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U of Colorado Faculty Feels 'Beaten Up' By: Elizabeth Mattern Clark
Daily Camera | Thursday, March 03, 2005

University of Colorado professors, even those who have nothing to do with Ward Churchill, say they're feeling "beaten up."

The lightning-rod professor ignited controversy with an essay on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He's also under fire for allegations of academic fraud and taking a shortcut to tenure.

Calls by lawmakers for his dismissal and an examination of tenure have other faculty members saying their own freedom of speech — and their reputations — are threatened.

"It's tarnishing everyone else's image," said education professor Margaret LeCompte, who signed a full-page ad in today's Daily Camera supporting academic freedom.

The controversy over Churchill is "distracting us enormously from what we are supposed to be doing here, which is teaching and research," said history professor Susan Kent, who serves as associate vice chancellor for faculty affairs.

"We're beaten up by this, the football scandal and the state of our budget," she said.

Three years of cuts in state funding were followed by a yearlong scandal involving sex-for-recruits allegations and questionable spending practices. The Churchill uproar is the latest blow to the school's reputation.

Salaries, workload

Nationally known conservative author David Horowitz told a crowd at CU that university professors work six to nine hours a week, eight months a year for $150,000. Horowitz's comments came earlier this month, after Churchill's essay comparing victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to a Nazi bureaucrat ignited a political firestorm.

Churchill, a tenured professor who has only a master's degree, earns more than $94,000 a year, teaches five hours a week and charges a $3,500 guest speaking fee. Last year, he spoke at a dozen campuses.

Although the 27-year CU employee has an extensive list of publications, two scholars have accused Churchill of shoddy research and making up pieces of history.

A report by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education shows that last year, the average full-time faculty member at the Boulder campus taught six hours a week in the classroom. The report said the "benchmark" was about eight hours, based on a 1998 national survey.

Still, many faculty members say they're furious over Horowitz's portrayal of professors as lazy and over-privileged.

The average salary this year across all faculty ranks and departments on the Boulder campus is about $83,000. Compared with peer universities, CU's associate and assistant salaries are 2 percent higher, while full professor salaries are 4 percent lower.

Most faculty members are required to spend at least 16 hours a week on research and 16 hours on course-related work, including preparing for class, teaching, grading and advising students, said Timothy Seastedt, a tenured professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Another eight hours go toward "service" work, including serving on campus committees.

"I seriously doubt the average faculty member can put in a 40-hour work week for any length of time and get away with it," said Seastedt, 55, who earns $85,000 a year and came to CU in 1991.

Anthropology professor James McGoodwin, 63, earns $82,000 after being a professor at CU for 32 years. He said he typically works about 50 hours a week — not including unpaid time he spends at conferences — and that the typical professor's job is year-round.

"The reality is that teaching and service can take up so much of your time that you end up doing a lot of your writing weekends, holidays and summers," he said.

Faculty defends Churchill

Gov. Bill Owens and other lawmakers have called for Churchill to be fired and for a review of tenure. CU officials are examining Churchill's work to see if he can be dismissed.

Churchill, who claims to be partly American Indian, bypassed the typical six-year "tenure-track" period when he received tenure in 1991.

That revelation has prompted questions about the rigor of the process that gave him a virtually permanent appointment. Officials said they thought he had a competing offer and hired him through a program intended to boost diversity.

Sean Duffy, Owens' deputy chief of staff, said he hopes CU examines the "noxious content" of Churchill's work, plus his conduct and "his whole employment record."

Amid the controversy, CU professors have passed resolutions and taken out an ad countering what they see as a right-wing attack on academic freedom and tenure.

LeCompte said she not only defends Churchill's freedom of speech, but also CU's processes for dealing with allegations of fraud without interference from lawmakers. CU has annual merit evaluations for all faculty members and recently adopted five-year peer reviews for tenured professors.

"If he makes mistakes, he can be called to account for it," LeCompte said. "But the point is that the place to do that and make him accountable is in the post-tenure review. Otherwise, having it tried in the court of politics or the press or the state Legislature removes from the group of peers the right to say this guy doesn't meet our standards.

"We are rigorous here at the university; we have the mechanisms for handling this," she said. "It doesn't happen instantly, like the Legislature would like it to. The wheels grind slowly."

Elizabeth Mattern Clark is a Daily Camera Staff Writer.

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