MONDAY, 12 JULY 2010

Illinois professor fired for doing his job

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Chicago Tribune photoThis story is picking up press, and it should. Freedom of speech is at the heart of it, as is the effort yet again to attack legitimate expression of belief, expressed…where? In a classroom setting that fosters intellecutal inquiry and critical thinking skills?

Not exactly.

The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral….

[Prof. Ken] Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

These days, this gets someone in academia in all sorts of trouble, which is what he quickly got. An unidentified student complained, on behalf of an “offended” student, (not sure why the offended student didn’t speak for himself or herself…), that this was ‘hate speech.’

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing,” the student wrote. “Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another.”

Just to clarify a point here, the phrase “natural laws of man” is an oxymoron. (Just Wiki natural law and read the first three sentences.)

But that wasn’t all the student complained about that was contradictory.

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.”

By the guiding lights of those who cry ‘hate speech’ like this, public discourse and the engagement of independent thought is only welcomed if it agrees with their views.

Howell had every right to teach as he successfully did for so long.

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.”

Oh, but there is.



 
 

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It seems we are there. Let’s engage the debate of ideas. Share yours in the comments, or send thoughts, recommendations, encouragement and well-intended humour to Sheila@MercatorNet.com.


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