Faculty Committee Finds That Dr. Howell's Academic Due Process Rights Were Denied

Thursday, October 21, AD 2010


Faithful readers of our blog will recall the case of Dr. Kenneth Howell at the University of Illinois.  I have posted on his firing and subsequent rehiring here, here, here and here.  Briefly, Dr. Howell taught a course on Catholicism at the University of Illinois under contract between the Newman Center at the University of Illinois and the University since 2001.  Dr. Howell describes the events which led to his firing:

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.

The Newman Center and the Diocese of Peoria did not stand behind Howell initially, seeming to want to avoid a conflict with the University.  Dr. Howell contacted the Alliance Defense Fund which contacted the University and threatened to file suit.  Catholic bloggers raised a huge hue and cry about the firing.  Eventually the firing decision was reversed, and Dr. Howell was re- hired to teach Introduction to Catholicism in the fall semester of this year.  However, the contract between the Newman Center and the University of Illinois was ended, and Dr. Howell would simply teach the course as a regular adjunct professor of  the University.

The faculty committee has finished its examination of the firing of Dr. Howell.  Inside Education has obtained a leaked copy of the report, and a story on the report may be read here, along with a link to the report.

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6 Responses to Faculty Committee Finds That Dr. Howell's Academic Due Process Rights Were Denied

  • Donald – Thanks for all the work you have did posting on this topic. It was/is very helpful. Thank you.

  • I confess. I am one of the (primally evil) Americans that opposes politically correct censorship, coersion and show trials.

    One of the more notorious perpetrators of the so-called enlightenement said something to the effect, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend (to the death?) your right to say it.

  • That was Voltaire T. Shaw. I doubt if he meant it.

  • That was Voltaire T. Shaw. I doubt if he meant it.


    Don, Do I recall correctly that you have a book of quotes you collected or am I thinking of someone else? If so, you need to put your own quote in there. Perfect!

  • Thank you RL, and I have do have quite a list of quotes I have stol…, that is borrowed, from others over the years.

  • Catholics fought back, and that is the most important lesson from this affair: the necessity for Catholics to stand and fight when they receive bigoted treatment.

    Exactly. Helmet to helmet, put ’em down hard.

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

Thursday, July 29, AD 2010

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.

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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.

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  • 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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