Elizabeth Hoffman, president of the University of Colorado (CU), was forced out of her post on March 7—and submitted a letter of resignation to the Colorado Board of Regents.
For months, a rightwing mob had been screaming for the head of Professor Ward Churchill, with backing from the Governor of Colorado himself. Churchill is under fire for his supposedly "anti-American" statements about the criminal nature of U.S. society and about causes behind the 9/11 attacks. An official investigation has been launched by CU's Chancellor to invent some pretext for firing him.
Then, that same raging lynchmob added CU President Hoffman to their hitlist— and demanded that she must step down (or be brought down) in order to "clean house" at the university.
Her supposed crime was the remarks she made in a March 3 speech to the university faculty.
In that speech she upheld the ongoing investigation of Churchill—despite the demand of hundreds of faculty members at Boulder that the investigation be stopped. She said that Churchill wouldn't be fired for his statements alone.
But then Hoffman went on to express her support for academic freedom. She said she feared a "new McCarthyism" in the uproar over Ward Churchill, and added, "We are in dangerous times again," to the applause of the faculty.
This was enough. A cry arose for her to resign.
After all, this campaign against Ward Churchill has been endorsed and given official legitimacy by the governors of Colorado and New York and other elected officials at every level, from one end of the country to the other. It has been promoted by the prominent Republican strategist Newt Gingrich, by the editorial pages of many major newspapers, and by the screeching Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, and by the whole rightwing radio and TV talkshow circuit.
So when she called all this a "new McCarthyism," they turned on her too.
Within 24 hours, various Colorado public officials—including the state's House Minority Leader Joe Stengel—and the Denver Post were openly calling for Hoffman's resignation. And it was clear that she was losing the backing of members of the Board of Regents under which she served.
In a matter of days Hoffman was gone.
President Hoffman joins other university administrators from New York's Hamilton College to the University of Hawai'i who have been attacked for failing to fully embrace the reactionary attack on Ward Churchill and the rightwing plan to remake academic life that has been hammered into place by people like Newt Gingrich and David Horowitz.
Now the president of Colorado's major three-campus university system, with a student body of over 50,000 students, has been brought down for failing to "toe the line" in the face of a political witch hunt.
Elizabeth Hoffman is even a Republican. She was appointed by George Bush to serve as a member of the National Science Board only a year ago. She has been credited with obtaining one of the largest gifts ever to an American public university ($250 million for research into cognitive disabilities) and for adding $100 million to the school's endowment—considered Job Description #1 of every university president.
There were, at the same time, a number of controversies that weakened the position of Elizabeth Hoffman. There had been a campus scandal about a series of sexual assaults by football players and the use of sex and alcohol in recruitment. Hoffman has been criticized for downplaying the accusations and reinstating football coach Gary Barnett last spring. As she now came under attack for publicly supporting academic freedom, a secret grand jury report on the sports scandal was suddenly leaked to the press and helped to force her out of office.
The fact that the president of such a major university has been brought down like this reveals how serious the attack on Ward Churchill is and the much bigger political agenda it serves.
Planning to Purge the Campus
For years, the rightwing hitman David Horowitz has been charging that U.S. campuses need to be fundamentally shaken up, to end the influence of politically progressive forces that he considers subversive and "anti- American."
Horowitz worked to mobilize rightwing activists to stalk and harass progressive professors—and to accuse those professors of persecuting conservative students and suppressing the "academic freedom" to uphold reactionary and rightwing ideas.
Horowitz brought his national "Campaign for Academic Freedom" to Colorado over the past couple of years, and wrote about his interactions with President Hoffman on his online Frontpage magazine (frontpagemag.com).
In June 2003, according to Frontpage, Horowitz visited Colorado and suggested to lawmakers that an "Academic Bill of Rights" was needed to protect students from faculty "abuses."
I n the months that followed, Students for Academic Freedom Clubs were formed across the state and began gathering evidence of these so-called "abuses." Colorado Senate President John Andrews sent a letter to every college president in the state, asking them to provide statements describing their supposed "protections" for students and detailing any problems on their campuses.
Frontpage writes: "At the same time, [Andrews] convened an ad hoc legislative committee to hear from students and faculty members about whether academic freedom is adequately being protected on state-supported colleges and universities. Transcripts of this.hearing. reveal an environment of bias and hostility towards conservative viewpoints on Colorado campuses. We see many examples: a professor insisting that student Republicans withdraw from the Political Science Association; a professor teaching one-sided history class in which students were told that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were 'martyrs' and that Stalin was a victim of U.S. persecution; a student skipping classes out of fear of the professor's tactic of ridiculing and humiliating conservative students in front of the class, and so on."
Initially Horowitz identified CU President Hoffman as being someone opposing his campaign for an "Academic Bill of Rights" on the grounds— according to Horowitz—that she and others felt "although its principles are valid, it duplicates academic-freedom guidelines that already exist."
When it looked like the Colorado Senate might pass a resolution that incorporated provisions of this "Academic Bill of Rights," Horowitz claims that President Hoffman and the presidents of Colorado's other major public universities offered a compromise: In exchange for the bill being withdrawn, they would agree to sign a "Memorandum of Understanding."
In this Memorandum, signed in March 2004, the universities supposedly pledged to provide protections to students of all political viewpoints.
At that point Horowitz declared victory, saying "In terms of today's college campuses, this is a revolution in the making, and an idea whose time has come."
Similar operations have happened across the country. The Revolutionary Worker (issue #1268) describes a Horowitz operation carried out at Columbia University through a rightwing student group called Campus Watch: "Campus Watch has helped pioneer the tactic of encouraging students to monitor and report on the political views of their liberal-minded or leftist professors who, they claim, are intimidating students who disagree with them. But the groups that are heading this assault are just fine with intimidating people, as long as it's in line with their objectives."
At North Carolina the supposed "crime" committed by the university was assigning Barbara Ehrenreich's "socialist tract on poverty in America, Nickel and Dimed" as required reading for incoming freshmen.
Boosted to the National Stage
With the national assault on Ward Churchill: suddenly yesterday's supposed "victims" have quickly become today's howling mob, demanding the expulsion of a tenured professor for his radical critique of the U.S. Empire and its history of genocide.
First Churchill was forced to resign as head of CU's Ethnic Studies department. Then he had to face an investigation seeking to fire him. And now the University president herself has been forced to resign, for pointing out that all this has the smell of the government-orchestrated McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s.
Imagine the "Academic Freedom" that Horowitz and his supporters will bring if they have their way!
Emboldened and Aggressive
Some powerful people in Colorado see the purging of a radical professor and the exiting of a university president as just the start.
Like a shark in bloody waters, rightwing columnist and radio host Mike Rosen wrote the day following Hoffman's resignation (Rocky Mountain News):
"The debate stimulated by the Churchill affair has escalated into a long overdue exploration into the politics and processes of higher education. The sacred cow of tenure is under review, along with the limits of academic freedom and the shameful lack of ideological balance within college faculties. It's like peeling off the outer layers of an artichoke to get to the heart of the issue.
"And this is it: 1) Ideology and politics..the Left has taken over academe. We want it back. 2) Accountability. Self-important academics believe themselves to be beyond reproach, sitting as philosopher-kings, dispensing their wisdom to the ignorant masses. Nonsense. They're ordinary people, government employees dependent on their customers and taxpayers for their income, and ultimately accountable to their bosses and the citizens who elect the Board of Regents. Academic freedom is not absolute."
He calls for electing University Regents committed to "hiring conservative professors to balance the now left-lopsided scale." He calls for "a housecleaning of administrators.and hiring new administrators with sufficient backbone to take on the entrenched, leftist faculty."
And Rosen's vision is to "convert CU into a bastion of conservative thought."
This is an undisguised call for a political purge of the state university system—complete with political firings of everyone committed to academic freedom and rightwing loyalty tests for those brought in to replace them.
A gauntlet has been thrown down. The University of Colorado has become "ground zero" in a fight that affects the entire intellectual and political life of the U.S.
In this same week: Hundreds of students and faculty rallied on Thursday, March 10, at Eastern Washington University to demand that EWU President Steven Jordan "re-invite" Professor Ward Churchill to speak. Churchill had been invited to speak on Native American activism and the event was canceled by university authorities citing "security concerns."