Saturday, July 31, 2010

A victory for academic freedom

The University of Illinois reinstated Dr Kenneth Howell who was fired by the university for teaching the Roman Catholic Church's doctrinal position on homosexuality. Dr Howell taught a course on Catholicism.

EWTN news has this to say

'In a class on Catholicism last spring, he followed up a classroom discussion with an e-mail contrasting the ways in which utilitarianism and natural law theory would each determine the morality of homosexual conduct.

A student complained that Howell's words were “hate speech” in an e-mail to the head of the department, Dr. Robert McKim. Howell was called into McKim's office at the end of the semester and told that he would no longer be allowed to teach for the university because his e-mail had “violate[d] university standards of inclusivity.”

In Howell's defense, the ADF declared that the First Amendment exists to keep controversial ideas from being suppressed. “A university cannot censor professors’ speech--including classroom speech related to the topic of the class--merely because certain ideas ‘offend’ an anonymous student,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French."

My take on this: Is it hateful to teach in a class let's say on the Holocaust, the Nazi doctrine on racial purity? A professor in teaching the truth about the Holocaust will have to quote the horrendous words of Herr Doktor Joseph Goebbles. Not to do so would be a great disservice to truth.

No Jewish or any other thinking student I believe will be stupid enough to see that the professor is fomenting hatred. I cannot say that for the student who complained about "hate speech".

Academic freedom that naturally follows the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech but goes beyond that by protecting professors and students rights about what can be taught. But the freedom of speech guarantees can protect people like Joseph Goebbles. Academic freedom is in service of the truth and not lies. Universities are places where the truth is searched. Academic freedom is a guarantee that the university will be a place for inquiring about the truth.

Surely academic freedom has it limits. It cannot be invoked if the professor is espousing views unrelated to the course. A professor cannot espouse an ideology in a class let us say in linear algebra.

But this case hardly applies in Dr Howell's course on Catholicism where a fact of Catholic doctrine was taught.

No comments: