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 Tuesday, July 14, 2009 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


The stakes were high in Churchill ruling
Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano

A week ago today, Denver District Court Judge Larry Naves dismissed the Ward Churchill case against the University of Colorado Board of Regents and ruled it inappropriate for him to return to the faculty in a case closely watched by faculty, scholars, and administrators across the country.

The implications of this watershed ruling will live on for posterity at this university and universities across the nation as it solidifies the notion that faculty should be judged by a committee of peers, rather than by a judge or jury external to the university.

The July 7 ruling by Judge Naves is indeed a victory for faculty governance, reinforcing that faculty should set the standards for academic integrity on our campus and all campuses. The judge’s decision fortifies the idea that faculty establish research standards and enforce them through a well-defined process—a process that ensures academic freedom but does not tolerate academic dishonesty.

From the beginning, I held that this was not a case involving free speech, but a case centered in the most fundamental of our values: academic honesty and truth in scholarship. Every university is built on it and there is honor in protecting it.

Indeed, the university’s central mission demands we protect academic integrity. When 20 respected faculty members on three different committees consistently found that Professor Churchill committed academic misconduct, it was incumbent on the university to take appropriate action and defend it.

The judge recognized that the university, and the whole of the academy, cannot remain credible if it is powerless to uphold standards of academic honesty, or if it harbors double standards. How can we expect students to abide by academic integrity if we cannot enforce it for their teachers and mentors? Judge Naves acknowledged in his ruling that reinstatement of Churchill would have made it difficult to hold students to “high standards of honesty in research and writing.”

Professor Churchill’s presence on the faculty would suggest that we tolerate research misconduct, thus damaging the reputation of the university and diminishing the work and credibility of thousands of reputable faculty members. It would create an aura of distrust among all our constituents, severely hamper student and faculty recruitment efforts, and call into question the value of a CU degree.

I know there are some on our faculty and in academia across the country who disagree with me, some strongly, feeling this is an issue of free speech. Within our own academic community at CU-Boulder, I hold no rancor for these individuals, and I can assure them, and the larger community of scholars around the nation, that our faculty, staff and students face no obstacles to free speech on campus.

Every day in our classrooms and throughout the campus community, free speech is abundant, found in debates and discussions, exchanges of emails, speakers at the Dalton Trumbo Fountain, and in the scholarly work of our faculty and students. This decision represented a defining moment not only for the preservation of faculty governance, but for the very essence, future and reputation of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

It was a victory not just for CU, but for scholarship itself.

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From the Chancellor

The stakes were high in Churchill ruling

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