A professor who caused uproar by writing an essay the day after the 9/11 attacks in New York that likened victims to a leading Nazi was wrongly fired by his university, a jury has ruled.
Ward L. Churchill, an expert in ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, was sacked with the blessing of a faculty committee at the university when the essay he had written on 12 September 2001 came to light on the internet several years later.
In it, he called some of those who died in the terror attacks “little Eichmanns”, in reference to Adolf Eichmann, SS commander and one of the architects of the Holocaust.
Professor Churchill wrote that some of the financial workers killed were not innocent bystanders, but “formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire”.
Professor Churchill took Colorado to court claiming wrongful dismissal, and last week a jury found in his favour, although it opted to award him nominal damages of just $1 (67p).
The case was pitched by his lawyer, David A. Lane, as a test of academic freedom, with Professor Churchill’s politically unpalatable views set against the principles of freedom of speech enshrined in the US Constitution.
Colorado alleged that Professor Churchill had plagiarised and falsified parts of his research, particularly on Native Americans, and that this was the reason for his sacking. But the jury found that the academic’s political views had been a “substantial or motivating” factor in his dismissal.
Mr Lane told The New York Times that the court’s ruling was “a great victory for the First Amendment and for academic freedom”.
Brushing off the fact that he had been awarded the minimum compensation possible, Professor Churchill said: “I didn’t ask for money, I asked for justice.”
Mr Lane indicated that his client would be seeking an order forcing the university to reinstate him.