DENVER — Ward L. Churchill, a University of Colorado professor who gained notoriety for comparing some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to "little Eichmanns," committed research misconduct and plagiarism in his writings on Native American history, a faculty panel concluded in a report released Tuesday.
Churchill's lawyer, David Lane, dismissed the findings as part of an effort to fire the ethnic studies professor for political reasons. "It's a completely inappropriate conclusion to come to, simply because he's come to a different conclusion than mainstream thinkers," Lane said.
Three of the five panel members thought Churchill's violations could be cause to fire him. But two of those joined the two remaining panel members, who warned that firing Churchill could create a chilling effect on academic free speech, in recommending suspension.
Churchill now has an opportunity to respond to the findings contained in the 125-page report, and the panel then will make an official recommendation to university administrators. A decision on Churchill's fate could come next month.
The panel's chairwoman, law professor Marianne Wesson, said that its members tried to focus on Churchill's research methods in his academic writings rather than the politically charged statements in his outside work.
"We took care to distinguish the issues of research misconduct from issues of truth," Wesson said during an afternoon news conference at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Churchill is a tenured faculty member. "We found instances of falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, failure to comply with established standards regarding author names on publications and other serious deviations from accepted practices in reporting the results of research."
But the committee also said it was "troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for, the current investigation" of Churchill. The report said that criticisms of the professor's writings and questions about his sourcing were well known in the academic community long before his essay referring to Sept. 11.
Three of the panel members were from the University of Colorado, one from Arizona State University and one from the University of Texas at Austin.
The inquiry was launched after a student newspaper at a New York college where Churchill was scheduled to speak in January 2005 unearthed an essay in which he called the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "military targets" and compared some of the people working in those buildings to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who was in charge of administering the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.
After the speech gained notoriety, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens called on the university to fire Churchill.
Churchill's wife, Natsu Saito, resigned Tuesday as an ethnic studies professor at the university. Among other things, she complained that the university had ignored racial harassment of the department.
Lane said Churchill intended to fight for his job in federal court. "He's not going to back down," he said.