University of Illinois Inclusivity Standards Exclude Catholics

7/12/2010 7:00:00 AM
By Laurie Higgins, Director of IFI’s DSA –Illinois Family Institute

Examples of hypocrisy and viewpoint and religious discrimination are tumbling out of academia faster than I can keep track of. The latest is from the problem-ridden University of Illinois (U of I), or as I have come to think of it, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight (no pun intended).

U of I has fired adjunct professor, Dr. Kenneth Howell, who has taught for nine years in the Department of Religion. Most recently, he taught “Introduction to Catholicism” and “Modern Catholic Thought.” From all reports, it appears that Dr. Howell was fired essentially for being Catholic.

According to the News-Gazette, “One of his lectures in the introductory class on Catholicism focuses on the application of natural law theory to a social issue.” To help his students prepare for an exam, Dr. Howell, who is open with his students that he is Catholic, sent a lengthy email explaining what the Catholic doctrine of natural law would say about homosexual acts, including the following:
NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act….Natural Moral Theory says that if we are to have healthy sexual lives, we must return to a connection between procreation and sex. Why? Because that is what is REAL. It is based on human sexual anatomy and physiology. Human sexuality is inherently unitive and procreative. If we encourage sexual relations that violate this basic meaning, we will end up denying something essential about our humanity, about our feminine and masculine nature.
Subsequently, a friend of a student in Dr. Howell’s class sent an email to the department chair, Robert McKim, accusing Dr. Howell of engaging in “‘hate speech,'” saying that “‘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.'” This email resulted in Dr. Howell’s firing.

I have two questions for this student:
1. How would teaching Catholic (or Orthodox Jewish, or Muslim, or orthodox Protestant) beliefs on homosexuality undermine public discourse, inhibit independent thought, or ostracize those who self-identify as homosexual?
2. And how in his view could a professor teach these theological beliefs without undermining public discourse, inhibiting independent thought, or ostracizing homosexuals?
Let’s imagine that the Department of Religion has a faculty member who teaches a course on the doctrines of Islam, which hold that homosexuality is a sin; and let’s imagine further that he has the good fortune of having a book published on some aspect of Islam and on this book jacket, the professor is identified as a Muslim. As a result, his students would know that he likely believes that homosexuality is a sin. Would this professor be fired? And would such a firing constitute religious discrimination, which one would think would be prohibited by school anti-discrimination policy?

One tool in the cliche “toolbox” of activist ideologues currently ensconced in our ivory towers is to unilaterally change the definition of words and then enforce those unilateral redefinitions on society — redefinitions that conveniently disadvantage their philosophical opponents. So, redefine “hatred” to mean “moral beliefs with which I disagree” and then charge those who hold them with hatred. Voilà, sexual traditionalists become haters. So simple, so simplistic, so irrational — and yet so effective.

According to Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, “‘the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us.'” (In plain English, Mester’s tortured, obfuscatory rhetoric, “entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement,” means they can fire him.) Apparently these standards of “inclusivity” strictly exclude anyone who believes homosexual practice is immoral. One wonders if Dr. Howell would have been permitted to teach the Catholic views on homosexuality as long as he didn’t actually hold those views himself.

If professor A were to express her belief that adult consensual incest is immoral, would she be fired because her belief constitutes hatred of those involved in incest and therefore violate the university’s Orwellian policy of inclusivity?

If professor B were to express his belief that polyamory is immoral, would he be fired because his belief constitutes — in the university’s omniscient, omnipotent mind — hatred of polyamorists and therefore violates its standards of inclusivity?

Have U of I’s standards of “inclusivity” become the de facto arbiter of morality for the entire faculty, determining which moral beliefs about behaviors are acceptable and which are not? It might behoove the university to spell out which beliefs are included under their policy of inclusivity — and which are excluded — because some employees might foolishly assume that the university’s standards of inclusivity would include Catholics.

And how are these standards — standards that evidently require the firing of anyone who believes homosexual acts are immoral — reconciled with commitments to intellectual inquiry, critical thinking, and diversity? As conservatives are well aware, when it comes to the contentious topic of homosexuality and Gender Identity Disorder, many “educational” institutions have become academic gulags, freely engaging in censorship and routinely violating their own commitments to intellectual inquiry, diversity, inclusivity, and tolerance.

In attempting to rationalize the teaching of obscene or thematically controversial resources, I have heard “educators” sanctimoniously declare that teachers must “challenge biases and assumptions” and that they must teach texts that address controversial issues in order to prepare students for the real world. Curiously, they never seem to feel obliged to present resources that challenge liberal biases and assumptions on homosexuality. And they never feel obliged to present resources that espouse conservative views on the controversies swirling around homosexuality in order to prepare students for the real world.

Ah, but these enemies of exclusion have a rationalization for their own hypocrisy. They redefine yet another term: safety. “Safety” conventionally understood by ordinary people and defined by dictionaries means “freedom from danger, risk or injury.” But to activist ideologues it means freedom from emotional discomfort. Using this freshly minted term, these “educators” argue that students who identify as homosexual “feel bad” when they encounter resources that express moral disapproval of homosexual acts, and if they feel bad, they’re unsafe.

The problem is that these “educators” couldn’t care less about the uncomfortable feelings of Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, or secular conservatives who are regularly exposed to resources that identify their deeply held moral convictions about homosexual practice as homophobic, hateful, and intolerant.

Moreover, in a society — and especially an academic institution — that truly values diversity, intellectual inquiry, the exchange of ideas, debate and dialogue, and the First Amendment, we will encounter ideas that make us feel uncomfortable. The only way to ensure that no student feels bad is to engage in censorship of all resources that discuss contentious issues.

Here is an excerpt from U of I’s diversity commitment statement:
As a member of the University of Illinois community, I commit to supporting Inclusive Illinois.
I will encourage the expression of different voices, perspectives, and ideas.
I will challenge my own beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints.
How will the firing of Dr. Howell encourage the expression of different voices, perspectives, and ideas?

And how does his firing for teaching Catholic doctrine in a class about Catholic doctrine square with the university’s purported desire to encourage students to challenge their own beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints?

Whoever is responsible for creating these misbegotten “standards of inclusivity” or implementing them in such a misguided way as to exclude anyone whose moral views on homosexuality differ from the zeitgeist of the academy is guilty of the very crime with which conservatives are relentlessly charged. They are guilty of imposing their unproven, non-factual, faith-based moral assumptions on others.

The beliefs that homosexuality is morally equivalent to heterosexuality and that disapproval of homosexual acts inherently constitutes hatred of persons are neither objective facts, nor true. It is deeply troubling that this kind of provincialism and hypocrisy are allowed to persist at a public university subsidized by the taxes of diverse Illinoisans with diverse moral beliefs.

Take ACTION: Click HERE to express your opposition to the firing of Dr. Howell to U of I President, Michael J. Hogan, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ruth V. Watkins, Department of Religion Head, Robert McKim.

Then take a moment to express your support for Dr. Howell directly by emailing him HERE.

Read more:

Ill. prof. fired for teaching about Catholic beliefs in class on Catholicism (Alliance Defense Fund)

The E-Mail that Got Dr. Kenneth Howell Fired at U. of Illinois (Americans for Truth)

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