Teaching While Catholic

There may be more to the story, but it appears that University of Illinois Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies Kenneth Howell has lost his job for the offense of teaching Catholic thought as if it might be worth considering as something more than a curious human error.

Kenneth Howell was told after the spring semester ended that he would no longer be teaching in the UI’s Department of Religion. The decision came after a student complained about a discussion of homosexuality in the class in which Howell taught that the Catholic Church believes homosexual acts are morally wrong. …
One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue. In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.

That 1,500-word email clearly stays on the explanatory side of the line from advocacy, getting into trouble mainly at the end, at which point, Howell makes the mistake of suggesting that Catholic teachings are not small-minded gobbledygook, but the rational conclusions of long consideration and must be responded to with the same:

Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.
I know this doesn’t answer all the questions in many of your minds. All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions. 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.

This was too much for a student who had “a friend” in Professor Howell’s class, who made it clear in his email to the head of the religion department, Robert McKim, copied to LGBT activists and a journalist, that he finds it offensive to be told that knowledge and learning should precede judgment:

Anyways, my friend informed me that things got especially provocative when discussing homosexuality. He sent me the following e-mail, which I believe you will agree is downright absurd once you read it.
I am in no way a gay rights activist, but allowing this hate speech at a public university is entirely unacceptable. It sickens me to know that hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students and perpetuate stereotypes. Once again, this is a public university and should thus have no religious affiliation. Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.

In actuality, Howell’s position was funded by “the Institute of Catholic Thought, part of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center on campus and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria,” but even if that were not the case, Howell’s firing — if based on this complaint, or even a string of such complaints — is evidence of a profound anti-intellectualism that conservatives believe pervades American higher education. Whether “homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man” is a matter of debate, and if it is the case that Catholic philosophy’s centuries of development have arrived at such erroneous conclusions that undergraduate students who aren’t even studying them can declare them “downright absurd,” then that debate ought to be handily won.
Instead, “inclusivity” has trumped intellect:

In another e-mail, Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wrote that she believes “the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us.”

A frightening phrase, that: “entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us.” Beware your students, believing Christians. You may find yourself privileged to allow passive-voiced administrators to avoid uncomfortable ideas.

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brassband
brassband
11 years ago

Isn’t it interesting how a “standard of inclusivity” forms the basis for . . . exclusion!?
I’ve followed this controversy a little over on Thom Peters’ American Papist blog. It appears that this teaching arrangement was fairly complicated, and somewhat outside the ordinary faculty/university relationship, so I’m not sure what the legalities are.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I think it is bogus. He is not teaching sociology, he is teaching religion. The question being explored is not homosexuality, but how a particular religion views homosexuality.
Suppose he was teaching how Moslems rationalize draping their women from head to foot and said it made sense from that point of view, would that be “hate speech”?
The hypersensitive tire me. I would be interested in the complaining student’s GPA.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

” Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter.”
Don’t think that you can disagree with me
“All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult.”
Don’t for a moment think that you can disagree with me
“That implies questioning what you have heard around you.”
Be a thinking adult somewhere other than here
“All I encourage is to make informed decisions.”
Don’t worry, I’ll inform you
“As a final note, a perceptive reader will have noticed that none of what I have said here or in class depends upon religion.”
I don’t teach religion. I teach THE TRUTH

brassband
brassband
11 years ago

NEWSFLASH —
The University has offered Dr. Howell his job back.
http://www.catholicvoteaction.org/americanpapist/index.php?p=8031

David S
David S
11 years ago

I have never been a big church believer but I have been a believer in churches.. religion as a mass identity can certainly advance progressive ideas and accomphlishments. But this post only confirms to me a negative and backtracking catholic agenda indicating the official mortibund church position. What a shame. It seems that evolution applies to churches also- new fresh beginnings with real connections to people….. then old and tired dictates to noboby but themselves…. paging Dr Howell….

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

A few years ago I was ready to be hired by a Catholic School to teach Spanish. They liked my undergraduate degree from a Jesuit College and my long background teaching the language. On the day that I was to sign the contract I informed the school that I was no longer a practicing Catholic and they immediately withdrew the offer.
Up to that point I had never realized that there was such a thing as Catholic Spanish as opposed to secular Spanish.
Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
OldTimeLefty

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