DENVER — University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who has ignited a national outcry with his essay comparing September 11 victims to Nazis, stands accused of fabricating claims about his American-Indian heritage.
Mr. Churchill, former chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department at the Boulder university, long has identified himself as a Cherokee Indian, saying at various times that he has one-sixteenth or three-sixteenths Cherokee blood.
But Cherokee Nation officials say that is something Mr. Churchill never has been able to prove.
“He’s not a member of the Cherokee Nation and he’s not eligible for membership,” said Mike Miller, a spokesman for the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Okla. “You have to have proof of Cherokee lineage, and he’s never been able to do that.”
What’s more, he said, Mr. Churchill has besmirched the reputation of authentic Cherokees with his essay calling those who died in the Twin Towers attack “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Nazi official Adolf Eichmann.
“It’s particularly upsetting to Cherokee citizens because one of the people killed at the Pentagon was a Cherokee,” Mr. Miller said. “The fact that a guy who claims to be a Cherokee has said these things about 9/11 is a double slap in the face to Cherokee citizens. He’s not a Cherokee and he doesn’t speak for Cherokee citizens.”
The university’s board of regents is conducting a 30-day investigation into Mr. Churchill’s writings and scholarship amid calls for his dismissal. His questionable claim of American-Indian heritage is relevant to the probe, say critics, because without that, it is doubtful Mr. Churchill would have been hired to teach in the Ethnic Studies Department, much less have won tenure.
Mr. Churchill, 57, has built a national reputation as an American-Indian affairs specialist and activist with numerous articles and books focused on American-Indian history and modern issues. He could not be reached for comment yesterday. The university public-affairs office did not return a phone call from a reporter.
Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, wrote in an article Tuesday in the Rocky Mountain News that Mr. Churchill’s ancestry claims, if false, amount to academic fraud.
“Churchill’s lack of conventional academic credentials was apparently compensated for, at least in part in the eyes of those who hired him at the University of Colorado, by the ‘fact’ that he contributed to the ethnic diversity of the school’s tenure-track faculty,” Mr. Campos wrote.
If the university is committed to racial and ethnic diversity among its faculty, Mr. Campos said yesterday, “that makes it all the more important that we don’t get taken in by people trying to game the system, and that is apparently what Ward Churchill has done.”
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