The First Amendment in the United States Constitution provides for freedom of speech for all its citizens, regardless of their race, gender or position in society.
Colleges and universities across the nation have traditionally been testing grounds for how far this amendment truly extends, and this year, the University of Colorado-Boulder is no exception.
When statements in one of his essay's about Sept. 11, 2001, victims were made public, Ward Churchill, the former dean of ethnic studies and current professor at CU, instigated a debate of how far the First Amendment should extend.
In his essay, Churchill compared victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 to "little Eichmanns," an individual who was a leader in Hitler's extermination of the Jewish people in World War II. Since light has been shed upon his writings, Churchill has stepped down from his position as dean of the ethnic studies department at CU, which reduced his salary from $114,032 to $94,242, said CU spokesperson Pauline Hale in an interview with Denver Post.
On CU's campus, Churchill's comments have created a distinct tension, said CU freshmen business major Ashley Dietrich.
"In one of my classes, we were discussing the comments, and this girl started screaming expletives at me because I disagreed with his (Churchill's) comments," Dietrich said. "It seems like everyone has an opinion about the whole thing; some people are just really outspoken about it, while others are more quiet with their opinions."
Because of the nature of Churchill's statements, some members of the community, and citizens across the nation, have called for further action beyond Churchill's resignation as dean. CU Chancellor Phil Disteffano outlined his plan Thursday to further deal with Churchill
"Within the next 30 days, the Office of the Chancellor will launch and oversee a thorough examination of Professor Churchill's writings, speeches, tape recordings and other works," Disteffano said in an emailed statement. "At the conclusion of this examination, I will determine whether to issue a notice of intent to dismiss for cause, other action as appropriate, or no action."
The situation at CU has caused other universities to look at their own policies on freedom of speech. In CSU's Academic Faculty and Administrative Professional Manual, the topic of freedom of speech is specifically covered in section E.8 of the manual:
"…When speaking or writing as a citizen, he or she should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but this special position in the community imposes special obligations … Hence the individual should at all times be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint, show every respect for the opinion of others, and make every effort to indicate that he or she is not an institutional spokesman."
Much of the debate surrounding Churchill's statements does not concern the fact that he was free to express his beliefs, but if he showed appropriate restraint while doing so.
C.W. Miller, CSU's Faculty Council chair and a professor of biomedical sciences, believes that professors must exercise restraint in certain instances.
"The First Amendment allows for anyone to express their personal viewpoints, but as professors, we have a responsibility to keep our comment within certain bounds," Miller said. "We have to exercise appropriate restraint when it comes to what we say in and out of the classroom. It would not be very appropriate for a science teacher to be preaching his political views in class, because it would not fall within the bounds of that class."
Some students agree with Miller, saying professors should be allowed to speak freely, within certain boundaries. Andy Green, a freshmen criminal justice major, feels that freedom of speech is a right that in certain instances must be monitored.
" I definitely feel that people should be able to speak their mind freely, without the fear of being censored, but in certain cases, there has to be a level of control exercised," Green said. "When an individual is representing an institution, like Churchill at CU, they must realize their statements reflect on the entire institution, and because of this, they sometimes need to be reigned in."
Beyond free speech, another issue that has grown from Churchill's statements is that of tenure for faculty, and how far it should extend its protection to faculty members.
"There is no way a faculty member can be terminated for just a comment made in class," Miller said. "Tenure varies from department to department, but once a faculty member becomes tenured, it would take a very serious incident for them to have their employment terminated, like sexual harassment or being drunk in class."
Some of the basic requirements for a faculty member to become tenured at CSU include being an effective teacher consistently, and teaching at the university for at least seven years. What constitutes effectiveness varies from department to department, Miller said.
"Being an effective teacher can mean different things in different departments," Miller said. "In a science, being effective may require a teacher to be involved in research, where as in liberal arts, there may not be such a requirement."