Exclusive rhetorical questions about "university standards of inclusivity"

To what extent are college professors entitled to voice opinions without being fired for them? I recently learned about an Illinois professor who stated his religious and personal opinion that homosexuality is immoral. Predictably, this caused a student to complain about "hate speech" -- which led to the professor being fired:

URBANA, Ill. -- The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church's teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

I think it does violate academic freedom -- and the fact that I disagree with the professor is irrelevant. I would feel the same way if a university fired a professor for saying that homosexuality is natural and moral.

However, I don't think the fact that the professor's views reflect his religious opinion really changes anything. (As I have explained, I see no reason that religious opinions should afforded more protection than non-religious opinions.)

Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.

"Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY," he wrote in the e-mail. "In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same."

An unidentified student sent an e-mail to religion department head Robert McKim on May 13, calling Howell's e-mail "hate speech." The student claimed to be a friend of the offended student. The writer said in the e-mail that his friend wanted to remain anonymous.

"Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing," the student wrote. "Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another."

Howell said he was teaching his students about the Catholic understanding of natural moral law.

"My responsibility on teaching a class on Catholicism is to teach what the Catholic Church teaches," Howell said in an interview with The News-Gazette in Champaign. "I have always made it very, very clear to my students they are never required to believe what I'm teaching and they'll never be judged on that."

Well, good for him! By not requiring his students to agree with him, he is showing more consideration for their intellectual freedom than most of the leftie professors.
Howell also said he makes clear to his students that he's Catholic and that he believes the church views that he teaches.

McKim referred questions to university spokeswoman Robin Kaler, who said she couldn't comment on Howell or his firing because it's a personnel issue.

According to the university's Academic Staff Handbook, faculty "are entitled to freedom in the classroom in developing and discussing according to their areas of competence the subjects that they are assigned."

In an e-mail to other school staff, Ann Mester, an associate dean at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said Howell's e-mail justified his firing.

"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," Mester wrote.

Standards of inclusivity? What the hell does that mean? It's not as if he threw gay students out of his class; what he did was merely to state his opinion, and explain why he thinks what he thinks, leaving students free to disagree without penalty of any kind. How does that exclude anyone? Are students considered so delicate that the slightest mention of something with which they feel uncomfortable is now to be considered a form of "exclusion"? Hmmm... Perhaps I can return to school and complain that I am being "excluded" every time a professor says something I disagree with.

"Your statement that libertarianism is a selfish and materialistic doctrine makes me feel excluded!"

Or suppose another hypothetical student who shared the view of Howell that homosexuality violates "Natural Law" were to take a class in which the professor stated just the opposite (based, say, on studies of Bonobo chimp behavior).

Wouldn't such a student have just much right to make the claim that he too was "excluded"?

Come on.

This leads me to wonder about something else. How about a Muslim professor who said that the Koran condemned homosexuality, and that he agreed with the Koran's position. Would he too, be fired by the University of Illinois?

(Yeah, I know the answer. So do you. It's just another rhetorical question....)

UPDATE: My thanks to Sean Kinsell for linking this post in a typically thoughtful discussion based on his personal experience.

Read it!

posted by Eric on 07.10.10 at 01:51 PM


I do wish people would get one thing straight: the individual has the right to hold and express racist, sexist, or anti-homosexual views. Any attempt to police nasty speech can only be arbitrary and capricious, as far from justice as any activity could be.

Brett   ·  July 10, 2010 7:04 PM

I just feel so bad for the poor delicate pussy boy......

jimd   ·  July 10, 2010 10:33 PM

This is one part of the policy at the university I teach at. Notice how it immediately morphs from "unlawfaul" to 'unhappy.' Basically, it leaves you up to the judgment and mercies of whoever it is decides to complain and whoever it is winds up on the bodies that hear and judge any complaint. More concrete guidance is not forthcoming—I know because I've asked.

"[deleted] University abides by the principle that its students, faculty, staff and
administrators have a right to be free from unlawful harassment within the
University community. Harassment is the creation of a hostile or intimidating
environment in which verbal or physical conduct based on one’s protected
characteristics or beliefs, because of its severity and/or persistence, is likely to
significantly interfere with an individual’s work or education, or enjoyment of
other University opportunities or activities. Harassment also includes coercive or
threatening behavior based on one’s protected characteristics or beliefs."

HMI   ·  July 11, 2010 12:04 PM

Post a comment

April 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


Search the Site


Classics To Go

Classical Values PDA Link


Recent Entries


Site Credits