CU’s Board of Regents chairwoman Pat Hayes—said he has determined Churchill should be dismissed as a result of academic-misconduct violations. The regents must approve any termination of a tenured professor.
A small group of CU professors who are backing Churchill had asked earlier this month that any officials with biases against him recuse themselves from considering his case. The nine professors and one emeritus professor, joined by two outside scholars in the field of American Indian studies, also asked in an open letter that any leaders with ties to the trustee and alumni council not be involved with the case.
“ACTA has a long and well-documented history of animosity toward Ward Churchill,” the letter said.
The group—which was founded in 1995 by Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.—has argued that there is too little intellectual diversity on college campuses.
One year ago, the council sampled course descriptions and online syllabi at universities nationwide for a study called “How Many More Ward Churchills?” The report said many college courses lack objectivity and are more like lessons in political advocacy and sensitivity training.
An advertisement placed in the Camera earlier this month by the CU faculty members, who say they are defending academic freedom in backing Churchill, accused ACTA of enlisting regents, governors, legislators and alumni to put political and financial pressure on universities. The professors allege the group has a conservative “stronghold” in Colorado, which could have a chilling effect in college classrooms and threaten academic freedom.
Brown volunteered on an advisory board for the council—which was formerly the National Alumni Forum—but announced his resignation in 1997 before he became president of the University of Northern Colorado.
“He hasn’t been involved with ACTA for a decade,” said university system spokeswoman Michele McKinney.
Anne Neal, president of ACTA, said former Gov. Owens and Regent Lucero are not formally affiliated with her group, but support its principles.
Neal says her nonprofit group isn’t divided by political affiliations, saying “issues of academic excellence are issues that cross party lines.”
A CU investigative committee last year concluded that Churchill invented facts, plagiarized entire works and misrepresented the authorship of articles. The firebrand professor first sparked controversy in 2005 with his Sept. 11, 2001, essay that compared some victims of the terrorist attacks to a notorious Nazi.
Neal criticized Churchill’s backers for avoiding what she said is the real issue in the academic-misconduct case.
“It’s designed to take attention away from the issue at hand, which is whether or not professor Churchill has abided to professional standards,” she said.
The group of CU professors also raised concerns about the involvement that Michael Poliakoff, vice president for academic affairs and research at CU, had with the council. But Poliakoff is not affiliated with the group, nor does he have a say in the Churchill case, according to CU.
ACTA did publish a non-partisan book by Poliakoff, titled “How Informed Trustees Can Ensure Teacher Quality.”
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