Friday, July 30, 2010

Kenneth Howell Update

According to this article in IHE (H/T Leiter), Kenneth Howell has been rehired for the Fall semester, but with no assurance that he will continue after that. Also, the bizzaro arrangement whereby the Catholic Newman Center nominates and pays for the adjunct who teaches Intro to Catholicism has been dissolved. All future Intro Catholicism instructors will be hired by the department in the usual way and paid by the University in the usual way.

I am mostly satisfied with this outcome. As I said before, I do not think the email was hate speech, and I don't think Howell should have been fired over it. I was also very suspicious of the arrangement between UIUC (or is it UICU?) and the Newman Center, and am glad to see it dissolved. And if the email is representative of Howell's teaching, this gives the department a chance to hire a competent instructor for the Spring.

However, Howell's lawyers make it sound like they're pretty convinced that Howell was a victim of anti-Catholic bigotry, and are ready to sue of his contract isn't renewed for 2011. So if they're going to fire him again, they should probably try to do so in a way that sends a clear signal that that's not what's happening. One way would be to make a clear case for some other cause. Another would be to just hire a different Catholic. But if it is bigotry (which I doubt--what are the odds that a Religious Studies department is full of anti-Catholic bigots?), they really should just keep rehiring him, and also they should fuck off.

--Mr. Zero

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Minor point--it is "UIUC" not "UICU"---though I bet most people there would say it is just "UI"...

Anonymous said...

It is good as you say that "the bizzaro arrangement whereby the Catholic Newman Center nominates and pays for the adjunct who teaches Intro to Catholicism has been dissolved" but unsettling that the person hired by the Catholic Church under this dissolved relationship remain in place as the teacher of the class.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 12:38, but suspect that Illinois is just trying to spare itself a lawsuit for the time being.

I think the administration and the department could make a good move by allowing Howell to teach in the Spring 2011 semester, and at the same time creating a tenure-stream appointment within religious studies in "Catholic Studies" for Fall 2011, do a national search (include Kenneth Howell), and then hire some freshly-minted Ph.D. who has been trained in one of the reputable Catholic Studies programs, or just some young Ph.D. from a religious studies program who has specialized in some aspect of Roman Catholicism.

This would give them the chance to ditch an obvious zealot while at the same time parry any charge of anti-Catholic bias. After all, they can rightly argue, the religious studies department has a right to uphold the standards and accepted methodologies of religious studies as established over the past century since Otto, Durkheim, et al. got the discipline going.

So you hire an expert on Catholicism just as you would hire an expert on Islam, or Hinduism, or Protestant Christianity. A real religious studies prof., not someone who has two Ph.D.s, one in Linguistics and one in 'History of Christianity and Science' -- whatever that is.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, his email was full of whargaarbl. He seems not to know what utilitarianism is. Shouldn't he be fired for cause? If he can't teach his course material accurately, he should not be asked to return.

Why isn't his general incompetence an issue here?

Anonymous said...

Kenneth Howell is small potatoes, now Ward Churchill is the real thing...he lost tenure for doing it his way!

Anonymous said...

Are you joking when you ask what are the odds that a religious studies department is full of anti-Catholic bigots? Because if you aren't, I think that you have very, very little experience with religious studies departments.

Anonymous said...

Howell's email shows definite signs of anti-utilitarian bias. This bigotry against utilitarianism must be stopped.

Anonymous said...

I too am mostly satisfied with this outcome. If he is incompetent to teach the course, this can be determined by the religious studies department, and they can then go with someone else. What matters to me is that the academic freedom issues here seem to have been sorted out in the right way (from my limited perspective of what happened).

Anonymous said...

Wait, 1:01, I can't really get a sense of your comment. Is it supposed to imply that religion depts are or are not full or anti-Catholic bigots?

I don't think it was a joke, but I think the context was clear that it was a rhetorical question to state that he thought it was really unlikely that the dept was full of anti-Catholic bigots.

In your view, what's the likely relationship between Religion Depts and anti-Catholic bigots? I'm confused.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Anon 1:01's point was this: many religious studies departments are full of Protestants of various stripes, some of them evangelicals. Many Protestants (and many, many evangelicals) are, in fact, anti-Catholic bigots.
So yeah, it's perfectly likely that some religious studies departments will be full of anti-Catholic bigots.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, religious studies departments are full of people who are pretty anti-religious -- not what you'd necessarily expect until you met a bunch of them, right? Like imagine if a bunch of your standard pomo English profs. just happened to teach about religion instead. I'm pretty sure this is what 1:01 meant.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:34: some philosophy departments have people in them who are anti-philosophy too!

Anonymous said...

I think religious studies departments vary, depending on where they are, local traditions (perhaps some very powerful chair is there 20 years and takes it in one direction), and other factors. Obviously the religious studies department at Wesleyan (the evangelical Wesleyan) is going to look a lot different than the religious studies department at a state university.

But the general traditions of religious studies departments are derived from their roots as an offshoot of sociology, right? First you have Weber, and Emile Durkheim amongst the Germans (following Rudolf Otto perhaps), and then, on the American side, I guess you could see William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" as a foundational document. So the orientation is, generally speaking, humanistic, and secular-ish (in a Harvard or Yale sort of way), not really a haven for true believers.

Traditionally, in this country, at least early on, religious studies types tended to be, culturally speaking, UU or Presbyterian or otherwise in the liberal Protestant mainstream (as was, let's face it, most of the professoriate). And yes, that type might be inclined to look down his nose at both Evangelicals and Catholics, although that snobbery could just as well have its roots in class as in religion.

Nowadays my impression is that religious studies departments are more diverse, incorporating Hindu studies, Islamic studies, etc. But the preference (in most places) is still for the scholar over the true believer -- I think that much is clear. I think almost anywhere you go, if a religious studies prof. were perceived as trying to evangelize through his courses, for whatever religion, this would be looked down upon as a violation of professional ethics.

And it's clear to me at least that, whatever Howell might say, this is what he is trying to do, however ineptly. Hence the distaste of his colleagues.