Patty Limerick fired from CU Center of American West she founded

Patricia Nelson Limerick, faculty director and chair of the board of directors of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she is also a professor of history. (Casey Cass, University of Colorado)

Patty Limerick, an iconic professor, author and scholar whose Center for the American West at the University of Colorado helped shape and guide Colorado’s cultural identity for nearly 40 years, was fired from the center that she founded.

An email sent to supporters of the center on Wednesday announced that the center’s annual “Fandango” fundraising event scheduled for October 7 had been canceled because Limerick had been “unexpectedly removed” from her role as director of the faculty and chair of the board of trustees of the American West Center.

“The Fandango is a celebration of the center and its work,” reads the announcement. “There’s not much to celebrate at the moment.”

The announcement urged supporters of the center — a heavy list of donors and Colorado luminaries — to contact CU’s new College of Arts and Sciences Dean Glen Krutz with any thoughts or concerns about the direction of the center.

Krutz directed inquiries to the school media team. A spokesperson said the university does not discuss personnel matters.

Patty Limerick won the MacArthur Genius Fellowship, CU Boulder’s Hazel Barnes Award, was a Colorado State Historian, and spent 40 years as an official CU “college freak.” (Honey Aschenbrenner, University of Colorado)

“At this point, I can only say this: My removal from the position of faculty director at the American West Center was highly unexpected,” Limerick said in a text message. “I’m thinking about my options. »

Friends said she was fired from her job at the center on September 23. She remains a full professor at CU.

Two sources who spoke to Limerick said a member of staff she hired at the center had registered complaints against her and that those complaints had been investigated and dismissed by the university. Friends said Limerick was shocked by the shooting.

“I would say it’s a great failure of leadership at the highest level,” said Bill Reynolds, who hosted the Fandango gala at his home and served on the center’s board of directors. “The biggest losers here are the students. Everyone who knew Patty benefited from her knowledge. I think the system is not working and the management has failed the students and supporters of the university.

Two years after Limerick joined the faculty at CU Boulder in 1984, she co-founded the Center of the American West, creating a forum to better explore often volatile public issues. The center, with its books, films and lecture series, has helped shape and solidify the cultural identity of the West.

“She has the ability to bring people together, including people who disagree with each other, and I think that’s what really sets the center apart from other entities,” said Aaron Harber, longtime Colorado political talk show host and center supporter. who also serves as a commissioner for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Harber said he was “absolutely shocked” to hear of Limerick’s withdrawal from the centre. He made sure to say he had no idea why he was fired, but he hopes more information comes out soon before readers or outsiders mistakenly attribute some sort of failure to him. Limerick.

“I just can’t imagine that Patty did anything wrong that couldn’t be rectified,” Harber said. “If she made some sort of serious mistake, I can’t imagine there wasn’t a way to fix it satisfactorily.”

Friend, colleague and former state historian William Wei, a former board member of the center, said he saw Limerick as “the main reason for the success of the Center in the American West”.

“I can’t imagine the TCA without her,” he said.

Colorado author Jenny Shank recalled first meeting Limerick when she won one of the center’s Thompson Writing Awards for an article she wrote while a student graduated from CU. When his latest book, “Mixed Company,” came out, Limerick invited Shank to speak at a panel celebrating the anniversary of the Thompson Awards.

“It’s an original. There’s no one like her,” Shank said. “It was his vision that the history of the West should be rethought from all sorts of different angles and that everyone whose life is involved in the West has a say in what history is. She was always trying to find common ground between groups of people who you thought would have nothing in common.

“I don’t know if you can find someone so welcoming to people from all political backgrounds, from all walks of life, from all professions,” Shank said. “It would be really difficult to replace someone like that.”

In 1995, aged 44, Limerick won the MacArthur Foundation’s five-year ‘Genius Grant’.

The award noted how Limerick “expands our view of the American West to include stories of women’s history, ethnic histories, and environmental history.” In 2001, she won CU’s Hazel Barnes Award, the highest honor the university offers for teaching and research.

In 1988, at her own request, she was named CU’s “University Fool”. She held similar concerts at Harvard and Yale. She’s spent 40 years serving as the school’s credentialed, festooned jerk, gallivanting around campus spreading stupidity and madness. Humor, she said, is a valuable tool for easing social anxiety and perhaps releasing some of the pressures of higher education.

In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed her to the National Council for the Humanities, a group of 26 scholars that reviews grant applications and makes recommendations for the National Endowment for the Humanities. A year later, Governor John Hickenlooper named Limerick Colorado State Historian as part of a new collaboration between his university and History Colorado.

She served as a state historian until August 2018 and is now a member of Governor Jared Polis’ Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Group, where she helped guide Native American identities and values ​​in discussions about removing offensive names from features. geographical.

The email to Fandango attendees described how Limerick “brought credibility and honor to the university” through its leadership of the center.

“Along the way, she has inspired and touched the lives of scholars, students, policy makers, opinion makers, political leaders, civil servants, public foundations, donors and all those with whom she works. came into contact through her unique blend of wit, intellect, decency. , curiosity, patience and a willingness to listen and engage,” reads the memo signed by Chris Whitney, Vice Chairman of the Center’s Board of Directors. “She has made the center a nationally respected resource for exploring the history, culture, politics and traditions of the American West and their implications for the present and the future.”

Colorado Sun writer Kevin Simpson contributed to this report.

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