Ken Howell Update

Ken Howell Update July 30, 2010

The other day I wrote of the firing of U of I’s Ken Howell, who had taught “Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought“ and other courses on Catholic doctrine, understanding and reason:

The Howell story, however, goes beyond grim: it tells us that a simple charge of thinking incorrect thoughts and encouraging others to also dare to think, even if one comes to a different conclusion (“All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult . . .All I encourage is to make informed decisions…”) is enough to destroy a career and assign a corrosive label, at whim.

Such actions do not encourage future development of critical thinking skills; they encourage a clamping down, not an opening, of the human mind.

Today we read:

The University of Illinois says an instructor who recently lost his job over a complaint about his religious beliefs can continue teaching. However, the university says it will pay those teaching Catholic-related courses rather than have them paid by a church group.

The university said Thursday the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center will no longer pay adjunct instructors, like Kenneth Howell, who teach Catholicism courses.

Howell . . . says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining Catholic beliefs on homosexual sex to his students.

He says he was preparing the students for an exam. A student complained the e-mail amounted to hate speech.

The brief article does not link to the email where one can clearly see Howell clearly attempting to clarify a point in preparing students for an exam. Nor does it inform the reader that the complaining student was not even taking Howell’s class.

Nevertheless, I am not sure this is good news for Howell. Apparently the Newman Center was paying this instructors salary, very likely because the University is a public institution, and there were perceived church/state issues. Why there should be is odd; one would think that any school, public or private, that offers religious studies programs would think it their duty to accurately instruct on all religions included therein, but these are interesting times, so who knows.

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.

Either way, if Howell agrees to this, the school will be able to claim authority over what or how Howell teaches. It’s sounds more like dirty pool than a real resolution.

And I’m not sure, but if a perceived church/state issue existed before this situation, causing the Newman Center’s involvement, does it not still exist?

Seems I am not alone in wondering about all that. More here

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