Dr. Kenneth Howell-Update

Back on July 9, here, I wrote about Dr. Kenneth Howell who was fired by the University of Illinois for setting forth Catholic doctrine on homosexuality in a class that he was teaching on Catholicism pursuant to a contract between the University of Illinois and the local Newman Center on campus.  On July 14, I reported here that the firing was under review by a faculty committee of the University of Illinois.  The committee hasn’t completed its review, but there have been a few developments that I thought our readers might find interesting.

1.  An interesting story here by the News-Gazette, the local Champaign-Urbana paper, detailing how Dr. Howell went from a Presbyterian Minister to a lay Catholic.

2.  The Alliance Defense Fund which is representing Dr. Howell, sent a letter to the University of Illinois on July 12, demanding his reinstatement.  Read the letter here.  The Alliance Defense Fund highlights the absurdity of this situation rather well with this statement:  “A university cannot censor professors’ speech–including classroom speech related to the topic of the class–merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “To fire a professor for teaching the actual subject matter of his course is outrageous. It’s ridiculous that a school would fire a professor without even giving him a chance to defend himself when he simply taught Catholic beliefs in a class about Catholic beliefs.”

3.  One thing I have learned while examining this controversy is just what a nice guy Dr. Howell is, and how open to argument and debate he is.  These characteristics are both noted by atheist John Loftus at his website here.  Dr. Howell is a model of what a university Professor should be:  knowledgeable as to his subject and willing to discuss and debate with anyone in an atmosphere of mutual respect and open inquiry.  That a man of his calibre has been subject to this type of politically correct firing is a total travesty.

4.   Here are statements by both the Newman Center and the Diocese of Peoria as to Dr. Howell.  They are behind him and attempting to have the firing decision reversed.  This is all to the good.  However I must note that they seemed to be rather quiet about this matter initially and I wonder if either the Newman Center or the Diocese would have done much of anything if a furor hadn’t first arisen.

5.  The University of Illinois officials in the face of this controversy have done what academic time serving bureaucrats always do when caught pulling a fast one:  dither and obfuscate.  The obfuscation was on full display in this hilarious recent statement detailed by Lifesite News:

“In response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Catholic professor who was barred from teaching after he explained Catholic teaching on homosexuality to the students in a class on Catholicism, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has defended the decision by saying that the professor was not actually “fired” – he’s just not allowed to teach any more classes.

UIUC administration has reportedly been deluged with outraged emails and phone calls after news broke that Dr. Kenneth Howell was abruptly disallowed to teach after a student complained about an e-mail in which Howell outlined the arguments for how homosexual behavior is contrary to natural moral law – words the student deemed “hate speech.” The remarks were made in the context of an email to students in a class on Catholicism; Howell had taught classes on Catholicism at the school and its Catholic Newman Center for several years.

After lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) notified university officials that they were launching legal action, UIUC deputy counsel Steven Veazie responded that, because Howell is still a member of the faculty, there are no grounds for litigation, according to CNSNews.”

While admitting that the professor’s teaching assignment is “as yet undetermined pending a review of this matter,” Veazie said that because Howell’s legal rights have not been violated, there is “no case or controversy upon which legal action would be warranted at this time.”

Yeah, it will be a cold day in the place where lying academics go after they die before my alma mater will see a dime from me as a donation.

9 Responses to Dr. Kenneth Howell-Update

  • WJ says:

    At the risk of complicating things, it should be noted that Howell’s status as “adjunct” allows UI to fire him for “no cause.” They therefore are not legally obliged to state the rationale behind his termination. Whether this is right or wrong, it’s perfectly legal.

    Secondly, as other publications have pointed out (most notably Inside Higher Ed), Howell was the beneficiary of a particularly odd arrangement between the Diocese and the University, according to which the faculty of Religious Studies had no say in his hiring, even though he was teaching classes in their department. The Diocese’s refusal to allow for peer review of their hiring decision thus rankled the faculty for a long time prior to this event, which was (in my opinion) merely an opportune moment for them to pounce. The arrangement itself was pretty delicate and tenuous, and I can see how, no matter what Howell was teaching, the mere fact of his being appointed outside regular procedures may have upset a good number of faculty.

    All this is to say nothing of his email, the merits and problems with it, whether he is being made a scapegoat (he undoubtedly is, in my opinion), but merely to point out that there is a much more complicated backstory there.

  • Art Deco says:

    They therefore are not legally obliged to state the rationale behind his termination. Whether this is right or wrong, it’s perfectly legal.

    Perhaps Mr. McClarey might clarify whether, under Illinois law, they can be compelled to give an accounting of themselves before a committee of the legislature.

  • WJ says:

    Art Deco,

    I hope that Donald does clarify the point of law at issue, but my understanding is that, if UI were to defend their non-renewal of Howell’s contract on the basis of the email in question, this would indeed provide Howell with a colorable First Amendment suit against UI. However, UI need simply provide *no* reason for their termination of Howell in order to avoid such a suit. (Of course, their own statements about the Howell case might make this latter move a difficult one for them to make. It may be too late to avoid.)

    Still, what the backstory of Howell shows, at least to my mind, is that there *are* issues of academic freedom and governance at play here other than the immediate issue regarding Howell’s email.

  • Tony says:

    WJ, that’s my (non-professional) understanding also: If UI had simply said “your services are no longer required” and nothing else they would have a hide-bound case to stand on. But they have already gone way, way beyond that, and it would probably be true that based on the public evidence, they would be forced to give up internal documents relating to the discussions before his firing. If the public and internal documents show an action taken precisely on account of his teaching of Catholic standards, they will be hung out to dry in court.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “At the risk of complicating things, it should be noted that Howell’s status as “adjunct” allows UI to fire him for “no cause.” They therefore are not legally obliged to state the rationale behind his termination. Whether this is right or wrong, it’s perfectly legal.”

    Illinois is an “at will” state. What this means is that traditionally in Illinois employees, absent a contract, could be fired for any or no reason. However this has been modified over the past few decades by federal and state legislation that has prevented employers for firing employees for discriminatory reasons.

    “I hope that Donald does clarify the point of law at issue, but my understanding is that, if UI were to defend their non-renewal of Howell’s contract on the basis of the email in question, this would indeed provide Howell with a colorable First Amendment suit against UI.”

    I believe that a 1983 civil rights discrimination action might well succeed. The University is a governmental institution, and I would imagine that internal U of I e-mails, all of which would have to be turned over for discovery, would present plenty of evidence that Howell was fired precisely because he was presenting Catholic doctrine. In short Howell was fired because he is a believing Catholic presenting Catholic doctrine in a class about Catholicism.

    “Perhaps Mr. McClarey might clarify whether, under Illinois law, they can be compelled to give an accounting of themselves before a committee of the legislature.”

    That is not uncommon. The University is a state supported institution and its employees can be called to testify about the operation of the University at any time by the legislature.

    The backdrop to this is a major scandal where members of the University co-operated with powerful politicians to rig admissions for the offspring of the influential.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Illinois_clout_scandal

    Sad to say, Illinois is a very corrupt state, and my alma mater fully reflects this wretched culture of corruption.

  • mundabor says:

    I have written four time about this matter on my blog (click my name if you’re interested).

    In my eyes the matter of employment is secondary to the mater of freedom of expression and academic freedom. Dr. Howell will certainly have no problem whatsoever in finding another suitable position as his reputation was and is outstanding. It might be that he decides to leave whatever the outcome of this controversy.

    What I think is more important here is that the principle is established that a teacher of a Catholic course can’t be fired for teaching Catholicism and that homosexual “sensitivities” are no meter for deciding what the subject of a religious course should be.

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