Live

Watch CBSN Live

Free Speech Debate Rages In Colo.

University of Colorado administrators Thursday took the first steps toward a possible dismissal of a professor who likened World Trade Center victims to a notorious Nazi.

Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano ordered a 30-day review of Ward Churchill's speeches and writings to determine if the professor overstepped his boundaries of academic freedom and whether that should be grounds for dismissal.

Also Thursday, the state Board of Regents issued an apology for Churchill's remarks at a meeting and voted to support the university's review of Churchill.

The raucous meeting drew dozens of protesters who back Churchill; at least two were arrested for disrupting the meeting and another was led away in handcuffs.

The regents refused to take public comment at their meeting, prompting an outcry from some of the 35 students who carried signs reading, "Protect academic freedom" and "Witch hunt." About a dozen professors also attended.

"I wish the regents had agreed to take some public comments," said law professor Barbara Bintliff, chairwoman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly. "Discussion and debate is what a university is all about."

State lawmakers also denounced Churchill Thursday as well. The Senate passed the nonbinding resolution days after Churchill's 9/11 remarks resurfaced during protests of his plans to speak at a college in upstate New York. The state House passed an identical resolution on Wednesday.

As CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports, Gov. Bill Owens has asked the university to fire Churchill, who resigned Monday as chairman of the university's ethnic studies department.

"Should [Churchill] be forced to resign? Absolutely," Owens said.

The university's Board of Regents planned to discuss the matter later Thursday but Regent Michael Carrigan said Churchill would not be fired, at least not immediately.

"The law requires a process to fire a professor," said Carrigan, who is an attorney. "If the regents ignore that process, they face substantial legal liability."

In an essay and a follow-up book, Churchill characterized the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a response to a long history of U.S. abuses and said those killed at the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized Nazi plans to exterminate European Jews.

The essay attracted little attention for years until Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College, about 40 miles east of Syracuse, N.Y. Hundreds of relatives of Sept. 11 victims protested, and the school canceled Thursday's planned panel discussion, citing security concerns.

Churchill has said he was not supporting the Sept. 11 attacks in his essay, but believes "such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy."

Churchill told The Denver Post his job was protected by the university's guarantee of academic freedom, and he promised to sue if he was removed over the controversy.

"This is exactly what I'm protected from — an attempt to take my job on the basis of a difference of opinion on a burning issue," he said.

State Sen. Peter Groff, a Denver Democrat, cast the lone "no" vote on the Senate resolution Thursday, saying he disagreed with Churchill but that the resolution gives him undeserved attention and attacks free speech.

The House passed the resolution unanimously.

View CBS News In