Phi Beta Cons

An Update on Professor Howell

After receiving ADF’s letter and a deluge of e-mails from concerned citizens, the University of Illinois has asked the Urbana-Champagne’s Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to review the termination of Prof. Kenneth Howell. But is the university prejudging his case?  Read some of these quotes:

“We want to be able to reassure ourselves there was no infringement on academic freedom here,” UI President Michael Hogan told faculty senators on Monday.

Don’t you mean that you want to discover the facts, President Hogan? Or do you really mean that you just want to reassure yourselves that you did the right thing?

Prof. Jeff Dawson, outgoing chair of the committee, said he would meet Tuesday with Prof. Matt Finkin, who will take over the chairmanship on Aug. 16, to discuss a timetable. Finkin said the case would be placed on the agenda for the committee’s next meeting, but he’s not sure yet when that will be, given that many faculty are out of town.

Finkin said Easter’s Aug. 23 deadline is “a fast track, but not impossible.”

So, you can fire a man without due process in a day, but it’s going to take weeks to determine if that snap decision — a decision that the news story reports could cost him dearly — was correct?  

“My understanding is that there have been longstanding questions about this relationship,” said Professor Nicholas Burbules, professor of educational policy studies and a member of the Senate Council.

Burbules, who was a religious studies major at Grinnell College in Iowa, said “a religious studies program is not a seminary. There’s a difference between teaching about religion and teaching religion.”

He said the case isn’t “just about one e-mail or the issue of homosexuality.”

“My understanding is this line has been crossed a long time ago, and repeatedly. This email was kind of a last straw,” Burbules said.

Now this is a nice piece of subtle slander. Reporting that the “line has been crossed a long time ago, and repeatedly,” yet providing zero details? Such a statement virtually screams bias. It’s designed to harm Professor Howell in the court of public opinion without having to come forward with any evidence. The university, however, is going to have a hard time running from the actual record in this matter, and the record demonstrates that offended students trump academic freedom, due process is discarded at will, and that even professors who’ve been recognized by the university for excellence in 2009, 2008, 2007,  2006, 2004, and 2003 can lose their jobs in the blink of an eye — if their speech make the wrong people angry.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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