University of Illinois professor found to be teaching Catholic thought, fired.



A University of Illinois at Champaign student was outraged, outraged I say, to discover that an adjunct professor teaching "Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought" was actually teaching Catholic thought (based on natural moral law) on 

He/she (the student was not identified) fired off an e-mail to the head of the university's religion department (copying homosexual advocates) complaining that the teacher was
 insensitive. Note that the student did not argue the merits or demerits of natural law philosophy versus utilitarianism, the point that the professor, Kenneth Howell, was making.

The university was so  impressed with the student's (il)logic that it sprang into action and, as a certain sports announcer might say, "He gone!"

Details of this unbelievable infringement on free speech, academic freedom and the very idea of a university are found in this in comprehensive and expository story in the News-Gazette. Please take a moment to absorb them.

This perhaps is the most boneheaded decision to come out of this public supported university in memory. Contrary to the assertions by the student, Howell emphatically stated that he was not requiring concurrence or agreement in the subject matter. He also tried to explain to his students that this teaching wasn't simply a religious edict. As he said in his e-mail:

As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion. Catholics don't arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

The university's hypocrisy is self-evident (except to the student and kindred spirits), so I won't dwell on that. Maybe we could just talk some common sense:

Religion is a proper subject to be taught in school, not to proselytize, but to examine one avenue of human thought, as it might teach economics or social policy. Acceptance of the subject matter is not required, but the understanding of it is. And there can by no understanding unless the subject is taught and learned. 

It is clear from the professor's e-mail to the students (which he had sent to help them prepare for an examine) was not proselytizing but explanatory. Any twits can see that. But, obviously, the University of Illinois is full of twits, both in the student body and administration. 

The e-mail that prompted the complaint is here.

The student's e-mail complaint is here.

P.S. Even more astonishing, Howell was fired from his job at the university, he also bounced from his position from the local Newman Center. Apparently the local diocese has become as addled-brained as the university.


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  • We live in a time and place where someone is always bound to be offended by something. That's a reason why I opted out of an invitational teaching position at a university after teaching for a year. Two complaints by students in my class required hours and hours of consultation with the dean and a university attorney; the complaints were basically about assigning students to write news stories as if they were covering the Nuremburg trials. Two students objected to the subject and claimed offense. In the case of Kenneth Howell it is difficult to determine from information given if Howell was teaching and challenging the students to think, or if he was proselytizing a personally-held belief.Are there other facts not given that would justify such peremptory firing of Howell? Given facts at hand, I feel sorry for Howell.

  • In reply to jimbreeling:

    I think that reading the (linked above) e-mail from Howell to the students and the student's letter of complaint might shed some light on his frame of mind. More than that, I'm not sure that we'll know.

  • In reply to jimbreeling:

    Is this class not an elective?(sp). My daughter graduated from U of I and has commented on the gay agenda that is always being forced on everyone.Stand up to this crap once and for all. This is bulls#*t.Will we just stop with this nonsense once and for all???This man was only doing his job.Next thing you know they might just start an exchange of ideas in a learning environment...Nah

  • In reply to jimbreeling:

    After reading the Tribune article that the U of I was reviewing this, my opinion is that they are looking at a civil rights suit if they don't reinstate him.

    He would be a hypocrite if he was hired to teach Catholic studies but then said he didn't agree with the church. I suppose next the Ag school will fire a Jewish professor for saying that he doesn't eat the other white meat, a staple of Illinois farm production.

  • In reply to jimbreeling:

    Explaining Catholic doctrine is not the same as forcing students to accept it. If information is so offensive--then DON'T TAKE THE CLASS. Imagine a creationist signing up for a course on astronomy and then launching a campaign to fire a professor who says that the Milky Way has been around for billions of years. Or picture a student of German descent who enrolls in a class on World War II and then takes umbrage that Dachau is mentioned.

    Students don't have to agree with their professors, but professors do have to present the curriculum for which they've contracted.

    I read the outraged student's email. The email did NOT originate with a student in the class--it was generated by a third party who wasn't even enrolled in the class. The administration should have, on that basis alone, hit the DELETE button. Now comments from disgruntled non-students can get someone fired? Ridiculous.

    Obviously, since none of the prof's actual students felt compelled to complain, there was more context given in the class itself.

    It's no surprise the administration's first reaction is to cave in to the supposedly offended person: academic integrity will always lose out to political correctness.

  • In reply to jimbreeling:

    For an entirely different view, read my ChicagoNow colleague,Chillini, at:

  • In reply to DennisByrne1:

    Two points about your colleague's post:

    1. Since the case will be framed that he was fired in violation of his religious beliefs, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VI, and Title VII, and a prima facie case so appears, the onus will be put on the defendant to rebut the inference of discrimination. I don't think that the post makes a plausable case that he was a bad teacher, unless one can argue that one is a bad teacher for having sent the follow-up e-mail, but this is the electronic age.

    2. The argument why it is bad closely parallels the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court's argument for why banning gay marriage was a denial of equal protection, and hence not original. Speaking about another type of protection, it doesn't mention how homosexuality was the main reason for spreading AIDS, not that there weren't other reasons, too. Just because the writer had an unoriginal thought does not mean that there are grounds for finding the professor incompetent.

    I suppose, though, that you increased his click count, and thus, according to Rock of "The Rock Report" increased his compensation by a penny or two. I won't further that by replying there.

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