In a recent ruling Chief Denver District Judge Larry Naves ruled against Ward Churchill’s request to be reinstated to Colorado University and against financial damages. This ruling is a contrast to the jury verdict in April that concluded that Churchill was illegally removed from his position for his political beliefs. The ruling gives regents of the University a free hand to fire whomever they want for their political beliefs. Churchill’s attorney David Lane stated:
“It’s an extremely rare thing for a judge to throw out a jury verdict — that’s big, that doesn’t happen… Here it’s being done at the expense of the Constitution of the United States of America, and it’s really a tragedy. It sends the message to the public of, ‘Oh, jury verdicts. Who cares?’”
Churchill lost his job after attention was drawn to an essay that he had written following the 9/11 attacks. In his essay, Churchill called those who died in the twin towers “little Eichmanns.” Thus Churchill compared the technocrats who worked in the Trade Center maintaining the US empire with technocrats in Nazi Germany. Churchill’s point is hardly radical. Churchill’s point comes from the work of Hannah Arendt’s account of the trial of Adolph Eichmann. The Nazi bureaucrat Eichmann, according to Arendt, was a banal individual whose evil was not motivated by strong ideological beliefs, but rather by conformism and careerism. The evil of empire is made possible by a large strata of ordinary people who contribute to the evil of the system by staffing its bureaucracy. Like the verdicts at Nuremberg, Churchill’s point is that “I was just doing my job, just following orders” is not an acceptable defense for evil. Like the leaders of empire, the functionaries of empire are also responsible for its crimes. There is collective responsibility for the crimes of empire that go beyond the small circle of ideologists and figureheads who make policy.
The ruling is an unhappy ending to a long witch hunt. The ruling is a blow to academic freedom.