Saturday, July 31, 2010

Anne Rice Quits Christianity

Friday, July 30, 2010, 5:13 AM
Elizabeth Scalia

Anne Rice, whose book Called Out of Darkness was a beautifully-written spiritual confession, has decided that she loves Christ but not Christians. She’s neither the first nor the last to feel that way.

Sometimes I do, too. Sometimes I hate myself as a Christian, because I do the thing so badly.

Christianity is easy to do badly. You take the dogma and leave out the love – you’re doing it wrong.

You try to “correct” others and bring too much “righteousness” and not enough love – you’re doing it wrong.

Apply too much love, without accountability – you’re doing it wrong, then, too.

We cheat Christ when we do it badly.

We cheat Christ and each other when we teach Him badly.

We cheat Christ and each other and the Church when we catechize poorly, or when we approach the Supernatural with superficiality; when we stop applying thought to it.

Forty years of sloppy, empty elementary catechesis during concurrent social revolution and generational upheaval was a bad choice for the churches, who now reap what they have sown.

Rice writes:
In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.

Rice’s angry frustration with what she (and, let’s face it, many others) perceive to be a sort of Institution of No is interesting. She refuses to be “anti-gay,” but the church teaches that indeed we must not be anti-gay, that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but that all are called to chastity, whether gay or straight.

So, what she is refusing is not so much church teaching, which she incorrectly represents, but the worldly distortion of church teaching both as it is misunderstood and too-often practiced. I do not know how anyone could read the USCCB’s pastoral letter, Always Our Children and then make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”

But then, I do not know how anyone can read Humanae Vitae and credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist.

I do not know how anyone can read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on the Theology of the BodyMan and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body and credibly declare the church to be reactionary on issues of sexuality or womanhood.

I do not know how anyone can read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.

I do not know how anyone can read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.

I do not know how anyone can look at the Vatican supporting and funding Stem Cell Research, or the even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science.”

Anne Rice wants to do the Life-in-Christ on her own, while saying “Yes” to the worldly world and its values. She seems not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes,”, that being a “yes” toward God–whose ways are not our ways, and who draws all to Himself, in the fullness of time–rather than a “yes” to ourselves.

Unfortunately, we Christians teach this poorly and generally make too many excuses for our failings. Too many of us go out into the world seeking to confront and “fix” others, when the key to the Christian life begins with confronting and “fixing” the self. This can only be done through grace, which enters upon the Yes, and moves and grows on the intentional breeze of Willingness, because that is the only thing that counts, our intentions and our willingness; “worthiness” does not enter in.

But willingness only comes with humility. It comes when we can say “Thy will be done,” and then actually surrender, instead of preparing a treaty.

The world, because it is worldly, cannot understand Christianity or the churches; the world will never love either, and it is foolishness to think otherwise. But the church is not here to be loved by the world; it is here to serve the Bread. The Living Bread did not come for the love of the world, but for its life.

If the media defines us, that is our own fault in allowing it. If the world defines us poorly, that is our fault, too, because the Gospel, rightly preached, is irresistible; we’ve too often preached the Gospel poorly in our actions.

We are not supposed to hide our light under a bushel-basket, but we’re also not supposed to put others under its glare, and thus send them scurrying back into the shadows. At the Transfiguration, the dazzling brightness did not sting the eyes of the apostles.

If the light is well-placed, it does not repel others, it attracts from out of darkness where, God help us, we may all be well taught.

Retrieved July 31, 2010 from

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Support of David Blankenhorn

The two posts below address the vicious treatment of family scholar David Blankenhorn by New York Times columnist Frank Rich and describe the incredible climate of of intimidation and judicial bias involved in the prop 8 trial in California.

Blankenhorn's testimony in support of Prop 8 was certainly weak, as I commented in an earlier post. It turns out that the idea was that his role as reluctant liberal supporter of Prop 8 was to be complemented by harder, sharper testimony by other family scholars. But in the climate of intimidation and judicial bias that surrounded the trial and the prior campaign over Prop 8, these scholars were unwilling to appear. In the event, Blankenhorn was the one who had the courage to show up and face the thuggish tactics of the opponents of Prop 8, in the streets, courtroom, and columns of the New York Times.

The post from the Catholic Thing about the "Revenge of the Homofascists" gives a good idea of the tactics faced by the defense, including but certainly not limited to Judge Walker's conduct of the case.

Perhaps the worst thing Walker did was his attempt to get the whole show trial broadcast on television. He wanted the whole world and certainly the thugs of the sexual left to see and hear the troglodytes who oppose same-sex marriage. Given that even small donors to the Prop 8 campaign were identified on websites along with their home addresses and places of employment, it is reasonable to assume that pictures of witnesses would soon pop up on those same sites. Walker’s decision was stayed and rebuked by the U. S. Supreme Court.

Blankenhorn's letter to the NYT public editor about his treatment, with strong statements attesting to the quality of his scholarship from leading (and conventionally credentialed) liberal and conservative, gay and straight scholars, is well worth reading to get a sense of Blankenhorn's own calm and reasonable approach and the contrast with the thuggish attacks of Frank ("Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet") Rich. No-one who has read Blankenhorn's careful and persuasive work, especially The Future of Marriage and Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem could be anything but appalled by the treatment he has received. These books are two of the most important analyses of the social disaster, especially for those who are poor, wrought by the sexual revolution, easy divorce, disintegration of the institution of marriage in poor communities, and the subordination of children's needs to the freedoms of adults.

Support Blankenhorn by buying them!

Revenge of the Homofascists | 2010

Revenge of the Homofascists | 2010

Could Frank Rich Be Wrong?

Could Frank Rich Be Wrong?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On the East Coast They Have Slaves

Preparing for a new academic year and the business of teaching policy to social work students, I recall why I believe, in contrast to some of my colleagues nationally, that our students should learn something about social policy before they appear at the State Capitol to advocate for policy change. And this little clip, which I posted a year ago, comes to mind.

Resources on the myth of neutrality

James Tunstead Burtchaell The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches

Robert P. George

Michael Sandel

Christopher Wolfe

Stanley Fish

The Myth of Neutrality: Deeply – or vaguely – Catholic? | 2010

I am thinking about the liberal myth of neutrality--the liberal-secularist orthodoxy that hides, even from itself, the fact that it is an orthodoxy--as it affects Catholic institutions. More to follow, but meanwhile here is an essay from the excellent (if unfortunately named) website, The Catholic Thing.

Deeply – or vaguely – Catholic?
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI
n his book Religious Freedom, Truth and American Liberalism, David Schindler makes a rather provocative assertion that institutional liberalism "draws us into a con game, inviting us to dialog within the (putatively) open and pluralistic market of religions, all the while having, hiddenly, filled the terms of that dialogue with a liberal theory of religion." When I first saw these words in 1994, I thought: he has a hold on something, and then I filed and forgot them.

But I’ve gone back to them lately. The events of the past year – the presentation of an honorary doctorate to President Obama, revelations of the Campaign for Human Development’s continuing involvement with organizations that work against Catholic teaching, Catholic Charities’ battles to remain Catholic while accepting government monies, the Catholic Health Association’s support of Obamacare, the appointment of the new president of CUA (who as dean of the Boston College Law School went out of his way to portray a colleague who worked against gay "marriage" as only expressing "his own opinion"), the struggles of genuinely Catholic (by which I do not mean fanatic traditionalist) educational institutions, and so on – make abundantly clear that some members of the Catholic Church are adopting the liberal view of institutions, with hidden and sometimes not- so-hidden effect.

In crude terms, the effect is to aim for the vaguely Catholic rather than the deeply Catholic. The English Dominican Aidan Nichols, for example, has argued that "a deep Catholicism is not simply sure of its dogmatic basis and at home in its corporate memory, though these are essential. It is also profoundly rooted in the Scriptures, the Fathers, the great doctors and spiritual teachers, and receptive to whatever is lovely in the human world of any and every time and place, which the Word draws to himself by assuming human nature into union with his own divine person." Reading Schindler’s framing of the problem of liberalism through the lens that Nichols gives us, brings us at a minimum to the following:

Catholic institutions need to be deeply Catholic and not just package what they imagine Catholicism to be as a commodity. In practical terms, this means that institutions need staff who think like Catholics and behave like Catholics, in short who are Catholics. Everyone from the secretary answering the phone, to the spokesperson, to the head of the institution needs to think and act as a Catholic. There is no neutral institutional frame that is able to operate in a Catholic way without having well-informed functional Catholics at all levels. It may be thought broadminded to hire a Moslem as a researcher, for example, but from a theoretical and practical point of view it makes no sense, unless the employee happens to be researching Islam.

The liberal vision is that an institution is some kind of neutral collection of people all of whom – with the best will in the world – will do the best for the institution that is paying them. Unfortunately there is an old maxim, tried and tested, that says: nemo dat quod non habet – you cannot give what you ain’t got. Employing secretaries, presidents, directors, spokespeople who do not firmly believe what they are saying means that the institution has in fact consciously decided to buy the liberal view of the institution wholesale. Then the institution is not doing what it says it does. The kind of liberalism that Schindler is referring to is not Catholicism. George Weigel, coming at the question from a different angle, terms it Catholic lite.

Catholic institutions who appoint officials who do not see Catholicism as the wellspring for every hire, every communication, and every decision, have bought the vision of the liberal institution as neutral. In doing this they have introduced a "logical ambivalence" (Schindler’s phrase) into the Catholicism being expressed by their institution. They are saying, in effect, that Catholicism needs to be completed by the secular culture, which is a better expression of truth and freedom than Catholicism is. The ambivalence wreaks havoc with the actual mission of the Catholic institution, which is to present a witness of Catholicism to the world. The ambivalence becomes part of the message.

Never mind the simple logic that if you work for IBM then you do not sell Apple! The liberal idea of the institution is that it is value-free. Schindler has argued very cogently that the very notion of a liberal institution embodies all kinds of values and very often these are the ones that contradict Catholic values. What is at issue is the connection between the apparently secular (such as an institution like a bureaucracy) and the sacred (the world redeemed by Christ). For example, Schindler says that for the great modern theologian Henri de Lubac, even the secular, "everywhere and always retains an ordering that is first from within, towards God in Jesus Christ." A bureaucracy run by the Church may look like any other bureaucracy. Catholic bureaucracy has a different inner principle because it has a different goal. It is not embarrassed about being Catholic and desperately trying to look like a liberal institution. Now that is deep Catholicism!

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

(c) 2010 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Comments (6)
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The Catacombs within the Church
written by Anonymous, July 22, 2010
Father Bramwell's article is all too true, which is why there are now catacombs within the Church populated by those working in ostensibly Catholic institutions who suffer because of their orthodoxy at the hands of those in positions of authority who are heterodox.


Human yet divine
written by Tom Cabeen, July 22, 2010
In a post-modern, relativistic, pluralistic society, it is increasingly common for us Catholics to think of our religious beliefs and practices as representing one particular perspective out of many, perhaps just as valid as others. We could think of them as having been worked out by a few men (and even fewer women), most of whom lived out of the mainstream, a cloistered existence in the Vatican or some monastery or convent. It takes real faith to see our faith as representing revelations given for our guidance and instruction, and as having the power to free us from sin and bring us into full intimate relationship with God. It is particularly hard because they are administered through imperfect humans. Yet they originate with and are protected by the Triune God. This is exactly what our faith purports to be. May we all embrace it fully and increasingly come under its transforming power. Thanks for the reminder, Father Bramwell!


Personnel is policy
written by Patrick McKinley Brennan, July 22, 2010
Father Bramwell is right -- personnel is policy. To the extent the personnel aren't Catholic, it's not clear what it means to call the institution Catholic. I do believe there are sometimes very good reasons for Catholics to involve non-Catholics in running their Catholic institutions, but those reasons must be carefully articulated and justified. As Fr. Bramwell makes clear, the liberal neutrality model is the kiss of death for authentic Catholic institutions. At the very least, non-Catholics working for Catholic institutions must be deeply committed to supporting what is distinctively Catholic about those institutions; in addition, they must also bring something else that specially enhances the Catholic mission of the institution. To give one example, where I teach (Villanova Law), the serious scholarship of an Orthodox Jew on Jewish law greatly enriches our collective dialogue on law's relationship to religion. I've often told the story of a perverse interview I had some years ago for a position on the law faculty of a (nominally) Catholic university. The dean prodded me to say something about what "Catholic identity" entailed. I resisted, knowing that I was being entrapped. Knowing that I wasn't going to get out alive, I finally capitulated, opening with the careful conditional, "IF you claim to be a Catholic law school . . .", and was interrupted by my interrogator: "But we don't claim to be a 'Catholic law school.' We claim to be a law school in a Catholic university." Surer than ever that the fix was in and was final, I replied: "You have a problem with your Venn diagrams." Needless to say, I didn't get the job. More recently, I have tried to say something constructive about what it means to be a Catholic law school in my essay "Bologna Revisited," which is available at On the Square over on the First Things blog.


Misguided paths heading for a Masonic world view?
written by Mrs. M. Marinoni, July 22, 2010
Thank you for this! I have just finished reading an ex-Mason's explanations of the one world-one religion Masonic cult that appears to have successfully reached into many Catholic institutions and also into the Vatican. I was wondering how much truth is in the assertions and five minutes ago I read your article, so clearly expressed, and all the dots joined up. We have to fight back at our individual level; mine is that of an elderly housewife. At the very least fight with the Rosary, with faithfulness to Holy Mass (protest when your friends describe it as: "Wasn't that a lovely service?"!! Praise your PP when he gets things right but ask for clarification when he shows ambivalence and political correctness in his sermons.


Reasonable Objections
written by Joe, July 22, 2010
In the post-modern era, those in charge wish to be or at least appear to be reasonable. Given a polarity such as secularism on the one side and "fundamentalism" on the other, the contemporary civic leader attempts to find a center position between the poles, a reasonable compromise. A Catholic civic leader who thus promotes abortion because it seems reasonable under the contemporary circumstances is in essence a modern Philistine (some are indeed scribes and a few are Pharasitical). Jesus was very clear about the dangers of being salt that has lost its taste. Faith must be in concert with reason, but it can not contained by reason because too many fundamentals are beyond our intellect. For those mysteries we have revelation, however imperfectly rendered by human transmission. Reason is a toolkit, not a blueprint. Excellent article.

Deeply – or vaguely – Catholic? | 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I love this little slide show:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Rage Against God

Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God is a fascinating account of the world I grew up in—the postwar period in England when the old confidence in traditional authority, imperial power, morals and customs started to fall apart. I am a few years older than Hitchens and when I was at public (private) school, the old ways and beliefs seemed still strong. It was only a few of the more intellectual boys (like me) who were openly atheist. By his time, it seems the old confidence and authority of our elders and teachers was in steeper decline. Hitchens sees the ignominious debacle of the 1956 Anglo-French Suez adventure as a turning point. It shook the self-assurance of our island nation that was never defeated in war. It brought home the decline of empire and all that went with it, including the powerful navy from which Hitchens’s father was let go. The shocking public sex scandal at the highest levels of government known as the Profumo Affair (1963) provided evidence of the moral decay accompanying political decline.

So the ground was already prepared for the 1960s, with its unconstrained vision of how we could cast off all tradition, the collective wisdom and experience of past generations, and start from scratch without need of marriage, family, the capitalist state and economy, and especially the established Church of England. The C of E was associated with all things we wanted to overthrow—monarchy, tradition, conservatism (the established Church was sneered at as the Tory Party at prayer), and, of course, moral (especial sexual) restraint.

Hitchens describes well the utopian illusions of that period and their disastrous social consequences. It was a cultural and sexual revolution that was, among other things, a revolt of the young against the prospect of falling into the fate of their parents—an adult world not only of hollow forms and beliefs (if they were truly believed at all) but, materially, a world of suburbs, the paraphernalia of babies and the demands they make on one to be adult and responsible, confining and restraining the autonomous self. (No wonder baby boomer couples had so few children!)

Hitchens is justly harsh about this brave new world of adolescent pride and self-absorption, the sacrifice of the needs of children to the freedoms of adults (a prevalent theme motif of those who still are undermining our most child-friendly institution, marriage). His central topic, however, is militant atheism, the rage of atheists against God.

In Part 2 of the book, Hitchens takes on three arguments circulated by his brother Christopher and other “new atheists.” He shows how many conflicts fought in the name of religion are not about religion—for example, no-one in Northern Ireland believes that the Catholics and Protestants were fighting over religious differences about the Eucharist, the issue of “justification,” or anything of the sort. He also points to the much higher level of unrestrained violence perpetrated by atheist regimes, from the French revolution to the Bolsheviks, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, and so forth. He argues that a non-relativist morality that goes beyond the Golden Rule depends on an absolute power above human society that is not subject to change at a tyrant’s or totalitarian’s whim. And he takes on the argument that the atheist states like the former USSR are not really atheist but depend on religious cults like that of Stalin.

The most powerful part of the book is his account of the difference in practice between an atheist state with a cult of the leader and a Christian society, where the command to love God and your neighbor as yourself has penetrated the culture and survives, even if exiguously, in post-Christian societies like England. He shows how militantly (and successfully) the Bolsheviks sought to extirpate all trace of Christianity from Soviet society, aiming especially at children. One of the very first decrees of the Soviet state in 1917 was to forbid the teaching of Christianity in schools and many more repressive measures followed. Tellingly, Hitchens draws vividly on his own experience as a reporter in Russia as well as showing, by way of his experience of complete political and social disintegration in Somalia, how he became convinced that his “own civilization was infinitely precious and utterly vulnerable and that [he] was obliged to try to protect it” (p.98).

Tellingly, Hitchens links this militant atheism of the Stalinists, this rage against God, to the efforts of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to describe religious education as child abuse—a very serious charge, ludicrous as it sounds, that paves the way for more and more anti-Christian measures enforced by an ever more powerful state. For Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, the family and other institutions of civil society, including the churches, temples, and mosques, were a threat to the apotheosis of the state and its leader. All these regimes attacked the churches and the family, seeking either to extirpate them altogether or subordinate them to the state.

Hitchens notes that he, along with Christopher and many others (myself included, but also the philosopher and Catholic Alasdair MacIntyre) were at one time Trotskyists. We were fiercely opposed to Stalinism and the kind of totalitarian state built by Stalin and Mao, and insisted on the fundamental differences between true revolutionary socialism and Stalinism. Hitchens will have none of this. Unlike Christopher and MacIntyre (and me for that matter), he has completely rejected and settled accounts with that tradition, which he says, rests on the self-delusion that things would have turned out differently if Trotsky had won out in the struggle against Stalin. I won’t take up the argument here, but simply note that many of us who have abandoned Trotskyism in any form have failed fully to come to terms with it despite its complete incompatibility with current commitments.

Another chord the memoir struck with me comes under the nice subheading, “The Prodigal Son Returns Too Late.” He means that the Anglican communion he returned to was not the C of E he had left decades earlier. Even more than the Catholic Church in the West, the C of E had been infected with a liberal, secularizing modernism. Traditional teaching on faith and morals as well as liturgy, architecture, music and ancient practices and forms had been abandoned and the communion was falling into apparently irreversible decline. Hitchens deplores these developments, which include discarding some of the greatest literary treasures of the C of E and the English language—the King James Bible and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. But he gives no hint of finding a more orthodox home in the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church, a choice toward which faithful Christians still in the Anglican communion in the UK and North America are surely feeling pushed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another Anti-Catholic Rant from the New York Times

Once again, a shamelessly biased anti-Catholic rant from Maureen Dowd. (On the phenomenon of anti-Catholic Catholics like Dowd, Garry Wills, et al., see The New Anti-Catholicism by Philip Jenkins.) Contrary to the claim in her latest op-ed piece, the Vatican said nothing to equate mock ordinations of women and clergy sex abuse. Yes, it was a PR mistake--another own goal--to address these grave but utterly different offenses in the same document, but that's all.

As for the two "inquisitions" of nuns that exercise Ms. Dowd so mightily, these visitations were long overdue. The investigations of the seminaries that had adopted an actively homosexual culture, aided and abetted by nuns, came much too late too. (See Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men for details.) The Church's older religious orders and liberal seminaries did immense damage to the Church, infected as they were by a Sixties climate of "anything goes" in faith and morals. The irony is that the liberals who promoted these developments in the 1970s (when clergy sex abuse rose to the level of the male population as a whole before falling back close to zero today) are using the crisis they helped create to denounce the Vatican's efforts to clean up the mess.

Meanwhile, much to the annoyance of the aging liberals, it is the young, orthodox, and faithful parts of the Church, the new strict religious communities and seminaries, that are thriving as the liberal Catholic project dies off. Still, it will take decades for the Church to recover from the damage in every area--in catechesis, liturgy, architecture, music, ecclesiology, theology, and morals--that that liberal project wrought.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Please read this book! Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox

The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap
This is an extraordinary book, engagingly written, well argued, and well documented with a mass of research, especially from neuroscience. Pinker argues for an understanding of the gender gap in work, life choices, and pay between men and women that takes account of the real biological differences between the sexes. It is a mistake in her view to expect or aim for a 50-50 representation of the sexes in fields like IT, engineering, science, or corporate law or, for that matter social work and teaching.

She focuses on highly successful women who thrived in school and had every encouragement from teachers, parents, professors, and mentors and yet chose more balanced, socially and personally meaningful lives than the high-paying, high prestige careers on which they first embarked. They asserted their own wishes and needs in the face of strong social pressure and strong incentives to follow a male pattern of career success. Pinker also interviews men at the extreme end of the male brain pattern, that is, those with Asperger's, lacking in social skills, incapable of empathy or intimate friendship, who found niches where their intense focus was an advantage and their social deficits could be accommodated.

This seemed at first a puzzling strategy. Why study only successful women who have choices that most women do not? The point, though, is that when women do have a choice, they do not choose (on average) to devote themselves to their careers at the expense of family, to high pay and competitive jobs at the expense of social purpose and meaning. The gender gap is smallest where women have few choices, in countries where they are pushed into careers because of perceived needs of the economy (Zimbabwe, India) and greatest where women are most protected by labor laws and have most choices--such as Finland, the Netherlands, or Germany.

It makes sense, then, to study women's actual preferences--what they choose when they have a choice. In this sense, Pinker's book supports the argument of Neil Gilbert's A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market, and Policy Shape Family Life, which points out how "family-friendly" policies reinforce the economic pressures of the market and the social pressures of feminism to subordinate family to work, and women to the male model. Both authors argue for giving more weight to what women actually want rather than what others think they should want. Attempts to reduce career and (consequently pay) differences to gender discrimination belittle or invalidate the choices women who have choices make about their own lives. No wonder Pinker's book has been greeted with relief and enthusiasm by many women throughout the world.

What about men? Pinker notes in her Epilogue that half the book is about men, but few men reviewed it and the discussion the book elicited worldwide was all about women. Pinker's discussion points to the tendency of men to extremes of success and failure, their fragility, their falling behind girls and women at every educational level, their increased risk of premature birth (and death), disability, school failure, violence, and suicide. As she says, the real gender gap and the nature of the sexes and relations between them cannot be reduced to a war between the sexes and to formal and informal discrimination. Men are not "all the same."

Discrimination and socialization limited the opportunities and life choices for girls and women, and still do in many countries. The paradox, however, is that the more these factors are reduced or eliminated, the bigger the gender gap becomes, in personality as well as pay. In her epilogue, Pinker quotes with approval NYT's science correspondent's summary of a 2008 study of the personalities of 40,000 men and women on six continents: "A husband and stay-at-home wife in a patriarchal Botswanan clan seem to be more alike than a working couple in Denmark or France. The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge."

As a professor socialized in the 1960s and 1970s to believe that all gender differences were results of socialization and discrimination, that there were no "essential" differences other than anatomical, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. That old view was never tenable, but it persists, often unspoken but also unchallenged, in academia, to the detriment of many lives and of good policy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Speak Up : Faculty

Speak Up : Faculty

From Secular "Neutrality" to Open Hostility

From Secular Neutrality to Open Hostility
Thursday, July 15, 2010, 4:25 PM
Meghan Duke

On the heels of the implementation of a new abortion law in Spain that declares abortion as a right, allows unrestricted abortions performed during the first fourteen weeks of a pregnancy, and lowers the age of required parental consent for abortion to fifteen, Archbishop Francisco Gil HellĂ­n of Burgos has published a statement urging Spanish Catholics to civil disobedience of the law:
Let us diagnose it with total clarity: this law is no law, although it is presented as such by some political and legislative bodies. And it isn’t because no one has the right to eliminate an innocent. For that reason, it doesn’t obligate. Even more, it demands a head-on opposition without reservation. Right reason cannot admit as a right the killing of an innocent person. . . . It is a fallacy to affirm that this law has been approved by the majority of the Parliament and that this represents the majority of the citizens, or to say that if the Constitutional Tribunal decrees its conformity [with the Constitution] it would be disobedience to oppose it, and would deserve a punishment. The fallacy consists in attributing to politicians, judges, or citizens a right that they don’t have, and no one has the right to legislate that an innocent can be killed.

It’s not clear to me why any Spanish Catholics would find themselves in the position of having to disobey the law. From what I have read, the law does not explicitly require doctors to perform abortions—though it does set the stage for a clash between the right of conscientious objectors and the newly found right to an abortion. The archbishop’s words do seem to reflect, as John Allen wrote a few weeks ago, the Church’s growing perception of herself as a minority. Recounting recent events, Allen noted:
The police raids in Belgium, the refusal by the Supreme Court in the United States to block a sex abuse lawsuit against the Vatican, and the European Court of Human Rights challenge to display of Catholic symbols in Italy all suggest that the final pillars of deference by civil authorities to the Catholic church are crumbling. . . . A growing band of Catholic opinion, certainly reflected in the Vatican, believes that a ‘tipping point’ has been reached in the West, in which secular neutrality toward the church, especially in Europe, has shaded off into hostility and, sometimes, outright persecution.
Retrieved July 15, 2010 from

Fired for Being Catholic 2: First Things blog

Another Academic on Kenneth Howell
Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 10:23 AM
David Mills
Fired for Being Catholic? reported on the troubles of Dr. Kenneth Howell, who lost his adjunct job at the University of Illinois for admitting in a class on Catholic teaching that he, as a Catholic, agreed with it. A friend who teaches in a state university wrote:
Having read his e-mail, the reason for Dr. Howell’s situation has become clearer: He taught the doctrines of the Church as being his as opposed to being those of the Church. This was the more honest thing to do, but, as Howell’s experience makes clear, it’s dangerous.
If the teacher teaches in a detached way, the student treats whatever he says abstractly. He might be mad, but he won’t be mad at him. Once the teacher says that these beliefs he’s describing are his personal beliefs, he becomes the focus, and it is much easier for a student to complain to an administrator about a teacher than it is about what he is being taught, and it is easier for an administrator to defend the teaching of subject than it is the teacher of the subject. The facts are as they are, but the teacher can be changed.
My friend said that this story shows the importance of giving professors tenure, even though it can encourage laziness, poor teaching, and the like. Tenure would, he said, “have helped the administrator (if he wanted help) in this case.”
It is all about time. About the only tool or asset a university administrator has is time. The most important thing in listening to student complaints is that they leave the office convinced that they have been heard and paid attention to seriously. The goal for a lower-lever administrator (and I know them well) is to keep the complaint from going higher.
If the dean has to hear every complaint on their time, why do they need an assistant? If the provost hast to hear every complaint on his time, why do they need a dean? If you can tell the student there is nothing you can do “because X has tenure,” the student can reply “That’s just stupid” and walk out in a huff but he won’t go any higher. If you say that you fully support the teacher on grounds of academic freedom, they are going to go higher. They will bug the dean, the provost, the president.
From the evidence I’ve seen, it looks like this was poorly handled by the administrators involved. As someone else pointed out, you never listen to someone who is “speaking for a friend.” You always assume he is speaking for himself alone.
The press coverage associated with this should be a good incentive for any administrator to adopt that tactic. It’s bad when the student goes to the next level. It’s worse when the press picks up the story.
James Stephens
July 13th, 2010 | 11:04 am
The commentator is absolutely correct that tenure is designed to prevent this sort of thing, and I was hoping someone would point this out. But it’s also easy to criticize tenure when it serves just this purpose and we don’t like the message. But as practical as it might be for an official to simply say ‘he has tenure, we can’t do anything about him’ is also weak, it amounts to implying ‘I agree with you but I can’t do anything about it.’
Tom Carty
July 13th, 2010 | 11:07 am
There is no doubt a future president among the small minds at the University of Illinois.The question is whether it is the weak-kneed anti-free-speech crowd that runs the university or the whiny back-stabbing student who had no tolerance for Dr.Howell, the only honest person in this sorry episode.
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Gregory K. Laughlin
July 13th, 2010 | 11:47 am
And as tenure become less and less frequent, situations like this may become more and more common. In a recent article in the CHRONICLES OF HIGHER EDUCATION, “Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education,” July 6, 2010. The article noted:
“Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007.”
The result: “What does vanishing tenure mean for higher education? For starters, some observers say that college faculties are being filled with people who may be less willing to speak their minds: contingent instructors, usually working on short-term contracts. Indeed, the American Association of University Professors says instructors need tenure to guarantee that they can say controversial things inside and outside the classroom without being fired.”
Dr. Howell’s situation certain will serve as a warning to adjunct professors to be bland and disengaged and avoid saying anything which could possibly offend anyone. So much for academic freedom and the spirit of hearty debate and challenging ideas.
July 13th, 2010 | 12:05 pm
It’s absolutely true that this is an object lesson in why tenure is essential for teachers (and why many colleges have been heavily relying on adjuncts, to avoid having obligations to professors).
However, even without holding tenure, there is no way that Howell should have been punished. It is not hate speech to say that Catholics believe that homosexuality violates natural moral law any more than it is hate speech to teach that some Christians believe abortion is murder or that Pat Robertson believes that terrorists are the result of the evils of feminism.
The fact that Howell holds at least one of these views is only a problem if it interferes with his teaching.
Presumably Howell has no more trouble teaching homosexuals than he has teaching the unmarried fornicators who (this being a college campus) doubtless also attend his classes. There is a wide gulf between Howell’s beliefs and practice and that of a man who, believing females are intellectually inferior, refuses to engage with them in the classroom.
–Leah @ Unequally Yoked
July 13th, 2010 | 12:29 pm
Re: Gregory K. Laughlin Dr. Howell’s situation certain will serve as a warning to adjunct professors to be bland and disengaged and avoid saying anything which could possibly offend anyone.
That horse has left the barn because even tenured professors are bland and disengaged in this way. The Academy is now largely an intellectual ghetto of political correctness and arcane victimology. One has to at least feign agreement with the normative mindset to even be considered for tenure. The close-minded Weltanschauung of the University is strongly self-reinforcing.
So my point is that even if all faculty members were tenured, the selection process pretty guarantees conformity with Academic orthodoxy.
Perversely UI was stupid. They did not need to explicitly fire Professor Howell. They could have just dropped the course and Professor Howell’s position would have went poof without the political fallout.
UIUC Student
July 13th, 2010 | 1:27 pm
As a student in Professor Howell’s Intro to Cathlicism class, I can tell you that the real problem was not that he taught his opinion or the Catholic view on issues such as homosexuality. The real issue was that he taught his opinions as facts. While he may believe them to be facts, he should not have presented them as such.
I found the professor to be sensitive about other topics, such as damnation, during the semester. I was suprised that he did not choose to maintain his sensitivity when discussing homosexuality. He chose to use homosexual actions as an example of natural moral theory. In other words, he told the class that homosexuality violates natural moral law and went on in great detail to explain why.
I am glad that Professor Howell has a voice in the discussion, but I would like people to know both sides of the issue.
July 13th, 2010 | 2:37 pm
UIUC Student — Given that the course was titled “Introduction to Catholicism,” I’m not sure where the confusion would arise between the presentation of facts as such and the presentation of what Catholics believe are facts. Did you forget that you were in that class? Do you need to be reminded before each lecture which course you’re enrolled in?
Or, and I think this gets to the core of the issue here, do you simply want to be told what to think without having to distinguish fact from opinion using your own reasoning?
C.C. Inglish
July 13th, 2010 | 2:53 pm
@ UCIC Student.
Please clarify a few items in your statement concerning what exactly Dr. Howell taught about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Did he say that the homosexual inclination violates the natural moral law or that homosexual acts do so? If the former, then yes he is in error. If, however, he stated the latter, then he has not erred. The inclination is objectively disordered, but does not violate the natural moral law. Homosexual acts do in fact violate the natural moral law and hence are intrinsically evil.
If Dr. Howell correctly taught and agreed with the Church’s teaching on the matter and made his agreement known to the class, then so what? He is not simply teaching his opinion; he is teaching the Catholic faith with which he happens to agree. It is a fact, not an opinion, about what the Church teaches on this issue. Unless he condemned homosexuals to hell, disparaged them as less then human, or treated students who disagreed with the Church’s teaching on the matter with contempt, which neither his e-mail nor any other information regarding this incident remotely suggests, then Dr. Howell’s perceived insensitivity is rooted in one’s dissatisfaction with the fact that the Church teaches that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.
For Dr. Howell to not teach his opinion as fact, assuming that he logically justified the factual basis of this “opinion,” is morally relativistic and schizophrenic. It is obvious from Dr. Howell’s e-mail that the point of the assignment was to demonstrate logically and factually that according to natural law theory that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil. I highly doubt that changing the issue of the assignment from homosexuality to abortion, in vitro, embryonic stem cells, premarital fornication, adultery, etc., would satisfy the friend of a friend whose “tolerance” caused him/her to whine to the department chair.
The Church does teach that homosexual acts violate the natural moral law and Dr. Howell explained why. So what’s the problem? I guess it’s the fact that a prof. is openly and unabashedly teaching something which threatens the cancer of hedonistic nihilism that has matastasized in humanities departments across America’s campuses.
UIUC Student
July 13th, 2010 | 3:51 pm
I can see that people on this site are inclined to agree with Professor Howell’s teaching style. I was unhappy with the course and feel that I learned very little about Catholicism. I do not have an issue with a Catholicism professor expressing the Catholic viewpoint or openly agreeing with that viewpoint. I took issue with the way he expressed himself. He expressed his opinions as facts and left little room for opposing viewpoints. Even if he does believe them to be facts, he should have been respectful of the fact that others may disagree. Natural moral theory is a theory like any other theory, such as evolution. If an instructor in a public school taught that the theory of evolution was fact rather than stating that it is a theory, than I’m sure you all would have plenty to say about that as well.
I took the course hoping to learn more about Catholics. I think I have learned more by reading your strongly expressed comments than I did from Howell all semester.
July 13th, 2010 | 4:12 pm
UIUC Student — So you felt Dr. Howell left little room for opposing viewpoints to Catholicism, and yet at the same time you learned very little about it?
Dr. Howell has won several awards for teaching and seems to have made it very clear that what was being presented was the Catholic viewpoint (hence the name, “Introduction to Catholicism,” and that the students were not required to agree, but they were required to understand it.
And although other viewpoints are, strictly speaking, outside the purview of the course, Dr. Howell seems to have at least spared a thought for them, as you can see in the very e-mail which generated this controversy and which explains a utilitarian standpoint on homosexuality, as well as the Catholic one.
Frankly if you were not interested in a serious presentation of Catholicism and were looking instead for a general survey of all sorts of various religious beliefs, then you probably should not have registered for a course called “Introduction to Catholicism.”
Gregory K. Laughlin
July 13th, 2010 | 4:22 pm
In response to the UIUC student who took Dr. Howell’s course, I would admit that none of us were in the course and you were, so you have a much better ability to have observed all the dynamics than we do.
On the other hand, many of Dr. Howell’s students and former students support him and, according to news accounts of this matter, “Howell was recognized by the religion department in 2008 and 2009 for being rated an excellent teacher by students.”
Apparently, not everyone shares you view of Dr. Howell’s teaching style. I say that not to impugn your views, but to merely assert that they are not universally held by all you have been students of Dr. Howell.
I’m not a Catholic, by the way.
July 13th, 2010 | 6:29 pm
That horse has left the barn because even tenured professors are bland and disengaged in this way.
The real problem with tenure is that it is naturally the biggest attraction to those who are most afraid of being punished for what they say.
Jeffrey L Miller
July 13th, 2010 | 6:31 pm
Of course tenure would also protect dissidents from not being fired.
July 13th, 2010 | 6:42 pm
It seems to be a case of rhetorical games.
Dr. Howell seems to be in trouble because he assumed that he could speak assertively- assertive speech is no longer tolerated in “polite society” unless the assertion reinforces relativistic deconstruction.
A professor shouldn’t be obligated to pay lip service to beliefs that they do not hold, just as a student shouldn’t be forced to agree with the professor’s view.
Whether the “debate” is over evolution or political bias- our society is becoming too obsessed with erasing the lines between public and private speech and we are worse off. What used to be assumed (if X speaks about Y, he is speaking for himself and I can choose to agree or disagree) has become politicized and militarized to the point where no one in a position of authority is allowed an expression of views or the very human need to speak as an individual with their own biases and view points and subjective experiences.
We are doing harm to communication and it’s only going to get worse from here.
Eugenio Zapollini
July 13th, 2010 | 7:30 pm
Howell’s teaching of Catholicism, like many feminist and postmodern pedagogical “interventions,” is a sign of the ideological politicization of the classroom. A competent scholar of religion who is non-Catholic is able to teach a course on Catholicism, just as a Catholic scholar with the appropriate competence is able to teach a course on Islam or any other religion, or even on the history and arguments of atheism. It is routine for scholars to teach courses on beliefs or practices they do not share. When someone teaches a course which aims to inform students about a religion (or ideology) the teacher does practice, the same kind of objectivity in presenting the material is possible and usually appreciated by students. That is one place where Howell (and countless feminists and marxists) failed. Leaving aside the incompetence of his presentation of Catholic and utilitarian viewpoints, he failed just in the way the student commentator has indicated: he presented what could only be taken by students as his personal opinion as if it were settled fact. He could have avoided this by prefacing a presentation of Catholic views with “The official teaching of the Church is X” or even (less accurately though) by saying “We Catholics believe X.” Framed in this way, the statements inform the students about what Catholicism holds and the students are thus in a position to learn something. Presented without such framing and, thus, as moral truths available to natural reason, the views he put forth will inevitably be taken as his personal opinion. When this happens, some students will feel they are learning nothing and some will feel offended or coerced. Howell’s teaching is as bad as that of so-called “scholars” who insist on promoting marxist or feminist ideological agendas in the classroom. There, too, many students rightfully feel coerced, offended, and denied the opportunity to learn in an objective and scholarly environment.
UIUC Student with a Different Opinion
July 13th, 2010 | 8:53 pm
I took Dr. Howell’s class in Fall 2007. From what I’ve gathered, the class hasn’t changed much.
Contrary to “UIUC Student” I personally thought Dr. Howell was very open to hearing opposing sides of arguments, and whenever someone raised an issue he would always listen and validate their idea.
Dr. Howell would also try to clarify the Catholic position on whatever topic was on debate so that the questioning student might better understand the Church’s opinion. This was not to change the student’s opinion, but to educate the student on the Church’s official stance.
July 13th, 2010 | 10:21 pm
Why is the (LGBT) office needed?
From their web page:
“The campus environment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign mirrors the larger society in that it reflects and contains homophobic and/or heterosexist attitudes and beliefs which are oppressive and devaluing of LGBT people.
The LGBT Resource Center seeks to help in the efforts to address homophobia on the campus and to work to MAKE THE ENVIRONMENT SAFE, AFFIRMING, AND INCLUSIVE FOR ALL STUDENTS, FACULTY, STAFF, and LGBT students, faculty, and staff in particular. ”
They made it so ***safe***, ***affirming***, and ***inclusive*** for ALL STAFF that they had to have Howell inclusively fired.
Orwellian indeed.
(and an *anonymous* letter stabbing him in the back? vile, Stasi-like)
July 14th, 2010 | 12:04 pm
Contrary to the suggestion in the quotation, the good Prof. Howell will not find any protections from the principle of academic freedom. Indeed, this principle found its contemporary renaissance in cases lodged against religiously affiliated colleges that disciplined aberrant faculty members. It is a tool used not only to suppress the institutional expression of religion in colleges, it further views all religious and moral claims as matters of mere opinion. Thus it can also be used to punish professors in secular schools who express religious belief as anything more than a personal opinion—this is the sin of Dr Howell that he committed when he said that he not only believed the Catholic position on homosexuality, but that it was objectively true. In a class on religion and morals, no such claim of objectivity can find protection under the principle of Academic Freedom.
Nor is Dr Howell likely to find any moral support coming from the administrators of the major catholic colleges, such as Notre Dame, all of whom agree with the principle of academic freedom. Recall the Land O’Lakes declaration (1967) authored by then president of Notre Dame, T. Hesburgh, signed by all the big-name catholic educators of that time. The declaration stated precisely this point that religious doctrine is fundamentally opposed to the idea of free inquiry, and that free inquiry is the purpose of all higher education. “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” The natural law doctrine on sexual behavior would certainly fall under the purview of “authority of whatever kind.”
Dr Howell has become another Christian casualty of the authoritarian “academic community itself.” My prayers are with him.
July 14th, 2010 | 5:27 pm
I am a former student and former colleague of Ken’s in Religious Studies, and I consider him a close friend. I likewise have great esteem for the other Religious Studies faculty at the U of I, some of whom I had as a student. You can therefore take the following for what you will.
Ken Howell does believe what he teaches, and is even excited to teach it. This indeed where he first “goes wrong,” from a certain (mistaken) point of view. Is he “objective” in the classroom? Not if being objective means utter detachment from whether students truly confront the subject matter and appreciate its bearing on society. In any case, Ken is about as “objective” as one can pretend to be, based on my observation. He allows for arguments contrary to his own, but he does not hesitate to point out the weaknesses of arguments presented by a student on either side of the aisle on this issue. He is a man of God and to my mind an incredibly tolerant individual. I can see how a student might mistake his zealous arguments for a personal attack. However, as an academic I frequently see this inability of individuals to distinguish rational argumentation from personal attacks. Ken’s work is so fundamental because he makes this distinction and tries to help students learn to make it as well. Is this work of his perhaps even more vital than his teaching regarding natural law?
As many of us probably recognize, this issue has numerous layers (academic freedom, the ability of individuals to virtuously engage in dialogue, homosexuality itself, etc.) Among the many questions and concerns I have right now on this topic, I’d like to continue considering how to foster authentic academic dialogue in the classroom–and to ensure that third parties don’t infringe on this merely because their sensibilities have been offended. I suppose Ken’s possible suit is a great starting point. I think it would be a travesty for our country to go the way Canada is apparently going, as mentioned above.
Paul H
July 14th, 2010 | 7:43 pm
Dr. Howell appeared on Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio today. It was a very informative interview, though it would have been helpful to get the university’s side of the story too.
Here is the link to the mp3 for anyone who is interested:
Retrieved July 15, 2010 from

Fired For Being Catholic?
Monday, July 12, 2010, 12:31 PM
Meghan Duke
Here’s the latest development in the ongoing story of Dr. Kenneth Howell, the former adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, who recently lost his job for teaching his students the Catholic Church’s position on homosexual acts in an introductory course on Catholicism.
FIRST THINGS has obtained a letter sent today by the Alliance Defense Fund to the University of Illinois on Dr. Howell’s behalf. ADF has charged the university with violating Dr. Howell’s First Amendment right, citing numerous cases where the Supreme Court has upheld the right and emphasized the value of university professor’s freedom to debate and share ideas. Read the letter here.

Fired for Being Catholic? Report and Comments from Inside Higher Education

Teaching or Preaching?
July 15, 2010
The headline on the press release sure sounds like this is a case to be outraged over: "Ill. prof. fired for teaching about Catholic beliefs in class on Catholicism," says the announcement from the Alliance Defense Fund. Many newspapers articles ran variations of that headline -- "University of Illinois Instructor Fired Over Catholic Beliefs," read one. Framed that way -- and plenty of people think that's exactly how it should be framed -- it's not surprising that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has taken a lot of heat for telling Kenneth Howell, an adjunct, that he is no longer wanted to teach a course on Roman Catholicism, his faith.
Others, however, say Howell's conduct was problematic, and raises issues either of church-state separation or of intolerance of gay people. While public universities have long taught about religion, some say that a professor at a state institution should not be advocating for a particular faith's views, even in the context of a course on religion. And some say that, regardless of whether the university was right to stop offering him courses, it was appropriate for the department to be alarmed by Howell's characterizations of gay people. A faculty committee at Illinois is now studying whether Howell's academic freedom was violated.
The dispute involves different kinds of tolerance: for religious views that may not be popular at secular institutions, for gay people, and for faculty members who don't want their every word dissected by potential critics.
And the situation is but the latest to involve an adjunct's academic freedom. Most observers of what's going on in Illinois believe that the debate would be very different if a tenured professor had sent the e-mail message that got Howell in trouble.
But the case is hardly unique in involving adjuncts and controversy. In California, June Sheldon lost her job teaching science courses at San Jose City College after a student complained about Sheldon's discussion, in a class on heredity, of the causes of homosexuality. Sheldon was talking about the "nature vs. nurture" debate with regard to why some people are gay, and students complained that her comments suggested that she did not believe anyone could be born a lesbian, and that the way she endorsed the "nurture" side of the debate was offensive. Sheldon disputes the statements that were attributed to her, and she is being backed in a lawsuit against the college by the Alliance Defense Fund, which is now backing Howell at Illinois. San Jose officials have said she was not assigned further courses because of questions about the appropriateness of what she was telling her students.
What the E-mail Said
In the Howell case at Illinois, the dispute centers on an e-mail message he sent students, so there is less of a debate over what was said (although plenty of debate over its meaning). In the e-mail, published by a local newspaper, The News-Gazette, Howell wrote that since the final exam would have a question on utilitarianism, he wanted to help with an example, and he then used issues related to homosexuality to illustrate. The e-mail is key to the case because Howell was told he would no longer be teaching after a friend of a student in the course sent a copy of the e-mail, along with a complaint, to faculty members.
The complaint stated that the e-mail is part of a pattern. "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," the complaint states.
In the e-mail in question, Howell explored how simplistic analysis could lead to poor decisions about sex. For instance, he said that to say that sex is not a problem as long as it is consensual could result in acts that aren't in fact "morally okay." He wrote: "If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a 10 year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of.
"The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like 'informed consent.' Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that 'informed consent' might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don't think that it would be wrong according to the consent criterion."
Then, citing Natural Moral Law, he focused on his view of gay sexuality. "To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the 'woman' while the other acts as the 'man.' In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body."
He closed the e-mail by saying: "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."
The Academic Freedom Issue
Based on the e-mail, he was told that he would not be asked to teach again -- even though he has a record of positive teaching evaluations. As soon as the issue went public, Howell received strong support from a variety of groups.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which frequently defends the rights of religious students or professors and has written to the university on Howell's behalf, said that the case raises key issues of academic freedom. He said that academics who question Howell's rights to send students such an e-mail "are creating a precedent that will come back to haunt them if anonymous students are allowed to complain about professors."
"The bigger picture problem is that this is teaching students -- the next generation of American leaders -- that you don't respond to opinions you disagree with with more debate, but by feeling offended and then complaining to some school authority so that the person is disciplined in some manner and censored," Lorence said. "We are teaching students they can have an environment cleansed of opinions that they disapprove. That's shocking."
While the Alliance Defense Fund is sympathetic to Howell's views, some of those backing the now-out-of-work adjunct are decidedly not. Claire Potter, a historian at Wesleyan University, writes frequently on her blog Tenured Radical as a scholar and a lesbian about issues of bias. She has questioned the criticism of Howell. In a blog post about the controversy, she noted that she teaches material dealing with religion and sexuality -- material that has the potential to offend some students -- and said that some have complained about her using a similar phrase ("hate speech") to one used by critics of Howell at Illinois.
"Don't get me wrong: the point of this post is not some narcissistic desire to demonstrate how super-tolerant I am of homophobic, right-wing theology," Potter wrote. "My question is: do we think it is OK to do unto others as they would do unto us? Do we guarantee academic freedom for some people and not others? Most important, to avoid public controversy of all kinds, is higher ed simply going to give students permission to shut out things they find offensive as if they live in an entirely different country from the people they disagree with? Worse, should we not begin to talk about how students -- in their teaching evaluations and in complaints to the administration -- are now routinely urging that teachers be fired who do not provide suitable validation for their students' view?"
Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, agreed. He called Howell's views "kooky and despicable, but I'm still inclined to protect his rights."
Church and State
The Alliance Defense Fund cited in its letter to Illinois numerous legal cases that grant faculty members at public universities broad First Amendment protection to teach their courses without fear that unpopular views will get them fired. Nelson cited AAUP policies as well.
But one issue at play is whether -- in teaching about religion at a public college or university -- a professor has a specific obligation to, as several in the debate have said, "teach, not preach." In other words, to be concerned about Howell you need not believe that professors have no right to express their views in class, but you might think that while it's fine to espouse neoconservative foreign policy or postmodern literary theory, it's not fine to push much of anything on religion.
Ayesha N. Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that those backing Howell "are wrong about the law" and said of the Illinois officials who told Howell he couldn't teach again that they made "the only reasonable choice because the teacher has no First Amendment right to engage in that kind of speech." When Howell and his backers say that he should be protected because he was just espousing his Catholic beliefs, they show that he crossed a line, she said. "Certainly professors can teach about religion, they can tell you what the Catholic Church has to say about certain matters, including about homosexuality, but what they can't do is advocate. You can teach but you can't preach," she said.
Khan noted that even as court after court has granted wide freedom of speech rights to public college and university faculty members, limits have been set about promoting religion. She cited three U.S. appeals court decisions: Edwards v. California University of Pennsylvania, which in 1998 upheld a public university's right to tell a professor that he could not inject religious materials into his courses on educational media (a decision written, before he was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, by Judge Samuel Alito); Bishop v. Aronov, which in 1991 upheld the right of a public university to bar an exercise physiology professor from sharing views on religion in class; and Piggee v. Carl Sandburg College, in which in 2006 upheld the right of a community college not to rehire an adjunct in cosmetology who gave anti-gay pamphlets based on her religious beliefs to a gay student.
A key difference between all three of those cases and the one at Illinois is that the courses involved were not about religion -- and so the issue of relevance came into play. But Khan said that the real commonality of those decisions with the Illinois situation is that courts believe that religious issues are different from other expression when it comes to public institutions.
The anonymous blogger Lesboprof also raised church-state issues in a post this week in which she noted that she normally finds herself in agreement with people like Cary Nelson and Tenured Radical on academic freedom issues. But she found herself, upon reading Howell's e-mail and its closing charge to students, with questions. "Aren't there valid arguments to say that Howell was not just expressing his opinion ('This is what I believe') but proselytizing? Can we hold the instructor to a different standard in the classroom than he holds in his role at the Newman Center?," referring to the Catholic center at the campus. She also asked whether Howell should "get a pass on saying anti-gay things repeatedly because he [is] articulating his personal Catholic faith?"
Further, Lesboprof questioned the idea that a university exists to have someone simply offer up the views of a religion. She recounted her frustration with a presentation on Islam by a Muslim woman at an academic conference who did not engage in discussion, but simply suggested that "real" Muslims would respond to issues in certain ways. Similarly, Lesboprof asked, why is it good for a university to have someone simply outline views of some Catholic leaders? "While one might teach 'what the Church says' in church or bible study, aren't we asking for something more critical, more thoughtful, and more historically and intellectually grounded in our college classrooms?"
Still other scholars are suggesting that -- whatever the academic freedom issues involved -- Howell's e-mail offers grounds for not wanting him to teach. Brian Leiter, the John P. Wilson Professor of Law and director of the Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values at the University of Chicago, blogged: "I imagine any philosopher reading the e-mail can see a legitimate reason for terminating Howell's contract, namely, that his characterization of utilitarianism and the quality of reasoning and argument are incompetent."
Adjunct Rights (or Lack Thereof)
Comparing those appeals court cases also points to another issue raised by Howell's situation. As the court records detail, when tenured professors are accused of conduct that may raise church-state issues, they get visits or memos from administrators, chances to talk about the situation and perhaps disciplinary hearings. Adjuncts tend to simply not get rehired.
Matt Williams, vice president of the New Faculty Majority, a national group promoting adjunct interests, said that he didn't know the details of the complaints against Howell, but that he was concerned about the lack of due process. "The contingent faculty member has to be afforded due process, a chance to offer facts," he said. When that doesn't happen, and a faculty member is simply not rehired, "it really invites abuses" in that adjuncts can be unfairly denied employment.
Nelson of the AAUP said that he also viewed non-renewals of this sort as dubious. While administrators make the point that these adjuncts aren't being fired, Nelson said that "to the employee, the impact is the same." They lose the courses and the income.
The AAUP believes, he said, that any time an instructor is being judged based on teaching or other professional duties, a faculty committee should be doing the judging, with the instructor having the chance to present evidence under clear procedures. That should be the same, he said, for an adjunct or a tenured faculty member.
Nelson said that an open process might also yield solutions other than ending Howell's teaching career at Illinois. The campus has no shortage, he said, "of people disputing Howell's views" and that a department concerned abut those views might look to provide challenges in various ways -- lectures, other courses and so forth. "What's better for a student? To in a variety of learning environments hear these positions and the consequences of these positions advocated with passion and commitment or to hear them all presented with a style of even-handedness? I would rather hear them advocated strenuously."
Ann H. Franke, a lawyer who consults with many colleges on legal and other issues, said that the Howell case raises many issues related to the way colleges treat adjuncts. "A public institution effectively can fire an adjunct for no reason, but you can't fire an adjunct for a wrong reason," she said, referring to decisions on whether to renew a contract.
"A right reason to fire an adjunct would be that she refused to use the textbook required in a multi-section course. Another right reason would be that he was supposed to be teaching French, but he mostly talked about his Thursday night poker games," she said.
Whether disagreeing with an approach to a course was a valid reason could depend legally on a number of factors, she said. For instance, if the norm at a college is that people are hired year after year, there can be "an expectation" of renewal, barring a significant reason. At a college where renewals aren't the norm, they can't be said to be expected, she said.
Franke stressed that even if adjuncts don't have the same legal rights as tenured professors, they deserve real protection. "Adjunct faculty are teachers and they need academic freedom in the classroom -- so they are not just looking over their shoulders and mouthing the script somebody gives them to teach," she said. "That's not what a college classroom is about."
There is also, she noted, a middle ground between ignoring a complaint like the one filed about Howell and simply not renewing his contract. "When a department chair hears news of plausible concerns about any professor's classroom conduct, it's appropriate for the department chair to go to the individual and say 'Here's what I'm hearing. I'd like to talk to you about it.' I think it does a service to the institution and the individual and it doesn't need to be contentious," she said.
She said she would suggest in such discussions "reframing the objectionable statement" and substituting race or religion or gender or age for whatever group is being discussed. She said that it is possible to discuss these issues in ways that may allow a faculty member to continue to teach with freedom, but to be aware of student reactions.
Franke also said that she would urge those assessing such situation to look not only at the e-mail. "Could the e-mail have been better written? Probably so. But perfection is not, and should not be, the standard," she said. What would she like to know? Her questions point at a key part of the dispute, since the person who filed the complaint about Howell answered them in one way and his defenders do so in another way. Franke would ask: "Did Professor Howell respect different points of view that his students might take? They would be obliged to learn the course material. Beyond that, did he allow them, even encourage them, to argue with his views?"
— Scott Jaschik

Comments on Teaching or Preaching?
• Free speech under attack in colleges and universities.
• Posted by Jim McGovern , Retired College Math Professor at George Brown College Toronto Ontario Canada on July 15, 2010 at 5:15am EDT
• Professor Howell was teaching a course on Catholic doctrine. A student, not in his class, doesn't like the Catholic Church's teaching on same sex marriage and gets the professor fired ... without any chance for the professor to defend himself. I would have to assume Catholic teaching on adultery and divorce would have the same result. Whatever happened to free speech and the idea that I might not like what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. The small minds at this university need to grow up and act as adults.
• I'm with Leiter
• Posted by JNC on July 15, 2010 at 5:30am EDT
• The best reason not to rehire Howell is that he's a horrendously weak thinker. His email message is filled with gross generalizations, leaps of logic, mischaracterizations, only slightly veiled ad hominem attacks on gays, egregiously homophobic slippery slope arguments that do not hold up to scrutiny (a dog consenting to sex?), and a clear misunderstanding of basic concepts (utilitarianism, nature, gender, sex). He labels gender roles natural (sex is natural, gender is learned). Similarly, he confuses what is traditional with what is natural. While he says he wants the students to respond based on research into homosexuality, he clearly is unfamiliar with the empirical research that exists on the subject, because it completely refutes what he says. He focuses on one weak argument for same-sex marriage (empathy with known gays), while ignoring all the strong arguments for it (plus the fact that animosity to gays is the main reason in opposing same-sex marriage). He shows an incredible lack of historical knowledge about sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. He should not be retained because his thinking is mush.
• students getting faculty fired
• Posted by sb , Prof/Economics at public liberal arts on July 15, 2010 at 7:45am EDT
• OK there are many reasons a faculty person, adjunct, tenure track, or even tenured might have their continued employment questioned, or in extreme cases terminated (excluding issues of financial constraints or change in program, etc. which may well justify termination/non-reemployment). Student complaints over being offended by a point of view is not one that should qualify beyond a "trigger" to investigate based on general student complaints in large numbers over a period of time (everyone has a bad day) and in different class or lab / studio settings. Peer review, observation, etc. must be part of any such decision. Differences of opinion are not sufficient to remove a person from the classroom. Personality conflicts that are well within the range of normal disagreement, civil discourse are not sufficient reasons - blunt as they can be in an academic setting. Students finding a topic, argument, issue too challenging for their emotional or intellectual comfort zone is not sufficient. Pushing student exposure to alternative perspectives is to be rewarded if it leads to broader and deeper understanding (not necessarily acceptance) of a topic, argument, issue, etc. On sensitive / difficult issues faculty should warn students of the nature of the issue, provide support for those who find it difficult, as they might in advanced organic chemistry, Social and philosophical issues that are known to be difficult and sensitive should be handled without faculty bias no matter the intellectual setting. Administrators who knee jerk over student comments, particularly administrators who only look (seek) negative student reactions upon which to base a decision are the ones that should find alternative venues. Student popularity, happiness, lack of intellectual stress, personality politics, muddled second or third hand information, differences in personal philosophy or opinion do not qualify as justification for such personnel decisions. Most of us reading this report do not have specific confirmed data upon which to register an informed opinion re the specific cases. Thus we have no basis to suggest the individuals did or did not create an effective appropriate learning experience in their classrooms and should or should not have been retained. (though Howell's e-mail is less than a stellar piece of work - it is only one observation seemingly edited and not the entire syllabus of the course) All of us who read the report should be concerned about the criteria and process leading to a dismissal, censure, or non-retention in an institution of higher learning.
• Posted by OhioTeach on July 15, 2010 at 7:45am EDT
• That he is adjunct faculty complicates the situation in ways additional to those outlined in the article: fulltime faculty undergo a rigorous process of scrutiny both before they are hired and routinely through their career arcs. Contingent faculty are often hired after a cursory glance at a letter and cv byt a chair desparate to staff sections and kept on primarily because of their willingess to teach at unpopular times. Many--most--adjunct faculty are terrific teachers and really know their stuff, or at least know how to separate personal views from course content. But some are not good teachers (evaluations are not useful in determining this) and do not know their stuff. Yes, the chair should have called him in and spoken with him about it. But it may be that this is only the most recent in a history of complaints about the instructor foisting his views on a powerless minority of students taking the course.
• Hearing Required
• Posted by Cary Nelson , president at AAUP on July 15, 2010 at 7:45am EDT
• As I pointed out in my conversation with IHE, when a faculty member claims that he or she has been fired or nonrenewed for reasons that violate academic freedom, he or she is entitled to a hearing before a committee of his or her peers. That right applies to all faculty, whether they are tenured or not, full-time or part-time.
• Students as customers
• Posted by Shoshana Keller , Professor of History at Hamilton College on July 15, 2010 at 8:45am EDT
• Another aspect of this case I find deeply disturbing is that the student who filed the complaint was not enrolled in the class. Why didn't that stop the process immediately? Is Illinois now treating students as consumers who must be kept happy at any cost? While I agree that Howell phrased his e-mail extremely poorly, and it would be legitimate to fire him for lousy reasoning, how is it than an anonymous, second-hand denunciation can cost an adjunct his job?
• Faith & Reason
• Posted by Thomas Lawrence Long , School of Nursing at University of Connecticut on July 15, 2010 at 9:45am EDT
• First, three disclaimers. I am a U Illinois alumnus (MA English, 1977) and a former Roman Catholic priest (MA Theology, Catholic University of America, 1981). I am also a gay man.
A secular public university can reasonably offer courses in religious traditions, including courses that study the traditions' moral discourses. Roman Catholicism has had and continues to have signficiant historical influence, much of it salutary (e.g. American Catholicism's support of organized labor). Students with a variety of philosophical or spiritual commitments (or not at all) may benefit from a scholarly exploration of this religious tradition.
However, Dr. Howell's email (oh, damn you, email, for what you have made us say!) raised for me several concerns. First, the introduction of the issue of sex with a minor (para. 7) in the context of a discussion of male homosexuality is a lighted match in a room full of gasoline cans. It is one of the oldest libels, and one currently being used in Uganda to urge passage of anti-gay legislation.
Second, Dr. Howell appears to have little or no knowledge of gay male relationships. He opines, "To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the 'woman' while the other acts as the 'man.'" Huh!?! I don't even know how to begin to respond to that bit of ignorance.
Third, Dr. Howell's sole medical source("a physician has told me that these [sexual] acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men") is similarly ignorant about the range of sexual behavior in gay relationships. In the age of AIDS it also constitutes another frequent slander. It also prompts one to wonder, though Howell doesn't seem to explore it, might lesbian sexual intimacies be permitted under the utilitarian critique since they do not present these supposed risks?
So the email is poorly written, sloppily thought, and poorly informed.
Maybe he can claim that it was all a joke: He was just trying to set up a weak straw argument that he wanted his students to respond to.
• Teachin or Preaching
• Posted by Kjenkins , Prof. on July 15, 2010 at 10:00am EDT
• To the idea that he should be fired because his teaching isn't up to par or his thinking is mushy. Well, I guess about 1/3 of all professors might fit that description at some time. Should they all be fired?
• I agree with JNC - 'Thinking is mush'
• Posted by E at BMCC-CUNY on July 15, 2010 at 10:00am EDT
• I would add that we should be careful as to assuming exactly why said individual was fired. The student brought the adjunct's e-mail to the attention of the administration and faculty. That doesn't mean that the reason they let him go was the same as what upset the student.
In addition to the adjunct's seriously flawed argumentation, I found the way he concluded his e-mail to his students somewhat disturbing. He seemed to suggest that the measure of the soundness of students' argumentation in response would be how closely their conclusions approximated his own. I'm a bit nervous about "scholars" who so readily declare the obvious logic of their own thinking, particularly when the argument in question is so obviously and heavily flawed!
• Posted by indep , English at pace University on July 15, 2010 at 11:15am EDT
• There has beena pattern of student complaints leading to immediate firings of adjunct faculty, or other immediate removals of classroom instructors without prior discussion with administrators (tenured biology instructor removed from her class in the middle of the semester due to high failure rate among the students).
In this era of students as customers paradigm, perhaps the major factor contributing to this trend may be administrators' fear of litigation, since it has become quite acceptable to sue for any minor form of dissatisfaction in our politically correct and easily offended society.
• The First Amendment issue
• Posted by Art Leonard , Professor of Law at NY Law School on July 15, 2010 at 11:45am EDT
• The Supreme Court's decision in Garcetti v. Cebalos casts some doubt on the degree of First Amendment protection that this professor might enjoy. In Garcetti, the Supreme Court said that public employees' speech in the context of performing their job is really government speech, and the government has a right to control it and to take action against employees whose speech is objectionable to the government in that context. Garcetti was a case involving a prosecuting attorney who made statements of which his boss disapproved, and incurred discipline. In "dicta" (non-binding comments because they related to an issue not before the Court), the Supreme Court's majority opinion suggested that its holding might not apply fully in the context of higher education where academic freedom concerns are significant.
Lower federal courts have been divided on this since Garcetti in cases involving discipline against public university teachers for classroom statements deemed unacceptable by academic administrators. These cases tend to involve adjunct faculty who find their contracts not renewed after students complain about their statements, usually statements related to sexuality. Some lower federal courts, citing the "dicta" in Garcetti, find First Amendment protection. Others, noting that the comment is just "dicta" and not part of the holding, apply Garcetti to deny First Amendment protection. In one recent case involving a librarian who claimed to have been constructively discharged due to adverse faculty reaction to his recommendation of a book with homophobic content for assignment to entering college students, the court found that grounds were insufficient to find constructive discharge, and on the First Amendment point noted that the plaintiff was not a professor, so it was doubtful that he could appeal to "academic freedom" concerns to qualify for any exception to the Garcetti rule. His statements were not made in the course of instructing students or producing scholarship, core First Amendment activities implicating the First Amendment if there is an academic freedom exception under Garcetti.
In this situation from Illinois, the email in question was sent to students in connection with their upcoming exam, and so would undoubtedly be seen as speech in the context of the instructional process, and so within the scope of traditional academic freedom concerns.
I think it's important for one of these cases to get to the Supreme Court so we can get some clarification about whether there is, in fact, an "academic freedom" exception to Garcetti, and, if so, how broad it is. On the merits of the situation at Illinois, as a gay academic who teaches sexuality law and finds the moralistic arguments made against gay rights to be quite offensive, I nonetheless feel that it was inappropriate for administrators to non-renew this instructor without first undertaking a careful inquiry into whether he had crossed some line from "teaching to preaching" and, if so, how serious the transgression was. It is certainly legitimate for a state university to offer a course about religious thought, and for instructors to describe religious doctrine as part of such a course. An interesting point to discuss is whether it is better or worse for instructors to reveal their personal views about controversial issues? Such transparency might be useful to students in deciding how to evaluate what their instructors say.
• Worse than Mush
• Posted by cts on July 15, 2010 at 12:15pm EDT
• There is much to be concerned about in this case. Nelson is certainly correct that the adjunct should have a hearing, and UofI is reviewing the non-rehiring.
But anyone who is trained in ethics - or philosophy in general - ought to be alarmed by the completely dreadful representation of utilitarianism and consent theories [ which are not the same ]. In other words, this man does not know the basics for teaching ethics. That his reasoning and modeling of reasoning are also appallingly poor seals the indictment.
Not rehired for being Catholic or explaining his own views as a Catholic? No. Not rehired because he is incompetent? Yes.
• This guy shouldn't have been fired
• Posted by H. E. Baber , Professor, Philosophy at University of San Diego on July 15, 2010 at 12:15pm EDT
• Jeez, how careful does one have to be? I don't see why I, teaching an ethics class or in some other academic context where hot-button issues are on the table cannot express my opinions and give arguments for them.
What I cannot do is assess student work on the basis of agreement with my views. That is what seems to me the real issue.
There's always discussion about whether we should come clean about our real views on the controversial issues we discuss. My view is that I do, and I advocate views that are controversial, e.g. I support affirmative action with hard quotas and the legalization of all recreational drugs. But I make the strongest case that I can for opposing views and students know--once they get back their graded papers--that I don't reward them for agreeing with me.
So what's the problem with "preaching"--so long as there are no adverse consequences for students in terms of their grades. If it could have been shown that this adjunct was rewarding or punishing students according to whether they agreed with his views, that's cause for a hearing and, IMHO dismissal. If he just shoots off his mouth about his views about homosexuality, so what?
• Selective Outrage
• Posted by mb on July 15, 2010 at 1:00pm EDT
• I see nothing in the email that Howell wrote that is any less academically rigorous or more offensive than much/most of what comes from women's studies and other feminist-leaning professors and lecturers when they discuss men and masculinity, so I think this is a case of selective outrage.
When I was an undergrad and grad student at several Tier 1 public universities, feminists in women's studies and other departments engaged in all manner of (to use the verbiage of JNC) "gross generalizations, leaps of logic, mischaracterizations, only slightly veiled ad hominem attacks" against men and traditional masculinity, thereby potentially offending the vast majority of men on campus. This occurred in classes as widespread as the aforementioned women's studies courses, psychology, english, music and even the biological sciences (in the context of "ecofeminism"). And the reasoning and logic of those professors and lecturers were every bit as mushy and inept as those in Howell's email. Yet not once was any action taken, nor do I think there should have been. And while I have serious questions regarding the utility of women's studies and other sorts of feminist proselytizing, I support their right to teach what they wish - if students wish to avail themselves to it, then that's their business.
And as others have already discussed, there is also the very serious and obvious problem associated with an anonymous student who is not even enrolled in the class making the complaint that got Howell fired.
The administrators at UI Champagne-Urbana should be ashamed of themselves.
• Sometimes simplicity is the best course
• Posted by Michael on July 15, 2010 at 1:45pm EDT
• To my mind, the most cogent argument is Brian Leiter's: the quality of Howell's reasoning and argumentation is incompetent--at best. In addition, it is also bullying. He anticipates his students' reaction to his views and attempts to silence it in advance, implying that unless one has done "extensive research" on homosexuality and is cognizant of the history of moral thought--neither of which Howell appears to be or have done--one is not ready to make judgments. This is sophomoric at best; and the added comment on the harmfulness of anal intercourse is not only stupid (ONE physician told me--come on!) but insulting and, yes, hateful. How can one be so insensitive to the lived experience of some of one's students? How could a gay student not experience this as hate speech?
I do understand that there are serious issues of due process, the rights of contingent faculty, free speech, etc.; but I also know that the ability to give credence to all these points of view can be paralyzing. I also know that the function of freedom of speech these days seems to be simply to justify everyone's obligation to put up with speech that is ultimately intolerable and socially harmful--and that obligation is inconsistently applied. Though I disagree with much of what Ward Churchill said, there's no question that he suffered punishment for his speech; but who punishes Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and the others? Who punishes Fred Phelps? (Why would any thinking society even characterize what he preaches as religion?)
Yes, there are complicated issues here, but Howell is obviously not the guy anyone wants teaching is a public university, especially if you're gay. Why not just take the easy and simple way out? UI has no legal obligation to renew his contract.
By the way, I attended a Catholic college and have worked for several Catholic colleges. I can't imagine that anyone at those institutions would want this guy either.
• much ado about email
• Posted by bradley bleck , English instructor at Spokane Falls CC on July 15, 2010 at 1:45pm EDT
• I don't know how much weight we should give to the "sloppy" thinking of the email. I'm not a philosopher but I write enough email to know that we can't hold it to the same formal standards we might an article submitted for review and publication. Must every email offering an example or explanation be so perfect as to not get us fired? I'm sure we could all dredge up an email or two from our past, from communications with students where we seek to explain something and shoot something off, that would paint us in a bad light. To uphold that is the primary indicator of our thinking ability, well, we're all in deep doo if that's the case. To fire someone for it, that too would be a gross over-generalization with regard to one's intellectual powers and teaching ability.
• Faith, Reason and Retention
• Posted by Anthony Husemann , Director of Graduate Studies at International College of the Cayman Islands on July 15, 2010 at 2:00pm EDT
• I have to say, the post from "Faith and reason" is well put. Deliberately picking a topic for discussion like beastiality, and tying the so-called debate on utilitarianism and homosexuality to it IS like tossing a match into a room full of gasoline. Even here in Cayman, where being gay isn't "legal", we strongly discourage faculty from preaching their personal views in the guise of debate.
But, in terms of retention, there is an issue. Professors at some State colleges virtually "preach" an anti-religion course, even if they are professors of Art History. Being gay is not only a right, it is more right than being straight, and no-one is allowed to get them fired for saying so. Even if students find it offensive. So what? Grow up. Deal with it. That seems to be how it is viewed.
However, today, even imply anti-gay sentiment and you get blasted. While it is absurd to attack gays, maybe just plain stupid, if you will, just as an attack on blacks or Native Americans would be, why does it carry more weight than an attack on say Christians or Jews? ANTI-religious views get a free pass in American public universities, but not the other way around. The protection of religious veiws and practices, for all the arguments to the contrary is, in fact enshrined in the Constitution, and especially when the course itslef is on one. But, why not pick a more neutral topic of debate for this discussion on utilitarian views of morality? Would've been more utilitarian to do so, I think.
In other words, yes, some things are just "dumb" and wrong to do. But, where do we academics draw the line on terminations for the same? Students can, and will, always complain. So, discipline or at least warn someone, then document failure to comply, then, if you must, terminate. That's just good HR practice. But the failure to retain a faculty member who did something academically reprehensible has wide, even wild, implications for the future of academe in America.
• Selective outrage?
• Posted by Penn on July 15, 2010 at 2:00pm EDT
• To mb:
Nothing was ever done to attack women's studies or gender studies? It is a favorite sport of the right. It's regular fodder for right wing radio and television. Plenty of left-wing professors have been booted from their colleges or denied tenure because their views did not correspond with right-wing political correctness, with ample media attention.
More to the point, Howell is teaching theology, which likes to think of itself as a branch of philosophy. If he cannot model proper philosophical argumentation and critical thinking skills, it is indeed cause for concern.
• bad test case
• Posted by Jersey , Professor on July 15, 2010 at 2:30pm EDT
• If there are organizations thinking that Howell's case presents the perfect test case for academic freedom for contingent faculty, they would be wise to rethink their approach. Just as in Civil Rights struggle, you have to pick your cases carefully. Academic Freedom for contingent faculty is an important cause--too important to be jeopardized by such a bad test case. That won't stop the right from making much ado here, but it should make those actually interested in a valid challenge to Garcetti stop and think whether support, legal or otherwise, for this incompetent instructor will weaken the case for genuine and necessary academic freedom in the long run.
• Posted by mb on July 15, 2010 at 2:45pm EDT
• @Penn: Got any verifiable examples for your statement "Plenty of left-wing professors have been booted from their colleges or denied tenure because their views did not correspond with right-wing political correctness, with ample media attention"? Except for perhaps Ward Churchill (who had a lot of other problems beside his political views) I've never encountered it.
As for right wing radio, etc., that's a Red Herring. Who cares what those people say? For that matter, who cares what the folks on MSNBC, Air America, etc., say? Certainly not college or university administrators, at least any who are worth their salt. I would think that basing such decisions on the opinions of Beck, et al., would be cause for termination of said administrator.
• Note hate speech
• Posted by Assistant Professor on July 15, 2010 at 3:00pm EDT
• "How can one be so insensitive to the lived experience of some of one's students? How could a gay student not experience this as hate speech?"
This is a good example of why this issue is concerning. The above statement implies that any statement a professor makes that "is insensitive to the lived experience of some of one's students" qualifies as hate speech. Is that really the case? Is that really the standard we should be appealing to here? I teach classes in philosophy, in the course of which I have students who are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Republican, Democrat, atheist, male, female, etc. In a class that is treating controversial topics like an ethics course one would expect that some students will find themselves uncomfortable on certain topics. Are we to stop discussing controversial issues that do not fit with a particular student's (or society's) views about what is morally right whenever someone is offended? The above comment suggests that anytime a professor says something "insensitive" to a student they should be disciplined, or worse. I think it is wrong to describe the issue in these terms. I think the professor's claims in this case about homosexuality are indeed mistaken, but that is a separate issue from whether professors should be permitted to express a wide variety of views in the classroom.
• Reason, not outrage.
• Posted by Jeffrey Hall on July 15, 2010 at 4:00pm EDT
• Penn: " Plenty of left-wing professors have been booted from their colleges or denied tenure because their views did not correspond with right-wing political correctness, with ample media attention"
If there were "plenty" you'd have named them. In fact, can you name a single instance of anyone on the left who was fired for a single informal email answering student questions before an exam, when the complaint wasn't even brought by a student?
Censorship is not the preserve of the left or the right. But even a small sample of the cases at will confirm that it is overwhelmingly left-on-right censorship that threatens public discourse today. Academic freedom benefits everyone, and fighting this sort of petty intolerance makes all real scholars more free.
You must not be very sure of your ideas if a single dissenting adjunct at Urbana must be silenced for you to feel safe.
• Possible Double Standard?
• Posted by Econmike , Assoc. Prof on July 15, 2010 at 4:15pm EDT
• Does anyone on this discussion board believe for one minute that the university’s reaction would have been the same were this a course on the religious precepts of Islam? Genital mutilation, stoning of adulterers, hanging of homosexuals, honor killings by brothers and fathers of women who were raped, women not equal to men in a court of law… Would teaching of any of these lead to the dismissal of the instructor on the grounds of hate speech? Or would it result in the university assuring all that we must welcoming of all views, even those with which we disagree?
• Posted by Penn on July 15, 2010 at 4:15pm EDT

@mb In the case of Howell, we have a concrete, documented example of his faulty reasoning and argumentation. You respond with a vague anecdotal reference citing no specifics to verify that what you're saying happened actually happened. It seems odd that you would demand concrete evidence of someone else.

You claim that feminist professors made ad hominem attacks, etc. against men. I seriously have my doubts. That you do not think gender studies a legitimate discipline and that you not realize that gender studies and ethnic studies are among the most attacked fields in academia leads me to believe there's not a lot of objectivity in your view. If there were evidence to examine, I could be more certain, but my hunch is this is much ado about nothing on your part.
But here's a list to get you started on the purge of the left in academia: Ward Churchill, Norman Finkelstein, Assaf Oron, Clare Dalton, David Trubek...
• Posted by Penn on July 15, 2010 at 4:45pm EDT
• @Jeffrey Hall I did provide several names in response to mb's request. My mention of the left-wing professors denied tenure was not about the Howell incident. It was about mb's clearly erroneous contention that this is selective outrage on the part of the left and that left-wing faculty are allowed to express their opinions without incident. mb provided no evidence that his gender studies professors were actually doing the things he said they were doing, but I am guessing you don't have a problem with that. I did not censor anybody. All I said was that Howell has remarkably poor reasoning and argumentative skills for someone proclaiming to be teaching philosophy.
• Posted by mb on July 15, 2010 at 5:00pm EDT
• @Penn: You said: "You respond with a vague anecdotal reference citing no specifics to verify that what you're saying happened actually happened. It seems odd that you would demand concrete evidence of someone else." Strawman. I spoke to your assertion of discrimination against left-wing professors vis-a-vis providing evidence; I did not challenge Howell's lack of rigor in his writing. Indeed, I agreed that Howell's writing lacks logic and reasoning in the same way that feminist writings with respect to so-called "ecofeminism" are lacking in logic and reason.
You also said: "You claim that feminist professors made ad hominem attacks, etc. against men. I seriously have my doubts." Well you may have your doubts, but on my campus and elsewhere in the context of "Take Back the Night" events feminists have posted pictures of male students with the caption "Potential Rapist." That may not qualify as an ad hominem to you, but in my book it does.
Finally, your list is interesting, but as Jeffrey Hall points out the vast majority of documented cases are left-on-right censorship.
• Posted by Penn on July 15, 2010 at 7:00pm EDT
• @mb You claim (with no specifics, no names, no evidence, no documentation) that you had an anecdotal experience that no one else can verify, and I'm supposed to take you on your word. Never mind that your statements directly echo right-wing caricatures of academia, rather than what actually happens in academia. Well, I guess if you and Jeffrey say that there are all these documented cases of persecuted right-wing professors, it must be true. No evidence necessary. Don't bother actually producing these documents. The right-wing claims about academia being a bastion of "liberalism" are about as accurate as the claims that the mainstream media is "liberal." Condoleeza Rice was an academic. Real liberal there. Palin and Coulter get to speak on college campuses across the country, but heaven forbid Bill Ayers should be afforded that privilege.
PS: A photo of a generic male with the caption "potential rapist" is not an ad hominem attack. It is the case that sexual assault is one of the most prevalent crimes on college campuses. You're talking about a poster warning female college students that they should be careful. That does not mean all men are rapists.
• Posted by Penn on July 15, 2010 at 7:30pm EDT
• I forgot to mention in my previous post (assuming it gets published) that Take Back the Night is a student-run activity, hence your argument about it being faculty practicing hate speech is moot.
• A Disturbing Story
• Posted by Jonathan Cohen , Mathematics at DePaul University on July 15, 2010 at 7:30pm EDT
• This story is very disturbing. The University of Illinois has dismissed someone from teaching a course on Catholicism for explaining the Catholic Church's position on sexuality. That is like banning a calculus teacher from discussing derivatives and integrals. The Catholic Church believes that sexual activity is for the purpose of procreation. A lot of people may find the Church's view problematic but they need to take it up with the Church and not with someone who is explaining Catholicism. It seems to me that a serious classroom discussion of Catholicism might very well involve debate about the church view of masturbation, pre-marital sex, birth control, the celibacy of priests as well as its view of homosexuality. And it seems to me that students who differ from the Church on their teaching in these matters should be allowed and even encouraged to express such differences. But to dismiss someone for being a Catholic and attempting to explain the Church's position in a class on Catholicism is not only an injustice to the individual faculty member but calls into question the University of Illinois' claim to be an educational institution.
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