Victory! Dr. Ken Howell Reinstated at the University of Illinois!

Dr. Kenneth Howell, the adjunct professor at the University of Illinois who was fired for teaching Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality in a class on Catholicism has been reinstated by the University.  Here is the press release from the Alliance Defense Fund that represented Dr. Howell:

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana confirmed to Alliance Defense Fund attorneys Thursday that it will once again allow popular professor Dr. Kenneth Howell to teach on Catholicism after recently firing him for explaining the Roman Catholic Church’s position on human sexual behavior to members of his class.

ADF attorneys representing Howell sent a letter to university officials on July 12 explaining that the university’s actions violated his rights protected by the First Amendment and asked that he be reinstated.

“A university cannot censor professors’ speech–including classroom speech related to the topic of the class–merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student. We greatly appreciate the university’s move to put Professor Howell back in the classroom, but we will be watching carefully to make sure that his academic freedom is protected throughout the university’s ongoing process,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French.

A letter from the University of Illinois Office of University Counsel admits no wrongdoing on the part of the university but states, “The School of Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics will be contacting Dr. Howell to offer him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism, on a visiting instructional appointment at the University of Illinois, for the fall 2010 semester. Dr. Howell will be appointed and paid by the University for this adjunct teaching assignment.”

The letter then adds that a university committee will continue its investigation of Howell’s situation.

Howell, who had been teaching at the university since 2001, was relieved of his teaching duties based in part on an anonymous complaint sent via e-mail to university officials. The e-mail was sent by the friend of an anonymous student who claimed to be “offended” by a May 4 e-mail Howell sent to students elaborating on a class discussion concerning Catholic beliefs about sexual behavior.

The May 4 e-mail from Howell addressed a May 3 lecture in which he explained how the Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between same-sex attraction and homosexual conduct. He accurately stated the church’s teaching that homosexual conduct is morally wrong, framing the issue in the context of natural moral law.

Well what we do we learn from this?

1.  Fight:  Too many Catholics do not respond when they are subject to outrageous treatment at the hands of anti-Catholic bigots.  Dr. Howell and his supporters refused to supinely walk away from this situation.

2.   Bigots fear public exposure:  Once a furor was raised over this firing, the powers that be at the University of Illinois quickly caved.  Suffering in silence is not an effective strategy in regard to people who attack Catholics for simply being Catholics.

3.   Open season on Catholics:  In academia Catholicism is as popular as a Chicago Bears fan at a Green Bay Packers rally.  Dr. Howell is perhaps the first sign that Catholics simply are no longer going to continue to accept third rate citizen status at public institutions of higher learning.

4.   Mass blog action:  Quite a few Catholic blogs helped raise a storm of protest against the firing.  That has an impact, a lesson to remember for the future. 

Previous posts on Dr. Kenneth Howell:

1.  Anti-Catholic Bigotry Alive and Well at the University of Illinois

2.  Firing of Dr. Kenneth Howell to be Reviewed By University of Illinois Committee

3.  Dr. Kenneth Howell-Update

19 Responses to Victory! Dr. Ken Howell Reinstated at the University of Illinois!

  • A letter from the University of Illinois Office of University Counsel admits no wrongdoing on the part of the university

    I don’t believe the University learned its lesson about free speech.

  • They learned a more important lesson Tito. Catholics are dangerous, they fight back.

  • This is great news, and am I reading this right, that the U of I agreed to pick up paying his salary (instead of having the Diocese of Peoria pay it)?

    Also, note that his prospective teaching position is in the School of Linguistics and Culture instead of the religion/philosophy department. Perhaps the earlier flap was more due to a personality clash with the religion department chair than anything else.

  • “Also, note that his prospective teaching position is in the School of Linguistics and Culture instead of the religion/philosophy department.”

    So, does this mean that the University of Illinois sees Catholicism as a “cultural” phenomenon rather than as a religion?

  • I am still trying to come to terms with why a secular university would have a religion department anyway. I am certainly not against religion being taught, and it is a fascinating area, but if religiously affiliated universities have a hard time teaching it correctly (*cough* Notre Dame/Georgetown/San Diego *cough*), how well will a secular university do it? And who decides what is “authentic Catholic teaching” in a secular university?

    Is there a way for the Church to protect its brand integrity, so to speak?

  • So, does this mean that the University of Illinois sees Catholicism as a “cultural” phenomenon rather than as a religion?

    LOL, I can see the new course syllabus now:

    1. Kitsch and Paraphernalia
    2. Narratives of Catholic School Discipline
    3. Pre- or Post-Vatican II: Felt Banners?
    4. Ethnic Interpretations: Drunken Brawls on Friday, Confession on Saturday, Mass on Sunday
    5. The BVM: More Than a Car Decal?

  • This article might give you some pause:

    “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced Thursday that it is ending an unusual relationship under which an independent Roman Catholic center has for decades nominated instructors to teach Catholic thought at the university and paid their salaries . . . A lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that defends religious students and faculty members, and that is representing Howell, said that the organization was much more concerned about his continued teaching than about the link between the university and the Newman Center.”

  • Not at all. The relationship between the University and the Newman Center in regard to the teaching of classes about Catholicism is of small importance to me. The issue for me was always about the firing of a professor for reasons that clearly rested in anti-Catholic bigotry. The University has backed down on that point, and we will see what happens to Dr. Howell at the end of next semester and fight that battle at that time.

  • I agree with Don.

  • What do you think about The Anchoress’ comments:

    This rehire–with the school, not the church employing him–does one of two things:

    1) Makes it easier to eliminate the class in future

    2) Gives the school control over what Howell can or cannot teach, which would be fatal to the class, and disturbing to our constitutional future, as it suggests the sort of business we’re seeing in the UK, where simply declaring Christian doctrine (whether doing it badly or well), or even simply offering prayers will be enough to get one fired or arrested.

  • And these comments, via Insight Scoop, from Dr. David Delaney: “[I]t seems obvious to me that even if Ken does teach in the fall, there is no way that he can stay there for very long on a paltry $20k a year. Even if he does choose to accept the resolution, without tenure and without an agreement with the Newman Center, Ken will have no recourse if they simply discontinue his classes without providing him a reason. In any case, it is nearly certain that someone other than Ken will be teaching classes on Catholicism at the U of I in the near future, or as the UI associate chancellor for public affairs called it, ‘the theory of Catholicism.'”

  • The relationship between the Diocese and the University regarding the teaching of for credit classes on Catholicism paid for by the Diocese was never the issue. The issue was the firing of Dr. Howell for anti-Catholic reasons. Whether it is a good thing for a Diocese to fund courses on Catholicism at a public university is debatable. Frankly, I would think the money could be better spent with the courses being taken at the Newman Center under the auspices of a Catholic college with a reciprocal agreement with the U of I regarding recognition of earned credits. Instruction at a public university regarding Catholicism obviously risks the dilution of the instruction, as was attempted here by the firing of Dr. Howell. Catholic students, and non-Catholic students seeking instruction on Catholicism, might well do better receiving instruction free of any influence of the University of Illinois. Reasonable people can differ on that subject. What is not debatable is that Catholics need to raise a furor whenever a Catholic loses his or her job simply because he or she is a faithful Catholic. To me that is what this whole battle was about, and the reversal of the firing is the victory.

  • Yeah, I guess you’re right about that. I don’t meant to nag and I certainly agree about the value of “raising a furor.” I’m just pessimistic about universities in general and their effect on the culture: speech codes, the Martinez decision, application of ill-defined ethics standards, etc. I have trouble thinking this isn’t a net loss down the road.

  • In regard to colleges and universities in general Tony you have every right to be pessimistic. However, the days of the old brick and mortar unversities I think are numbered. With the effortless diffusion of knowledge over the internet, I think how higher education is done 20, perhaps ever 15, years from now will bear little resemblance to how we do it now. Higher education could be done for a fraction of what it costs now and in less time. Eventually simple economics will force the change. Like newspapers, current colleges and universities are on their way to the tar pits. Overall I think this will be a healthy development both for education and for intellectual freedom.

  • Dr. Ken,

    Your course is called Religion 127. May I suggest it be changed to Religion (Psalm) 127:1 with the subtitle as follows: “Except the LORD shall build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD shall keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain.” (Webster 1830) Substitute “institution” for both house and city in the above for the ideal university in a nation that was founded “…under God…”

    Continue to fight the good fight for all of America.

    Dave Wade

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