The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has decided to allow controversial University of Colorado-Boulder professor of ethnic studies Ward Churchill to speak March 1 about “Racism Against the American Indian.”
UW-Whitewater Chancellor Jack Miller decided Thursday Churchill would be allowed to speak despite an earlier cancellation at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. That cancellation has resulted in national turmoil over various issues, including First Amendment rights and human sympathy.
Churchill was not allowed to speak at Hamilton after university officials discovered an essay written in 2001 called “Some People Push Back,” in which Churchill describes the victims of Sept. 11 as “Little Eichmanns.” The analogy refers to World War II Nazi Adolf Eichmann, the man responsible for implementing Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Hamilton was forced to end Churchill’s appearance after more than 100 death threats were sent to the school. In one incident, an anonymous caller said he would bring a gun, according to Hamilton Communications Director Vige Barrie.
In a statement, Miller said he accepts the decision to allow Churchill to speak at Whitewater, although he acknowledged it will be met with dissent.
“I side with the First Amendment principles, and with my faith in our faculty, staff, students and community members as to whether to listen to Mr. Churchill and how to judge his comments,” Miller said.
Still, he had difficulty making the decision, considering the situation.
“Personally, I find the decision to be repugnant because of the offensive nature of his remarks,” Miller said.
However, Miller’s decision to give Churchill a podium comes with strings attached.
According to Thursday’s statement, Miller will not allow Churchill to speak should he not meet six stipulations.
The most important of those stipulations is the guaranteed safety of Miller’s campus, considering the earlier incidents at Hamilton.
Miller’s second requirement stipulates the state will not fund Churchill’s travel expenses or speaker’s honorarium.
“All funding for this event will come from either private gifts or student fees allocated by the Student University Fee Allocation Committee (SUFAC),” according to the statement.
Churchill’s attendance at the university would also depend on the outcome of a review by UC-Boulder, where the school’s Board of Regents is currently debating whether to dismiss Churchill from the university.
The statement said the university would also provide views contrary to Churchill’s. Finally, Miller demanded a clarification of Churchill’s “Little Eichmanns” remark.
Despite UW-Whitewater’s requirements, some state officials have already begun firing condemnation in the school’s direction.
State Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said the university wants to hide behind free speech.
“It is still hateful speech, and that is a problem,” Nass said. “With that kind of criteria,
that means that anybody would be able to come to Whitewater and speak, [even if] it was Saddam Hussein.”
Nass drafted a joint resolution calling for the Legislature to submit its opinion of Churchill Thursday.
“This is not a question of free speech; this is stopping a person who uses hateful, disgusting speech,” Nass said.
While the dissension from the state has been evident, there has been some support from others.
UW law professor Gerald Thain said despite Churchill’s absurd statements, Miller has made the right decision.
“I’m sure had advice from First Amendment lawyers and other academic people,” Thain said. “I’d be surprised if he would have made a different decision.”
UW political science and law professor Donald Downs said he was surprised Whitewater made the decision to allow Churchill to speak. Downs added he was afraid what Nass’ remarks about the Churchill case could mean for citizens who listen to the lawmaker’s criticism.