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.