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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intolerance in the Ivory Tower: The Farce of "Academic Freedom"

How can a Catholic teacher get instantly fired from a secular university? Teach what the Catholic Church teaches in a course on Catholic teaching. Yup! You read that right. Professor Kenneth Howell has taught  courses on the Catholic Church at the University of Illinois for the past twelve years. In fact, students have rated him an outstanding professor during most of his tenure. But when a student complained  about his statement that homosexual acts, not the inclination, violate the natural law (a truth he has taught for many years and exactly what the Church teaches), he was removed as a professor.

Even more shocking from a Catholic point of view -- when he suggested that he teach the courses at the Newman Center and arrange with a Catholic university to provide credit which could be transferred to UI, the campus minister, Msgr. Gregory Ketcham, declined (which, frankly, makes me wonder about the campus minister). So, in effect, the representative of the diocese on campus was willing to help the University kill off Catholic truth. 

But let Professor Howell explain it:
Dear Friend:

I write this short narrative to explain why I am no longer teaching at the University of Illinois and am not employed by the Diocese of Peoria as of 30 June 2010. First, a little background.

I came to Champaign-Urbana in August of 1998 to be employed by the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center as a teacher in the courses of the Catholic faith that were then taught through the Center. For seven years I enjoyed a working relationship with Monsignor Stuart W. Swetland, the Director of the Center, who taught alongside me in that program. In 2000, Monsignor Swetland negotiated an agreement with the Department of Religion in which he and I would be adjunct professors in the department and would teach courses on Catholicism. We simultaneously established the Institute of Catholic Thought of which I became the Director and Senior Fellow. The purpose of the Institute was to promote the intellectual heritage of the western world in which Catholicism played such an integral role.

Since the Fall of 2001, I have been regularly teaching two courses in the Department of Religion. Since Monsignor Swetland’s departure in May of 2006, I have taught the equivalent of a full-time professor every semester, sometimes even more. This past semester (Spring 2010) something occurred which changed an otherwise idyllic academic life. One of the courses I have taught since 2001 has been “Introduction to Catholicism.” I think that it is fair to say that many students at the University of Illinois have benefited greatly from this and other teaching I have done. Every semester in that “Introduction” class, I gave two lectures dealing with Catholic Moral positions. One was an explanation of Natural Moral Law as affirmed by the Church. The second was designed as an application of Natural Law Theory to a disputed issue in our society. Most of those semesters, my chosen topic was the moral status of homosexual acts. I would happy to explain more fully the Catholic Church’s position on this matter but, for the sake of brevity, I can summarize it as follows. A homosexual orientation is not morally wrong just as no moral guilt can be assigned to any inclination that a person has. However, based on natural moral law, the Church believes that homosexual acts are contrary to human nature and therefore morally wrong. This is what I taught in my class.

This past semester was unusual. In previous years, I had students who might have disagreed with the Church’s position but they did so respectfully and without incident. This semester (Spring 2010) I noticed the most vociferous reaction that I have ever had. It seemed out of proportion to all that I had known thus far. To help students understand better how this issue might be decided within competing moral systems, I sent them an email contrasting utilitarianism (in the populist sense) and natural moral law. If we take utilitarianism to be a kind of cost-benefit analysis, I tried to show them that under utilitarianism, homosexual acts would not be considered immoral whereas under natural moral law they would. This is because natural moral law, unlike utilitarianism, judges morality on the basis of the acts themselves.

After the semester was over, I was called into the office of Robert McKim, the chairman of the Department of Religion, who was in possession of this email. I was told that someone (I presume one of my students) sent this email to the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns at the University. It was apparently sent to administrators in the University of Illinois and then forwarded on to Professor McKim. I was told that I would no longer be able to teach in the Department of Religion.

Professor McKim and I discussed the contents of the email and he was quite insistent that my days of teaching in the department were over. I offered that it would be more just to ask me not to address the subject of homosexuality in my class. In fact, the other class I regularly taught (Modern Catholic Thought) never dealt with that subject at all. I also averred that to dismiss me for teaching the Catholic position in a class on Catholicism was a violation of academic freedom and my first amendment rights of free speech. This made no difference. After that conversation and a couple of emails, Professor McKim insisted that this decision to dismiss me stood firm.

I then consulted with our Diocesan lawyer, Mrs. Patricia Gibson, to see if the St. John’s Newman Center could sue the university for breach of contract. Mrs. Gibson, kind in spirit and articulate as regards the law, told me that unfortunately the university had made very careful provisions to protect itself and so would not be liable in a law suit. I am still consulting with other lawyers about possible legal action on the grounds of the first amendment.

Then Monsignor Gregory Ketcham, the current Director of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center and my superior, informed me that the Center would not be able to continue employing me since there was no longer any teaching for me to do. I then reiterated what I had mentioned to him the day before. I suggested that we work together to have courses on Catholicism taught at the Newman Center that could be accredited by a Catholic university and that could be transferred into the University of Illinois for credit. In this way, the students whom we had been called to serve could continue to be instructed in the Catholic Faith. I told him in fact that I had once had conversations with professors in Catholic universities who were willing to make such arrangements. Monsignor Ketcham said that he had no interest in such a plan.

Thus, after more than sixty years, students at the University of Illinois will have no classes on Catholicism available to them. If the Department of Religion continues to offer the courses I taught, I have no idea how accurately Catholicism will be represented. I know this subject well enough to say it can be easily distorted. I have tried in this document to portray in a straightforward manner what happened. I also am preparing another document giving my own interpretation of all these events. If you are interested in that, or you just want to be informed as things progress, please contact me by email: kenneth.howell1952@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I look back at the twelve years I have spent in this position with memories of wonderful times with my students and friends with whom I have labored. It has been a time of great growth and joy. I thank God from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know what the future holds but I do know Him who holds it. He is faithful and can be trusted.

Sincerely,

Kenneth J. Howell
This outrageous situation cannot go unanswered. Contact information for the university is below. More information and a petition you can sign is here. As for the Diocese of Peoria. They finally released a statement on July 16th, two weeks after Professor Howell's dismissal, saying they were to meet with university officials today. Stay tuned....


President of the University of Illinois:
Michael J. Hogan
Office of President
364 Henry Administration Building, MC-346
506 S Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801-3649
presmike@uillinois.edu or mjhogan@uillinois.edu or uipres@uillinois.edu


Chancellor and Provost (Interim) of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
Robert A. Easter
Office of Chancellor
317 Swanlund Administration Building, MC-304
601 E John Street
Champaign, IL 61820-5711
reaster@illinois.edu

Head of the Department of Religion:
Professor Robert J. McKim
Department of Religion
3080 Foreign Languages Building, MC-166
707 S Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801-3643
rmckim@illinois.edu

Board of Trustees
UIBOT@uillinois.edu

1 comment:

Ray Schneider said...

"Truth, you can't handle the truth." seems to be the mantra from our secular society. All around us we see truth is retreat and self-centered hedonism in advance. "That's your truth, my truth is different." is a recipe for indulgence in the most abject of degeneracy.
... and so the darkness descends for another time.