Colo. professor may retire early after uproar over 9/11 essay

February 27, 2005|By DENVER POST

BOULDER, Colo. - University of Colorado officials are considering offering controversial ethnic-studies professor Ward Churchill an early retirement package that could end an increasingly uncomfortable standoff with him.

Two people familiar with internal discussions at the university said that the still-undetermined offer is in the idea stage. The discussions come just a week before a three-member panel is scheduled to deliver a report on Churchill's fitness for tenure.

David Lane, Churchill's attorney, said he has not been contacted about a buyout offer.

But, he said, while his primary focus is on protecting Churchill's constitutional right to speak out, he would be willing to listen to a university proposal.

"If they offer $10 million, I would think about it. If they offer him $10, I wouldn't," Lane said.

Attorneys for CU were not available for comment.

Since it was first reported that Churchill had demonized some of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in an essay, the university has faced relentless scrutiny of its hiring practices and faculty qualifications. Churchill has undergone an extensive media review of his scholarship, artwork and genealogy, while everyone from radio talk-show hosts to syndicated newspaper columnists have questioned his integrity, his ancestry and his military career.

CU regents, saying they are bound by due-process procedures, authorized a review of Churchill's writings and speeches by a panel comprising the interim chancellor, the arts and sciences dean, and the law school dean.

Depending on the panel's findings, due the week of March 7, CU President Betsy Hoffman could tell Churchill that the university wants to terminate his employment. Churchill would have the right to appeal through a faculty committee.

Such dismissals - even if done properly - typically result in years of expensive lawsuits that Hoffman told legislators last week the university would like to avoid.

Sources involved in the talks said if an arrangement could be made, it could get everyone off the hook, including Churchill, the subject of daily press revelations.

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