ACE and three other higher education associations submitted an amicus brief to the Colorado Supreme Court today in the case Ward Churchill v. the University of Colorado (CU), which centers around the university’s firing of former CU-Boulder professor Ward Churchill for academic misconduct in 2007.
Churchill filed suit against the university after his termination, making two claims. First, he argued that his First Amendment rights were violated when the university launched an investigation into the content of his writings and speeches. Second, he argued that he was fired in retaliation for publishing a controversial essay comparing victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann and not for research misconduct, as the university asserts.
The university agreed the essay was protected speech but made the decision to terminate Churchill as a result of its investigation, which turned up complaints that he had plagiarized some of his other work.
Churchill was originally awarded $1 by a Denver jury, but Denver District Judge Larry Naves set that verdict aside in favor of the university. The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld Naves’ decision in 2010.
Churchill maintains that the quasi-judicial immunity doctrine granted to higher education institutions threatens academic freedom and chills free speech at universities. The associations argue in their brief that overturning the appeals court decision “would not only infringe on the institutional autonomy that is the cornerstone of academic freedom, but would chill universities’ incentive to provide robust internal processes for faculty misconduct proceedings.”
The case is expected to be heard early this year.