News from Day 4 of Ward Churchill’s Lawsuit against the University of Colorado

Yesterday, 12 March 2009, was the fourth day in Ward Churchill’s trial of the University of Colorado, and it some very striking statements were made in court by Churchill’s opponents, to the extent that one has to ask if some of them, especially former Governor Bill Owens, are not perjuring themselves, while others, such as former Senator Hank Brown, a politician who then became President of the University, seemed to deny the obvious: a political bias, even while leading an organization determined to stamp out “liberal” domination from the academy (judge for yourself: see this ACTA report titled, “How Many Ward Churchills?”).

This was raised on this blog before, concerning the political biases and motivations of Hank Brown and others who were involved with ACTA, as outlined on Ward Churchill’s own site:

One of the main players has been the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Oganized by Lynne Cheney [wife of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney], its goal is to quash the “obsession with diversity” and the “liberal bias” in education. ACTA is financed by rightwing foundations such as Castle Rock (Coors), Scaife, Olin and Bradley, and allied with powerful neoconservative groups such as the Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and National Association of Scholars. ACTA furthers its agenda by enlisting trustees (regents), alumni, governors and legislators to bring political and financial pressure on universities.

Colorado is an ACTA stronghold: CU President Hank Brown: was a co-founder and a former CU-Boulder philosophy department chair [who] is now ACTA’s national Chairman. Regent Tom Lucero is a strong supporter, and former Gov. Bill Owens, a leader of ACTA’s Governors Project, hosted an ACTA conference for Colorado trustees.

First, let’s resume where we left off, with continued testimony by former Colorado Governor Bill Owens. Thanks to coverage by The Race to the Bottom, we note the following from the court for 12 March 2009:

Attorney David Lane, representing Ward Churchill, at the City and County Building in Denver, Colorado March 12, 2009. CAMERA/Mark Leffingwell

Attorney David Lane, representing Ward Churchill, at the City and County Building in Denver, Colorado March 12, 2009. CAMERA/Mark Leffingwell

Churchill’s attorney, David Lane, sought to demonstrate that the Governor, with line item veto authority over the University of Colorado, pressured the university to fire Churchill.  Aside from having heard the former president of CU, Betsy Hoffman, describe a conversation with the Governor where she said he told her to fire Ward Churchill “tomorrow,” that his tone was “threatening,” and that if she didn’t he would “unleash his plan,”  the jury in the case was treated to a direct and blunt exchange from Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor where the former Governor makes it plain that he had a “plan” for firing Churchill. Owens denied that he had such authority, but on further cross examination by David Lane, referring to a transcript of an interview on the O’Reilly Factor that was put up on a screen in the court, Lane pointed to this exchange on the O’Reilly transcript after Owens denied having a strategy to remove Churchill:

  • O’REILLY: One more question for you. You have basically a strategy, and I want to get this right. You’re not going to pay him off, so he’s not going to get the big bucks. You’re going to go through the lengthy process to prove that he did something that you can legitimately fire him [for], and then he goes — “See you.”
  • OWENS: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That process is starting. I think it will ultimately result in him being fired.

The quick denial followed by the reference in the O’Reilly Factor caused a slight stir in the courtroom, says The Race to the Bottom (link above). As noted on The Ward Churchill Trial Blog, “Bill Owens’ claim ‘that he didn’t have a strategy and that he was merely acknowledging that based on the evidence that he knew, there was sufficient basis to fire Churchill’ is one of the most transparent lies to come out of the case. His appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show predates the SCRM [Standing Committee for Research Misconduct] report on Churchill’s ‘misconduct’ by more than a year. There was no evidence. There was nothing but an attempt to drum something up.”

Former University of Colorado president Hank Brown testifies in Ward Churchill's civil suit against the University of Colorado at the City and County Building in Denver, Colorado March 12, 2009. Churchill is suing the University of Colorado for wrongful termination. CAMERA/Mark Leffingwell

Former University of Colorado president Hank Brown testifies in Ward Churchill's civil suit against the University of Colorado at the City and County Building in Denver, Colorado March 12, 2009. Churchill is suing the University of Colorado for wrongful termination. CAMERA/Mark Leffingwell

Second, regarding Hank Brown, mentioned above, and this too comes from The Race to the Bottom:

The last witness of the morning was former United States Senator Hank Brown. Senator Brown was also the President of the University of Colorado and recommended Professor Churchill’s dismissal to the Board of Regents. Mr. Brown was also a former President of Northern Colorado University, President of the Daniels Fund, and held other political positions.

Right after the background was laid for Mr. Brown, the questioning was intense and contentious. After going through a few questions of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and recommendation, Mr. Brown refused to agree with Mr. Lane’s interpretation of that report. Mr. Brown said that the committee did not say not to dismiss Professor Churchill, rather three voted for discipline and two voted for dismissal.

The examination was also contentious once Mr. Lane began asking question about Mr. Brown’s politics and if he thought that there was a “liberal bias” in academia across the country. Once Mr. Brown declared that he never made that statement, Mr. Lane moved in to impeach him by playing a video clip of his deposition. In that clip, Mr. Brown nods his head when that same question is being asked. However, he claims that it was merely an acknowledgment of the question, not that he agreed with it. After that answer, Mr. Lane attempts to get Judge Naves to instruct the witness to answer the question he asked with respect to the head nodding and the liberal bias. Judge Naves refused to do so and said that the witness was trying to answer the question.

Later on, Mr. Lane comes back to the political questions when asking Mr. Brown about his prior affiliation with a group called ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni), a group of academics who, Mr. Lane says, are dedicated to getting rid of a liberal bias and liberal professors to replace them with more conservatives and conservative minded studies to balance out academia. Mr. Brown vehemently disagrees with this statement calling it a mischaracterization of that group and what it stands for. As an aside, according to the ACTA website, part of its mission states:

ACTA works with college and university trustees to ensure responsible management of higher education resources, end grade inflation, establish a solid core curriculum, and restore intellectual diversity on campus.

Mr. Lane attempted to impeach Mr. Brown again after he asked if he knew of Professor Churchill other than through this controversy; Mr. Brown replied that he did. That is when the court was shown a video deposition of Mr. Brown saying that he did not remember hearing about him before the essay, but after the controversy he had.

With questions about how he learned of the controversy, Mr. Brown testified that he heard about Churchill largely though the media and that based on his interpretation of what the media was reporting, Professor Churchill made offensive anti-Semitic comments when he used the term “little Eichmann’s” in his essay.

Mr. Lane went back to the position that Mr. Brown held right before he became the President at CU, the President of the Daniels Fund. The Daniels fund provides scholarships for students at the University of Colorado as well as other grants to the school for general use. Right before Mr. Brown left the Daniels Fund, the Board of Directors voted to withhold the grant money from the University of Colorado over concerns about the many ongoing scandals, including Professor Churchill. While Mr. Brown would not testify that Professor Churchill’s controversy was one of the top reasons, he thought it might have been for those members of the board that requested a delay and further investigation before they provided the grant money to CU.

There was a difference of opinion between the witness, Mr. Brown, and Professor Churchill’s attorney, Mr. Lane, about whether or not the vote that took place, that Mr. Brown voted in favor of, was a vote to withhold money from CU. It was characterized instead by Mr. Brown as a vote to investigate, and all the funds that were going to go to CU eventually did, and once Mr. Brown became president of CU, the money came in. When asked what information the Board of the Daniels Fund looked at in their investigation, Mr. Brown said that he had no knowledge of what they looked at to come to their determination.

They sparred further over Mr. Lane’s characterization of the Privileged and Tenured Committee’s report and Mr. Brown’s job as the President of CU. Mr. Lane suggested that the President’s decision to dismiss a member of the faculty is a subjective decision because he is required to give a recommendation to the Board of Regents that can either follow the committee’s recommendation or give it less weight in light of other evidence. Mr. Brown refused to answer the question without being able to explain it because he thought it was mischaracterizing the true role of the President in this scenario.

Cross examination came and Mr. Brown was given an opportunity to explain his answers and go through a timeline of the committees and meetings and other events with respect to this controversy. Mr. O’Rourke went through each one and each step in the process of dismissing Professor Churchill asking Mr. Brown if the Board of Regents or anyone else said that they were going to fire Professor Churchill but had to find a way. Mr. Brown said, “all of that is absurd and any reasonable person would know it is absurd.” The committees were made up of people that even Professor Churchill recommended and they were not biased in anyway. When asked if he had day-to-day involvement, he chuckled and said no, it was up to the faculty and other committee members to do the day-to-day investigation.

When asked why, if three of the five recommendations were to not fire Professor Churchill, why did he still recommend termination to the Board of Trustees. He said that because he felt that the offenses which were found to have occurred by all the committee members–that he had plagiarized and falsified information–were so severe, how could he kick a student out for committing these acts, but not a professor. At this point, there was a great deal of jousting between Lane and Mr. Brown on whether there was any legal limitation on what Mr. Brown could recommend to the Board of Trustees even in the face of an unanimous decision by the committee not to terminate Churchill. Finally, Mr. Bown admitted that there was no legal limitation on this power to make this termination recommendation to the Board of Trustees.

….Mr. Brown’s testimony did not go smoothly and was very contentious. The jury seemed very aware of the courtroom action and very engaged, listening intently and following along closely. Responding from a question from CU’s attorney, Mr. Brown took the opportunity to give a speech directed at the jury that CU had to terminate Ward Churchill due to the number and gravity of the breaches in academic research….


In addition to these exchanges, more witnesses were called and cross-examined, including former students of Ward Churchill, with further expert testimony also provided on the character and extent of the allegations of research misconduct, with the testimony mostly going in Churchill’s favour. For more on the proceedings from 12 March 2009, see:


From The Daily Camera:

[My favourite quote here comes from University of Arizona law professor and professor of American Indian studies, Robert Williams, who said this of the committee assigned to investigate Churchill’s work: “I wanted to see some adult supervision, someone with some experience in crisis management. This has to be done absolutely by the book and the problem was that these people didn’t have a book. They had absolutely nothing to go on.”]

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2 thoughts on “News from Day 4 of Ward Churchill’s Lawsuit against the University of Colorado

  1. Pingback: Ward Churchill’s Case is Now in the Hands of the Jury: Closing Arguments Concluded « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

  2. Pingback: American Association of University Professors Calls for Ward Churchill’s Reinstatement « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY

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