In a resounding defeat for fired CU-Boulder ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill, a judge ruled July 7 that Churchill deserves neither financial compensation nor his job back. This vacates a jury finding in April that CU’s regents had unlawfully stripped Churchill of his job for expressing his political beliefs in his controversial essay about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves (Law’74) determined the regents have absolute immunity from lawsuits in their roles as “administrative officials performing functions analogous to those of judges and prosecutors.”
Furthermore, Naves noted the jury only awarded Churchill $1, compelling him to deny Churchill reinstatement. He wrote he could not disregard the jury’s implicit finding that Churchill has suffered no actual damages that reinstatement would remedy.
The victory for CU underscored the administration’s argument that the Churchill case was always about academic misconduct, not about retaliation for speech protected under the First Amendment.
“From the beginning, we have 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,” Chancellor Phil DiStefano wrote in a letter to staff and faculty after the verdict. “These are values that guide our faculty, that we impart to our students and that the public expects of us.”
At press time CU planned to file to recover some $50,000 in expenses it incurred fighting Churchill’s lawsuit. The university cannot recover attorneys’ fees but can seek expenses, such as flying witnesses to the trial.