Boulder Faculty Assembly

University of Colorado at Boulder

February 1, 2005

Statement on Academic Freedom Re: Ward Churchill

The Boulder Campus of the University of Colorado is the comprehensive graduate research campus of the University system.  To provide this level of education, Boulder has a faculty composed of individuals with opinions and viewpoints as wide-ranging as their fields of study.  The lifeblood of any strong university is its diversity of ideas, which allows for the environment necessary to educate and train young learners and advance the boundaries of knowledge.  The high regard in which CU-Boulder’s academic programs are held, both nationally and internationally, would not be possible without its faculty’s devotion to teaching and advancing many fields of research. 

Debate is a fundamental characteristic of a university.  Without the opportunity to express all opinions and question the status quo, the university would be unable to grow and thrive, and would fail in its mission to advance and impart knowledge.  Debate of controversial issues is only possible when the essential academic rights to question, to speak, and to research freely are protected by the principles of academic freedom.  For this reason, the University of Colorado has long supported the principles of academic freedom and has admirably defended them against pressures that would cause their erosion. 

Today, the University of Colorado has been challenged again to defend the principles of academic freedom to a public that may not appreciate fully the essential requirements and benefits of debate and differing views in an institution of higher education.  Professor Ward Churchill’s writings contravene accepted thinking and community sentiment.  Reasonable people may consider them controversial, offensive, and odious in some of the examples used; indeed, many faculty are themselves offended.  The widespread release of these writings through the media has brought calls for censure and punishment of Professor Churchill.

The University, through its Regents and administration, must resist these pressures.  If we stand for the dissemination of knowledge, of the freedom to question, and of freedom of expression, then we must protect all, including Professor Churchill and others, expressing the most unpopular sentiments.  Anything less than an affirmation of academic freedom for all the University’s faculty is an admission that we are not truly committed to the University’s mission and philosophy.

We recognize that academic freedom is not absolute.  It comes with limits and must be exercised conscientiously.  This incident points out the need to have a clearer awareness among the entire university community on the rights and responsibilities of academic freedom.  We propose a system-wide dialog on academic freedom, one that will clarify and strengthen our common understanding of its exercise in the university setting, and invite the Regents to participate in this discussion. 

The University’s Board of Regents, in its own Laws, describes the University’s strong support for the principles of academic freedom. We, the Boulder faculty, reconfirm our adherence to the principles of free inquiry and expression and urge the Regents to do so as well.  Together we can carry out our responsibility to protect the university as a forum for the free expression of ideas. 

Barbara Bintliff

Chair, Boulder Faculty Assembly

Approved by the BFA Executive Committee, February 1, 2005