A Victory for Academic Freedom at the University of Illinois

by David French

Yesterday afternoon, the University of Illinois reinstated Prof. Kenneth Howell and made clear that he could teach the same class, Introduction to Catholicism, that he taught before he was fired. NRO readers will recall that the university fired Professor Howell after he taught his class about Catholic beliefs regarding sexual morality. An offended student (who was not even in the class) sent an e-mail complaint, and in very short order — without any due process — the University fired Professor Howell for allegedly violating university standards of “inclusivity.”  

This exclusion in the name of inclusion ignited a firestorm of protest. Within weeks, a “Save Dr. Ken” Facebook page and group had together accumulated more than 9,000 fans, FIRE weighed in, the AAUP expressed concern, and at the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, we stepped in to represent him — and reminded the University of his fundamental First Amendment rights. Yesterday, these efforts paid off.

Professor Howell’s victory, while encouraging, is not complete. In its letter, the University notes that the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure will “continue its review of the situation.” As a result, ADF will continue to represent Dr. Howell to make sure that his academic freedom is protected now and in the future.

Finally, there has also been much discussion about the university’s relationship with the Saint John’s Catholic Newman Center (the Newman Center paid Dr. Howell’s salary). As I’ve said before, this case has always been about Professor Howell’s academic freedom. The relationship between the university and the Newman Center is a matter best left to those two parties (and I understand that this relationship is changing). As for Professor Howell, his academic freedom has been restored. It’s a shame, however, that it took a grassroots student uprising, legal representation, and an avalanche of media attention to make it happen.

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