Well, I’ll preface this by saying it happened in Iowa… either that, or Kansas is just getting larger.
A professor at Southwestern Community College in Iowa — community college, not a Bible college — has been fired because he essentially put Christianity on par with other religions and implied that they should not take the Biblical book of Genesis literally:
“I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn’t given any more credibility than any other god,” [fired Professor Steve] Bitterman said. “I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there.”
Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a “fairy tale” in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class.
“I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here,” he said. “From my point of view, what they’re doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century.”
“As a taxpayer, I’d like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group,” he said. “If it has … then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What’s next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?”
As a public school professor, he can’t really take sides one way or another on the Christianity issue. But he can (and should) present what academics and experts in the field believe. It looks like that’s what he did. The vast majority of educated people who work in most historical or scientific fields (including Christians) do not believe in talking snakes or a real couple, Adam and Eve. At this rate, every science teacher at the school is going to be tossed aside for teaching that Earth is billions of years old or for saying that evolution is a scientifically accepted theory and Creationism is a bunch of &%*#.
Here’s what the school said in response:
Sarah Smith, director of the school’s Red Oak campus, declined to comment Friday on Bitterman’s employment status. The school’s president, Barbara Crittenden, said Bitterman taught one course at Southwest. She would not comment, however, on his claim that he was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue.
“I can assure you that the college understands our employees’ free-speech rights,” she said. “There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment.”
Why is this a free speech case? It doesn’t sound like he was spouting some angry rant. He was teaching them what experts in so many academic fields believe: the Bible is not a perfect history of anything.
It’s a western civilization class. You’re going to learn about many religions because they play a role in how our world was shaped. The professor’s job is not to take sides or give in to Fundamentalist Christian demands. (That’s only allowed at Liberty University or Patrick Henry College.) A professor’s job is to educate students so they have the knowledge necessary to pursue that subject in more depth if they choose to do so.
One student who appears to have been in Bitterman’s class posted this on the Des Moines Register chat page:
Our class didn’t ask for him to be fired. That wasn’t our goal. Someone complained about him, I dont know why, but the next day in class, while taking attendence, he called her out on it. In front of everyone. He had no right to do that. The issue was between the two of them. Then, as the rest of us were trying to defend her, and tell him what we thought of the situation, he was laughing at us, and at her for walking out. Then proceed to say something VERY wrong to another student. She also walked out. If the comment he made to her, was made to me, i too would walk out. He had absolutely no right to say that. Not to her, not to anyone. Then, as she walked out of class, he sat there and laughed at her too.
The bible has nothing to do with this. If the 1st person who had an issue with him b/c of what he said about the bible, then fine. Leave it at that. He has his opinions and thats fine, he can state them, but when we can’t state our own without him laughing at us for beliving in it, then he has gone too far. And it’s obvious that a couple people reading this have had Bitterman in the past, and know what I’m talking about. So its not just the few of us that were in his class this semester…hes done this before, we’re just the first ones with the balls to do something about it.
So there may be more to the story that we’re not hearing. His firing might have to do with how he’s treating his students, not because of any stance on the Bible.
Hard to tell until we have more information. Though Bitterman has said “that he can think of no other reason college officials would fire him and that Smith, the director of the campus, has previously sat in on his classes and complimented his work.”
(Thanks to Kristi for the link!)