The state continues to chip away at academic freedom and tenure. Judge Larry J. Naves, an alum of the University of Colorado, vacated a jury finding that the University of Colorado had wrongfully fired Ward Churchill, a tenured ethnic studies professor. The judge determined that the board of regents constitutes a quasi-judicial body and therefore cannot be sued for wrongful termination of employment. Since a judgment had already been handed down, why Naves let the trial go forward is something of a mystery. Did he think a jury would come back with a different verdict, one that would have given the university the cover of popular support? Surprised by the jury verdict, the judge simply set it aside.
Recall that the pretext for the firing was “research misconduct.” However, as Stanley Fish pointed out back in April, “if the standards for dismissal adopted by the Churchill committee were generally in force, hardly any of us professors would have jobs.” In sum, there was a quibble over the use of sources and apparent ignorance of the practice of ghostwriting. The administration couldn’t find a majority in favor of dismissal. However, since a minority recommended dismissal, the administration fired Churchill. Makes perfect sense. Just like Naves’ actions.