Skip to comments.Instructor of Catholicism at UI claims loss of job violates academic freedom
Posted on 07/09/2010 3:19:14 PM PDT by little jeremiah
URBANA An adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism at the University of Illinois has lost his teaching job there, and he claims it is a violation of his academic freedom.
Kenneth Howell was told after the spring semester ended that he would no longer be teaching in the UI's Department of Religion. The decision came after a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality in the class in which Howell taught that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are morally wrong.
Howell has been an adjunct lecturer in the department for nine years, during which he taught two courses, Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. He was also director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John's Catholic Newman Center on campus and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. Funding for his salary came from the Institute of Catholic Thought.
One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue. In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.
"Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY," he wrote in the e-mail, obtained by The News-Gazette. "In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same."
He went on to write there has been a disassociation of sexual activity from morality and procreation, in contradiction of Natural Moral Theory.
The student complaint came in a May 13 e-mail to Robert McKim, head of the religion department. The author of the e-mail said he was writing on behalf of a friend a student in Howell's class, who wanted to remain anonymous. The e-mail complained about Howell's statements about homosexuality, which the student called "hate speech."
"Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing," the student wrote in the e-mail. "Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one's worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation."
Howell said he was presenting the idea that the Catholic moral teachings are based on natural moral law, and the Catholic understanding of what that means.
"My responsibility on teaching a class on Catholicism is to teach what the Catholic Church teaches," Howell said. "I have always made it very, very clear to my students they are never required to believe what I'm teaching and they'll never be judged on that."
He also said he's open with students about his own beliefs.
"I tell my students I am a practicing Catholic, so I believe the things I'm teaching," he said. "It's not a violation of academic freedom to advocate a position, if one does it as an appeal on rational grounds and it's pertinent to the subject."
Cary Nelson, a UI emeritus professor of English and president of the American Association of University Professors, agreed. He said while many professors choose not to share their beliefs with students, they are free to do so and to advocate for a particular position.
"We think there is great value in faculty members arguing in a well-articulated way," Nelson said. "What you absolutely cannot do is require students to share your opinions. You have to offer students the opportunity to freely disagree, and there can be no penalty for disagreeing."
Nelson is the co-author of a 2007 AAUP statement on "Freedom in the Classroom," as well as the author of a recent book that deals with academic freedom.
"It's part of intellectual life to advocate for points of view," he said, adding he has often used it to start a lively discussion in his classroom.
"Hopefully when they go out in the world, they can emulate that. They can argue a case, and do it in a well-informed and articulate way, and can make a more productive contribution to our democracy that way," he said.
Nelson also said it would be inappropriate to remove someone from a teaching position because they advocated for a position, unless they also required that their students to share the same belief.
Howell said when McKim talked with him about his teaching position, McKim expressed concern that Howell's statements in class would hurt the department. McKim is currently out of the country, and he deferred questions to Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs.
Kaler declined to comment on the specifics of a personnel matter. She said adjunct lecturers are hired on a semester-by-semester basis, and they have no expectation that their employment will last longer than that semester.
Kaler also said the UI is "absolutely committed to teaching the theory of Catholicism, but it's up to the department as to who teaches a class."
The religion department's website says Howell was recognized for excellent teaching in the spring and fall semesters of 2008 and 2009.
In a series of e-mail exchanges between McKim and UI administrators about how to proceed regarding Howell's teaching and his appointment as an adjunct professor, McKim states he will send a note to Howell's students and others who were forwarded his e-mail to students, "disassociating our department, College, and university from the view expressed therein."
In another e-mail, Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote that she believes "the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us."
Howell said he and McKim have deep disagreements over religious matters, and his job loss was the result of "just a very, very deep disagreement about the nature of what should be taught and what should not be taught.
"It's an egregious violation of academic freedom," he added.
The UI Academic Staff Handbook's statement on academic freedom states that faculty members must teach their courses in a way consistent with the scheduled time, course content and course credit. "Within these constraints, they are entitled to freedom in the classroom in developing and discussing according to their areas of competence the subjects that they are assigned."
They must also provide students with "the freedom to consider conflicting views and to make their own evaluation of data, evidence, and doctrines. Furthermore, faculty members have a responsibility to maintain an atmosphere conducive to intellectual inquiry and rational discussion."
Howell said he disagrees with the idea that a professor must present lessons without even hinting at his own beliefs on a subject.
"It doesn't seem to me to be particularly honest or fair to a student. If you believe something, you can tell the student that," he said. "Where it becomes problematic is if it becomes injurious to a student by penalizing them for their beliefs. I always tried to be fair and honest and upfront with my students, and engage them on questions of human reason."
In his e-mail to students, Howell wrote: "All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions."
Howell said he's often had students who disagree with him, but "that's always been done with courtesy and respect on both our parts. This semester the students were the most negative and vociferous and critical that I've ever seen."
Howell is working with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-based organization that "provides the resources that will keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values," according to its website. Howell said his goal is to be restored to the classroom so he can continue teaching his courses.
The Alliance Defense Fund has just begun looking into Howell's situation, according to a spokesman.
Senior counsel David French provided a written statement, saying "A university cannot censor professors' speech including classroom speech related to the topic of the class merely because some students find that speech 'offensive.' Professors have the freedom to challenge students and to educate them by exposing them to different views. The Alliance Defense Fund is working with Professor Howell because the defense of academic freedom is essential on the university campus."
After losing his teaching position with the UI, Howell was told by the Newman Center that he would no longer be employed there either. The Newman Center referred requests for comment to the diocese office in Peoria.
Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese and an attorney, said, "We funded the position so he could teach at the UI. He has been told he cannot teach these classes in the future.
"We are very concerned and very distressed by what we understand is the situation from Dr. Howell," she said, adding the diocese has contacted the UI and hopes to meet to talk about the matter.
Howell was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1978. In 1996, he converted to the Catholic faith. He came to the UI in 1998 to teach at the Newman Center.
News-Gazette staff writer Lynda Zimmer contributed to this report.
But as a point of fact the Catholic Church does teach that homosexual acts are morally wrong.
So in a course on Catholicism what else could he teach but what Catholicism in fact teaches?
The university has decided that, one, no Catholic can be allowed to teach Catholicism, and two, whoever does teach it must lie about the actual beliefs of the Catholic Church.
Freedom? What’s that? I think I’ve heard my grandparents talk about it but I only have a vague recollection of what it is.
Two links for further edification, first is from the Professor:
E-mail that prompted complaint over UI religion class instructor
Other Related ContentInstructor of Catholicism at UI claims loss of job violates academic freedom
E-mail complaint from student about UI religion instructor
From: Kenneth J. Howell
Date: Tue, May 4, 2010 at 9:45 PM
Subject: Utilitarianism and Sexuality (for those in 447 FYI)
Next, an email complaint from a student who didn’t like the Professor’s example of homosexuality (this wasn’t even a student who took the class:
These emails are well worth reading in their entirety.
a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality
Homo-Leninists in action; unable to handle a philosophy, but willing to force others to submit to their beliefs and lifestyles.
Hey Protestants! Those of you whose churches haven't already capitulated to the queers, brace for collision! The sodomites will be after you, next.
Freepmail wagglebee to subscribe or unsubscribe from the homosexual agenda or moral absolutes ping list.
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Pinging both lists. So apparently a college professor cannot speak any thought, idea, principle, theory or body of thought; whether current or historical, that offends a member of a victim class or one of their little friends. Can't let anything so vile sully their little minds. IOW, higher "education" is officially a propaganda arm of leftists, a wholely owned outfit. Conservatives need to find the few remaining non-commie run universities and colleges and send their kids or selves to those institutions only.
We'd best stand together. We can go back to arguing about papist perfidy over beers after the fight.
If the queer SOB did not want to hear the message, he should have left the meeting.
Very bizarre. If the prof is teaching about Catholicism and natural law (which he was hired to do), of course he’s got to teach this. Why did the student take this course, which was obviously purely voluntary, if the student didn’t want to hear about the subject of the course?
It was the queer SOB’s little friend who wrote the initial complaint, a link to the email from the little friend is above.
So that he and his little friends could complain and be victims and thus control everything.
How far we behind have we left our Western roots: nobody seems to notice that the word "professor" stems from "profess" --- to declared openly, to affirm a belief.
Exactly. You guys need our help against these idiots and we need yours.
It sounds like a fake controversy. The Church’s position on moral law is no secret from anyone. You pretty much know going into a course on Catholic Thought what you’re going to get. Its pretty lame acting shocked, shocked, that the church is against sinnin’.
Its a shame. A course on Natural Law is exactly what 99% of Americans are lacking in their academic education.
I wonder if they have any classes on islam. If so, I wonder if the professor shares the muslim view on homosexuality and how they handle them in islamic states. If so, I wonder if the professor has been accused of “hate speech” and has been fired.
The Text book probably had something mentioning it. Many times Teachers and yes even professors follow a strict syllabus and can’t deter from it. I think that could be his fight in court if he goes. If he wandered off on his own away from the syllabus, he could be in trouble.
I did miss the part in the article where the ACLU is suing on behlf of the Professor.
...After losing his teaching position with the UI, Howell was told by the Newman Center that he would no longer be employed there either. The Newman Center referred requests for comment to the diocese office in Peoria.
This is troubling. They do say they are going to talk to the University but they could be a little more forthright in giving the professor some back-up.
This is a truth that is very close to my heart.
Those of us who stand for the moral absolutes that are the very foundation of human civilization, based on God’s laws, need to stand together to fight atheism, secularism, homosexualism, abortion and the culture of death, moral “relativity”, and the whole shebang.
We can discuss theological differences after we win. If we argue among ourselves, we will find that we have plenty of time for such discussions after hours at the re-education camp. If we’re not drugged or lobotomized.
Sectarian issues are fine - naturally each follower of a specific religion or denomination thinks theirs is the best way (of course I leave Islam out of this). But we should spend our valuable and short human lives defending truth against those who hate truth, not those who practice or believe just a little differently than we do.
And I say this as a devout Hindu. I consider all those who believe in God (yes, Hinduism is in truth and foundation monotheist) my brothers and sisters, even if many of the details they believe are not precisely the same. None of us will have any religious freedoms (or other freedoms) if the leftist atheist secularist homosexualists win. Or if the Muslims win.
So it was with Roe versus Wade. People were having abortions and doctors were performing them before the Supreme Court decision. The medical people performing them were offering that is was for the health and welfare of the mother. Both the doctors and the women getting abortions were burdened with guilt and societal censure. That's why people burdened with that guilt pushed so hard to get an affirmation from a respected body like the Supreme Court for the dark deed they were performing.
That is what this enormous push for approval of the homosexual way of acting is all about. They can get an occasional teacher fired. They can lay an assault on the clergy all they want. They can come up with propaganda phrases like ‘homophobe’. They can lobby politicians to pass laws saying that we can not be resistant to their acts. In the end it will do no good. Inherent in most people is the genetic inclination to be resistant.
You’re welcome. Glad to help.
So believing in what you are teaching is a no no - right?
Hers’s with some commentary on the letter.
‘It should be noted that my friend and I were both brought up Catholic’
This is standard fare. So called ‘ex’ Catholics are the ones who react violently to any expression of orthodox catholicism. This isn’t a dispute over what is or is not correct, but is a conflict over what the Church ought to teach.
‘which I believe you will agree is downright absurd’
Who believes? The professor? No. Make no mistake, this letter is not addressed to the professor but to the queer society. He’s soliciting opinions, not in order to challenge the professor but to get his buddies to say hey, we need to shut this idiot up.
The ‘response’ is his way of telling the professor, we’re going to come at you hard.
“I am in no way a gay rights activist”
Of course. I just like the odd buttsecks now and again.
“hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students”
First salvo. Obviously it’s wrong for the government to fund churches but it is right for them to fund queer centeres. Again, not a free speech argument.
“a public university and should thus have no religious affiliation”
Second salvo. One course taught by a professor!= religious affiliation? No. The expression of orthodox catholicism is equated to the establishment of the religion. Again, this is an attack on free speech.
‘Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”
This is the centerpiece of the argument. This is what pissed off the letter writer more than anything else. Saying that homosexuality is unnatural, and everything which is natural is good, Is a profound misunderstanding of the natural law.
He wants to believe, very strongly, that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, and there are no consequences for him. Arguing that it is unnatural is no different then arguing that he is less of a person for liking the buttsecks.
“The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought’
Provided that thought agrees with me.
“not limit one’s worldview’
Disagreeing with me makes you a narrow minded bigot
“I can only imagine how ashamed and uncomfortable a gay student would feel if he/she were to take this course. “
Of course you can. Because you like the buttsecks.
‘I am a heterosexual male”
Thanks for telling us. So that one time where you enjoyed the buttsecks didn’t make me gay. but don’t let anyone tell you that enjoying buttsecks is wrong.
‘Also, my friend also told me that the teacher allowed little room for any opposition to Catholic dogma”
Oh, this is a beauty. ‘My friend said’, ie, I have zero proof that the professor actually said this and I’m repeating hearsay.
“limiting the marketplace of ideas”
by expressing opinions that I disagree with.
“Leslie Morrow, director of the LGBT Resource Center
Siobhan Somerville, a former teacher of mine and the founder of the queer studies major.’
Who happen to like the buttsecks too. I’m telling on you so that they can smack you down.
“I didn’t go to Notre Dame for a reason”
No, because I wanted my love of buttsecks to be confirmed.
Hey if you are willing to stick your neck out for us christians...
Welcome to the party.
‘Remember, that what you did for the least of us, you also did for me.’
In a course that deals with philsosophy, is it unethical to tell students why Catholic philosophy teaches what it teaches?
Is it illegal to say, "I'm a Catholic and I agree with that"?
Or all three?
This wouldn't have been the ditch I wanted to die in, but I guess you don't get to choose.
After reading the emails I come to the conclusion that whoever fired the professor is either and homosexual agenda activist themselves or a spineless idiot. Regardless, the accusatory email was hearsay and the professor never had the opportunity to face his wimpy anonymous accuser...
Thank you for the links to the emails! I cannot believe the student thinks the teachers email is hate speech...HATE speech!?!
Whether or not someone thinks homosexuality is OK, its obvious that, based on natural moral law, homosexuality is immoral. Thats a perfectly reasonable and rational opinion, because two males are obviously not designed to mate with each other. Again, I stress it doesnt matter whether someone thinks homosexuality is immoral or not. The teachers express point was that homosexuality is considered immoral based on natural moral law. That TRUE, even though the students fragile mind couldnt grasp the point.
What’s really amazing? The student actually claimed classes should encourage independent thought and public discourse while engaging in an attack on the very same things!!!
Being very literal minded, I carefully re-read the article looking for mention of the ACLU...
(crickets etc of course)
It’s only wrong to believe what you’re teaching if you believe in traditional (aka “real”) morality.
If you’re a homosexualist, it’s not only fine to believe what you’re teaching, but mandatory!
You are right. God is in everyones’ hearts telling them that killing babies is wrong, same sex acts are wrong (of course many other things as well). They try to drown out that voice of conscience by shutting up the voices in the world telling them that these things are wrong.
But they will never stop the voice of God in their hearts.
The real nature of the homosexual agenda is becoming much more open. It is nothing less than tyranny and total dominance.
More proof that liberalism is a mental illness. They cannot think rationally or morally; they are in a state of intellectual thralldom that is a form of criminal insanity.
I like your point about all religions needing to stand together. The homosexual rights movement is incompatible with religious freedom and free speech rights. I really don’t see a happy middle ground here. One side is going to be sacrificed for the other, and homosexuals control most of the media and education.
I consider Jesus’ teachings absolutely perfect.
The Muslims and the rest of the list mean to destroy all that is good and true in the world. They must be stopped. I am sure that God will take care of things but we must do our part.
These emails are well worth reading in their entirety.
And comparing the quality of the arguments of each email is also quite instructive.
Some people live to be “ooooofffffennnnnnded.
The second writer mentions that he cc’ed his email to the someone associated with the Queer Studies Major. I’m sure that absolutely nothing offensive to anyone, even my aged mother, is ever said in those classes!!!
little jeremiah: “More proof that liberalism is a mental illness.”
Liberals seem rather irrational. How else could that student possibly believe he was fighting for independent thought, public discourse, and an open market for ideas while attacking the very same things??? It literally boggles my mind!
You offer classes on “Catholic” thought, but if the teacher actually teaches what that means, it's the teacher who erred?
You chose to take a class on “Catholic” thought and then you object to being told what it really means?
It's like the patients who run the insane asylum.
Excellent! Kind of like DUmmie Funnies.
Or the patients of the insane asylum trying to run the whole world!
Conservatives of all kinds which include faithful believers in God have been trying to deal with the leftist/atheist/secularist/homosexualist (etc) assault on morality and moral absolutes with fairness, civility, and compromise.
If we don’t stop these methods, we’ll end up defeated and in some sort of homo-nazi gulag.
As an adjunct Professor of Humanities who teaches Religion classes at a State Community College, this is a bit disquieting. Not surprising though. Hope he and the ADF presses this case and it sets a strong precedent to protect First Amendment Rights and Academic freedom for ALL professors, despite their political leanings or religious affiliations. Liberty is liberty.
How dare he use reason (which comes from God) against those who treasure reason above God. He makes too much sense and therefore must no longer teach impressionable students!
The only way to stop these acedemician/nazis is to hit them where it hurts....in the pocketbook.
ASue them all the way to China!!
The only way to stop these acedemician/nazis is to hit them where it hurts....in the pocketbook.
Sue them all the way to China!!
And let institutions of higher learning [sic] fund themselves. Why should our tax money be paying for this?
” Why should our tax money be paying for this? “
That would require people with backbones in high places. We don’t have them.
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