Professor Resigns Post Over 9/11 Writing
A professor who has compared the Sept. 11 victims to the Nazi who helped plan the Holocaust abruptly resigned his administrative position Monday, saying the controversy made it impossible to do his job.
Ward L. Churchill, who headed the ethnic studies department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said he was stepping down as chairman because “the present political climate has rendered me a liability” to the department and the college. He will remain a professor.
The furor erupted last week over an invitation for Churchill to speak about Native American issues at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. A group of professors there raised concerns after discovering some of his writings, including one done shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
In an essay entitled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” Churchill called the workers killed in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns” -- after the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who helped mastermind the murder of European Jews during World War II. He said trade center employees were “technocrats of empire” working for the “engines of profit” and as such were inevitable targets.
“They were civilians of a sort,” he said. “But innocent, gimme a break.”
The reaction in Colorado was immediate. Local citizens, state representatives and congressmen called for Churchill’s job.
“He can say what he wants, but when you go over the line as far as he goes, then it ought to affect your employment,” said Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.). “If in the name of political correctness and tolerance we don’t stand up and say this is wrong and evil, then we are complicit in it. We need to be tolerant and forgiving people, but we don’t need to be stupid, and what he said was stupid, and actions have consequences.”
Beauprez has contacted university officials demanding Churchill’s ouster. The board of regents plans to meet Thursday to discuss the issue.
Todd T. Gleeson, dean of CU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said Churchill had not been forced to resign his chairmanship.
“This was his offer, and I think it’s in his interest and in the interest of the university that he step down,” Gleeson said. “I don’t think this will put the controversy to bed. It has raised some issues of freedom of political expression that I think the university will want to explore.”
The interim chancellor of the university, Phil DiStefano, said Churchill’s views “outraged and appalled us.”
Churchill, a Vietnam veteran, is a longtime activist in Denver. Last week he and seven others were acquitted in court of trying to block last year’s Columbus Day parade in Denver, which they saw as a celebration of the “genocide” of Native Americans.
Churchill has been on the faculty since 1991 and chairman of the ethnic studies department for two years, Gleeson said. His term was to expire in June.
“Tenure means never having to say you’re sorry,” said David Lane, a civil rights attorney who defended Churchill in the Columbus Day case. “The 1st Amendment protects faculty members like anyone else. Ward Churchill can say basically whatever he wants, and if everyone in society is outraged, then it’s too bad for everyone in society. The importance of what he said got lost in the words he chose to use in putting his message out.”
Churchill did not return calls seeking comment but issued a lengthy press release defending his writings.
He said his views had been distorted but didn’t deny using inflammatory rhetoric to make his larger point -- namely that if the U.S. government didn’t comply with the rule of law, it couldn’t be surprised if it were attacked.
“I have never characterized all the Sept. 11 victims as ‘Nazis.’ What I said was that the ‘technocrats of empire’ working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of ‘little Eichmanns,’ ” he said. “Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the allies.”
He said the children, janitors, food service workers and firefighters killed in the trade center were not “little Eichmanns.”
“According to Pentagon logic, [they] were simply part of the collateral damage,” he said. “Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that’s my point. It’s no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians or anyone else.”
It’s unknown whether Churchill will continue with his plans to speak Thursday at Hamilton College, a liberal arts institution with 1,750 students. Vige Barrie, spokeswoman for the college, said it wouldn’t withdraw its invitation but has asked Churchill to change the subject.
“The subject is now discussing the limits of dissent,” she said.