45 responses

  1. tim
    July 12, 2010

    If we fired every professor that incorporated his personal beliefs into his class – universities would be devoid of teachers. Did this cross a line? I have a hard time with this one. My main issue was not the idiotic screed on male homosexuality (I’ve heard worse on campus) – it was when he basically told his students they were idiots.

    Catholics don’t arrive at their moral conclusions based on their religion. They do so based on a thorough understanding of natural reality.

    That would be news to every practicing Catholic I know and completely inconsistent with my upbringing within the Church. Its the Church’s inability to understand natural reality and to substitute its own dogma that originally caused me to leave it.

  2. Darren
    July 12, 2010

    Is this guy an idiot? Yes! Is he misinformed? Yes! Does the prefix “Dr.” before his name seem like a woeful misnomer? Absolutely! But should he be fired? I think not!

    I fear living in a world where in institutions of academia, we can’t be free to say controversial things. Unlike this fine “Dr.”, I have faith that these young people – once they hear both sides of the story – are intelligent enough to decide for themselves what they think the truth is.

    The better way to have handled this: publicly denounce this guy’s words, offer counter arguments, dispel the silly myths, hold a panel discussion w/ opposing views. . . do just about ANYTHING but try to brush him under the rug and pretend like there aren’t people like this in our country, our states, our cities, our neighborhoods – and yes, even our colleges and universities! Ignorance is best fought in the open, in the exchange of ideas – not in trying to silence or penalize others for holding views we don’t like or agree with.

    Who exactly did this guy hurt? If no one, then why was he fired?

  3. David
    July 12, 2010

    If I were the university and given the option of not retaining him (since he was an adjunct professor) after reading that email as an example of his scholarship…I’d discontinue his position (or fire him as it seems to be conflated with). There is no dearth of talent out there.

    It’s one thing to have professors with different views and perspectives, but if they can’t reason their way out of a paper bag, there are plenty of other doctorate-level, intelligent people who are probably eager at the chance to have such a position…ones who could portray utilitarianism as more than a straw man objection and pick a topic where they have more than anecdotal evidence as the basis for their instruction.

  4. Stephen
    July 12, 2010

    Reminds me of the nasty minded aunties at the throckmorton site.

  5. a. mcewen
    July 12, 2010

    I still say based on the student complaint, the portion of the professor’s letter that got him in trouble was when he began claiming how gay sex is dangerous to the body. To me that crossed the line in terms of what he was supposed to teach. I fail to see how that Paul Cameronesque idea of gay sex has anything to do with religious beliefs.

    While I think the university may have gone overboard by his firing (a reprimand could have done the trick), it was the choice of the university to take that route and I can respect that.

  6. Rebecca
    July 12, 2010

    To people saying that professors say controversial sh!t all the time and don’t get fired, I would venture to suggest that professors who explicitly say that their students are morally equivalent to rapists should not be teaching, because they are clearly not going to teach and grade those students fairly.

  7. Rebecca
    July 12, 2010

    ^ just as that professor who called his Muslim students “murderers” got fired – or should have? I don’t remember, but I hope so.

  8. David
    July 12, 2010

    He should be fired, but because he is incompetent and has committed academic fraud (his arguments regarding reality, complementarity, health and sexuality.

  9. Jonathan Oz
    July 12, 2010

    The question of academic freedom is not to be taken lightly. I think his arguments, as silly as they sound to readers of the Box Turtle Bulletin, probably are close to those that carry the day in the halls of the Vatican.

    I think the solution ought not to have been to fire the twit, but to expand the discussion. A theologian with a contrary perspective should have been brought in to debate, or at least present, a contrary perspective in a lecture during the course. That way, we do not silence the idiot we merely hold his arguments up to the full light of human reason where I am confident they will whither and die a much deserved death.

    The process of academic discussion and argument, more honored in its breach than in its practice, has a way of working these things out.

  10. Burr
    July 12, 2010

    Maybe it’s because I read this blog too much but I don’t see anything horrifyingly atrocious compared to the bile spewed by the usual suspects. Seems like it just expands upon Catholic reasoning. All stuff I’ve heard before and within the bounds of what he’s supposed to be teaching, and not outright hate speech.

    The only thing I don’t like is where he asserts students are not qualified to think for themselves (hence the preaching accusation makes sense). That might deserve some discipline, but I don’t know about firing. Shouldn’t just be handing out free ammunition like that. Was it really that big of a deal? I would think if you signed up for this course you had to have known what you might be getting into.

  11. Erin
    July 12, 2010

    When you stop teaching the facts of what Catholics’ beliefs are and start teaching those beliefs as facts (make any sense? I’m tired…) then you’ve entered territory that can get you fired. The little disclaimer about it not being a solely Catholic belief doesn’t matter.

    He went outside the curriculum and used his position to impress his personal beliefs, instead of sticking to the curriculum. Saying Catholics believe that is fine, saying everyone should believe it is not.

  12. Erin
    July 12, 2010

    These suggestions for dialogue and debate are admirable, but understand that they take extra time out of his schedule and that of anyone else who was going to debate him. He had to have had a few LGBT students. If I were in his class, I would refuse to continue going, and I would strongly demand the school credit my tuition for those credits and not penalize my academically. Any time someone compares being gay to being a pedophile or a dog- #$%&er, I take it personally. They are speaking about all homosexuals. No way I would attend class with someone who would insult me that badly.

  13. justsearching
    July 12, 2010

    I don’t think he should have been fired. And I hate the fact that he is going to be elevated to the status of a martyr. Undoubtedly, it will be said that the whole homosexual community was uniformly foaming at the mouth, begging for his beheading.

  14. Eric in Oakland
    July 13, 2010

    Just substitute some other minority for gay. If he had been teaching similar things about black people or Jews is there the slightest doubt about whether he would have kept his job?

    Also, please keep in mind that this was a publicly funded state university, not some private religious college.

    I see this more in terms of the fact that he abused his position, rather than whether his views should be allowed to be voiced. He is free to teach whatever poisonous nonsense he wishes, but not in the classroom of a state university.

  15. David C.
    July 13, 2010

    Any argument against being gay that is based in naturality is doomed to fail: some homosexuality is almost universal in species that have sex in the natural world.

    The suggestion that a guest lecturer be brought in to provide a contrasting perspective is a good one. The students themselves should have challenged the ideas put forth by this professor as part of their classroom participation. Questionable philosophies and faulty logic should be challenged openly as others here have suggested, not merely suppressed.

  16. Lynn David
    July 13, 2010

    Frankly, I don’t know why he should be fired. He was teaching about philosophy and morals and what he expounded upon was with a little flourish exactly the Catholic construct of morality. He seemed to get some terms wrong (I might have fired him for that), such as ‘natural law’ instead of ‘natural moral law.’ But the natural law of Aristotle as restated by Thomas Aquinas is exactly that which the Catholic Church, via Aquinas, marries with the Bible to build its moral code upon. The professor probably also used the term ‘fitness’ rather than ‘fitted’ – as I don’t think he was referring to parts that ‘fit together.’ So I can’t see why he should be fired for representing Aquinian logic towards morality.

    That said my own view of ‘natural law’ is that it is philosophical BS based on incomplete pseudoscience.

  17. Anonymous
    July 13, 2010

    Apparently the Catholic church does equate homosexuality with pedophilia. How else can you explain their crackdown on gay priests as thei number of sexual abuse claims continue to rise and embarrass the church?

  18. penguinsaur
    July 13, 2010

    Anyone who defends this guy must also defend professors with the ‘controversial view’ that racemixers are disgusting traitors.

  19. a. mcewen
    July 13, 2010

    just searching – no one is foaming at the mouth over this one. we are giving intelligent, informed opinions.

  20. Narc
    July 13, 2010

    I feel obligated to point out that this guy wasn’t fired. He’s an adjust professor, without tenure and with a contract that must be renewed every semester (or maybe every year, I forget).

    I’d also like to point out that UIUC is in the midst of a *massive* budget crisis. The state is hundreds of millions of dollars behind in payments, every staff and faculty member on campus was required to take what amounts to about a 4% pay cut, and hiring is frozen. This may have nothing to do with his statements at all.

  21. Hunter
    July 13, 2010

    As Narc pointed out, he wasn’t fired. His contract wasn’t renewed. He’s an adjunct professor, which means he serves, as they say, at the university’s pleasure. And the university has concluded that it can forego his particular expertise.

    I’m not sure when “academic freedom” came to mean you can say whatever you please, whether it has any basis in reality or not, without repercussions. There is very little factual accuracy in anything he said about gay sex, if any, and he is expressing opinion as fact without disclaimer. He should have been called out on it.

    His argument about “consent” is BS as well — a dog can’t give consent, and, from a moral perspective (for those who have more than the most primitive understanding of morality), neither can a ten-year-old. At child can say “yes” without understanding that there are consequences.

    Of course, the professor seems to be in the same boat — did he honestly think there would be no blow-back from a screed like that?

  22. Dan L
    July 13, 2010

    Well, I don’t quite buy the budget cuts suggestion, but the point that he is merely an adjunct professor is the key one.

    If it was simply a question of not renewing his contract, I am entirely with the University on this one. Examining the quality of scholarship and of teaching is part of the deal. Taking this episode into account–considering only what they show of his scholarly and teaching abilities, not the views expressed–in deciding whether to keep him is entirely reasonable. The muddled reasoning does not say much for his scholarly abilities, and the insensitivity shown in the degree to which it could make gay students extremely uncomfortable reflects rather poorly on his teaching abilities.

    On the other hand, if they actually terminated his contract (usually these are only for a year or a semester, so presumably they didn’t, but occasionally they go longer), or if he were a tenured academic, then I’d probably fall down on the academic freedom side of the argument.

  23. paul j stein
    July 13, 2010

    Well now he is qualified to teach at the “JimJonesUniversity” oh wait that’s “Liberty Baptist” ,right?

  24. Priya Lynn
    July 13, 2010

    Darren said “Who exactly did this guy hurt?”.

    By describing gays as wrongdoers similar to pedophiles he creates a climate where punishment of gays is motivated and justified whether its through violence or the denial of equal rights. He hurt the entire LGBT community with his demeaning of us.

    Eric said “Just substitute some other minority for gay. If he had been teaching similar things about black people or Jews is there the slightest doubt about whether he would have kept his job?”.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I hear religionists talking about “natural law” all the time and it makes no sense to me. They don’t appear to be talking about something like laws of physics and there is no such thing as a legal system in nature – what does “natural law” mean?

  25. Priya Lynn
    July 13, 2010

    I forgot to add that even if gayness was harmful to the participants he’s wrong that that would make it immoral. It’s your body and your right to do whatever you want with it as long as you’re not hurting anyone else. If you want to smoke cigarettes, cut off your arm, or kill yourself that is your right and there is nothing immoral about it.

  26. Emily K
    July 13, 2010

    Because he’s an adjunct professor, not renewing a contract should come with little to-do. Reasons are up to the institution employing him. This isn’t a case of a tenured professor with an otherwise stellar career being turned out into the cold.

    As to the question of “who is he hurting?” well, he’s hurting any gay person sitting in his classroom.

  27. John Doucette
    July 13, 2010

    Natural Morality, there ain’t no such thing, at least outside of religion. And different religions have different outlooks on morality. To a Hindu, their rigid cast system is quite moral. To some Muslims stoning for adultery is quite moral. To fundamentalist Christians, hate and intolerance are quite moral. As for nature, it is usually a violent, hostile place. Nature, itself, has no morality except survival.

    The morality they claim was written over two thousand years ago by humans claiming it came from their God. From a God that found it all right to have a bear tear some children to pieces for teasing an old man.

    So, it seems to me, that morality is as debatable as just about anything else.

  28. Jason D
    July 13, 2010

    His consent argument is ridiculous as he doesn’t define consent. In reality (a place he seems to not visit) consent cannot be given by children, animals, or objects. Adults of sound mind and body are the only ones permitted to give consent. By his consent argument, a 10 year old girl and a 40 year old man would also be okay because they consented, and since this would be wrong anyway, heterosexuality would also be wrong. Please note that a 40 year old man marrying a 10 year old girl used to be one of the “traditional” definitions of marriage.

    “So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act.”

    From what I gather, “fitting” is the most important aspect of most sexual acts. If it does not fit, you pretty much physically CAN’T perform the act. Therefore any sexual position that is physically possible would be considered moral.
    But if we follow his narrow “fitting” definition, that would preclude oral, manual sex, frottage, and any other act which is not specifically for procreation, which would include the rhythm method, pulling out, condoms, birth control, or sex between those who lack the ability to reproduce.

    As for his definition of “reality’ it seems to be less like observing what is real and more like defining reality and then accepting or rejecting whatever is observed.

  29. Erin
    July 13, 2010

    Why would anyone belonging to a University staff take time out of their busy and hectic schedules to track down, possibly hire with University funds, and schedule another lecturer to come in to debate him?? His heinous statements should not be dignified with debate. He is obviously too far gone in his prejudice. Why should gay students (every professor has them) have to listen to their character being attacked? Why should he be able to go against the curriculum, especially in a public university? The consequences were appropriate for his actions. He stirred up trouble, and he wasn’t tenured. Even if a University administrator agrees with his nonsense, even they would know he’s not worth keeping.

  30. Jim Burroway
    July 13, 2010

    The fact that the professor wasn’t actually fired, but his contract wasn’t renewed makes a huge difference in how I see this case.

    If he were a full professor, this does bring up disturbing issues with regard to academic freedom. But since it is an adjunct professor whose contract wasn’t renewed, it goes to show how far our opponents will go to make a mountain out of a molehill.

    Given the distinction between “firing” and not renewing a contract for an employee who is not a full professor, I think the University was well within its rights. This wasn’t a qualified professor. A qualified professor could have easily presented Catholic doctrine to his students without all of the clearly non-theological arguments that he decided were so important to present.

    One wonders if the good professor mentions the “deleterious to the health of one or possibly both” partners that heterosexuals often engage in when discussing the Church’s teaching on sexuality?

  31. John in the Bay Area
    July 13, 2010

    This was a state univeristy, not a religious university. His class would have to fall under some sort of comparative religion category. The intent of these classes is not to indoctrinate students in a particular religion, but instead to expose students to the history, structure, beliefs and requirements of the the religion(s).

    So it is one thing for him to say that the Church would argue such and such on this issue or that issue. It is another thing entirely for him to argue that this or that is morally correct or wrong.

    On the most fundamental level, this guy doesn’t seem to understand what he was hired to do. He worked for the university, not the Catholic (or any other) church.

    If he failed so miserably on the most basic aspect of what he was hired to do, then it makes sense to not rehire him, fire him, challenge his tenure or whatever else is appropriate to end his teaching at a public university.

  32. Mark Perkins
    July 13, 2010

    The professor did not equate homosexuality to bestiality or statutory rape. What he did do was suggest how certain arguments used to defend one cause could also be used for other, more unsavory causes. His point wasn’t, so far as I can tell, that homosexuals are the same as dog-f**kers and pedophiles. It was that while the “consent” line might be a sufficient defense for legality, it alone is not a sufficient moral defense as the same argument can be made for things that are clearly wrong.

    That first part has nothing to do with whether he actually is against homosexuality or not. I think pretty much everyone can agree that those in favor of gay rights should probably have more to their argument than consent, right? Now, the dude’s obviously Catholic, and he goes on to show that he is clearly anti-homosexual.

    But let’s not mistake him pointing out the insufficiency of consent as a moral argument for “hate speech” or even a statement against homosexuality.

  33. Mark Perkins
    July 13, 2010

    Also, anyone who thinks that professors merely present (or even merely ought to present) the facts (a) needs to catch up on the last century of philosophical thought and (b) has never met a professor.

    Perspective is unavoidable. There are acceptable and unacceptable ways to deal with your own perspective as a professor or teacher, but there is not way to get rid of it.

  34. S. Wheeler
    July 13, 2010

    What David said (on the 12th). This is some of the most incompetent, half-baked reasoning I’ve ever heard from a “teacher” (in all liklihood, this means I need to get out more). He’s not defining his argument’s terms, he’s not presenting any evidence beyond what he “imagines” to be true or what “one guy once told me.”

    It’s like pre-Internet “armchair philosophy” – you imagine sh!t up, make it sound good, and state it with an air of authority. All without getting your own hands dirty or obtaining outside verification, or relying on any data except that which appeals to your position. Because it sounds good to YOU, so clearly it must be valid!

    I don’t mind him presenting the concept of NM. I think it would be a fun thing to debate (and potentially eviscerate) in a classroom environment. But he’s completely failing at academic integrity, bordering on incompetence, which is typically the case when you decline to challenge your own assumptions, presuming them to be self-evidently true.

    This may be fine (and quite common) for someone who debates theology recreationally, but for a teacher? Disgraceful.

  35. Rebecca
    July 13, 2010

    Mark Perkins:

    “The professor did not equate homosexuality to bestiality or statutory rape. What he did do was suggest how certain arguments used to defend one cause could also be used for other, more unsavory causes. His point wasn’t, so far as I can tell, that homosexuals are the same as dog-f**kers and pedophiles. It was that while the “consent” line might be a sufficient defense for legality, it alone is not a sufficient moral defense as the same argument can be made for things that are clearly wrong.”

    But we tend to agree, as a society, that children and dogs cannot consent, because they lack the mental capacity. The “If a dog consented, could you f**k it” line is meaningless because the condition is unachievable.

  36. Jason D
    July 14, 2010

    Rebecca makes a good point, Mark. The consent argument is only weak when you redefine consent to include situations which we would not normally consider consentual.

    You can make any argument “weak” by stacking the deck. Doesn’t make it fair or honest, though.

  37. Hugh Rosen
    July 14, 2010

    This “teacher” deserved to be removed for the protection of the students. His lecture was convoluted, replete with distortions and lies, and laced with personal bias. His alleged researh was either very narrowly and selectively based or he read widely and then cherry picked what he thought would support what he wanted to say. I would recommend that he take some courses rather than give them. Here is a suggested curriculum for him: epistemology, logic, anthropology, genetics, and civil liberties.

  38. Jon
    July 14, 2010

    In response to the actual contents of this guy’s e-mail, I must quote the great Allen Ginsburg: “If God had meant for men to get f**ked, he would have put holes in their a$$es.”

  39. Mark Perkins
    July 14, 2010

    It is a good point, Rebecca. As he noted, that’s why “informed consent” is perhaps the key. While his dog example is extremely poorly chosen, it is nevertheless reasonable to suggest that consent, while effective as a legal argument, is less than convincing morally. I may consent to being punched in the face, which perhaps should free you legally from the legal repercussions of punching me (though we have laws against assisted suicide), but it’s hard to believe that my asking you to punch me in the face makes it morally acceptable.

    Again, my point is only that in the first quoted snippet the professor is not saying homosexuality is bestiality or rape–anymore than my point above is saying that homosexuality is assault. It is a comparison of the underlying reasoning, not the act itself.

  40. Timothy Kincaid
    July 14, 2010


    You seem to be talking in circles. You agree that informed consent is a legitimate discussion while consent alone is not. But then you go on to repeat Howell’s dog comparison.

    I’m becoming suspect of your motivations for coming back again and again to that comparison. They are seeming less than charitable.

  41. Timothy Kincaid
    July 14, 2010

    Also, I’m not sure why you would consent to being punched in the face. Perhaps for theater or film. Perhaps because letting me punch you would make you feel less guilty over some grievous wrong you did me. Or maybe just because it’s Easter time and you want to suffer as Jesus did (I’m not Catholic, I wouldn’t know).

    But, in whatever case, your consent to my punching you would, indeed, remove any immorality associated with the offense of attacking you.

  42. Timothy Kincaid
    July 14, 2010

    And finally, we can discuss the application of Natural Law to issues of morality on the day that you apply it to the Catholic practice of mortification of the flesh.

  43. cd
    July 15, 2010

    Who exactly did this guy hurt? If no one, then why was he fired?

    University faculty are held to a higher standard than average workers: technically, your qualification for the the job is that you are demonstrably more knowledgeable and wiser than the students about the subject. The letter this fellow wrote to his students is frankly a grotesque embarrassment in that regard. Gay rights are a major public issue and the reasons he gives for his views on them are ridiculous to intelligent adults.

    In short: Howell got terminated for being inexcusably stupid. Which can be ignored if it’s a verbal incident, but the idiot put it in writing.

    I hear religionists talking about “natural law” all the time and it makes no sense to me. They don’t appear to be talking about something like laws of physics and there is no such thing as a legal system in nature – what does “natural law” mean?

    It’s take from the European nature deity religions, aka paganisms. Their believers realized that their deities wanted all things to conform to ‘laws of Nature’. So they decided what these Laws were and things that violated them (“unnatural” things) had to be corrected or destroyed to achieve conformity with the divine desire. Basically this meant that mentally ill people routinely got killed, people engaging in the wrong kinds of sex too. In many cases “monsters” (neonates with terrible physical defects, really weird or deranged or disfigured adults) were killed or let die in some way. One child of twins was commonly let die. And that’s just some of the more explicable stuff.

    This framework got taken up into Christianity and re-rationalized and conformed to the canonical Bible writings. Average people didn’t really bother with the intellectual niceties, they pretty much understood that not much had changed in practice for a long time after formal Christianization. Roughly around the time the Reformation began that began to change. But by that point an intellectualized form had been well incorporated into Church doctrine.

  44. Hunter
    July 15, 2010

    Mark Perkins:

    “The professor did not equate homosexuality to bestiality or statutory rape. What he did do was suggest how certain arguments used to defend one cause could also be used for other, more unsavory causes. His point wasn’t, so far as I can tell, that homosexuals are the same as dog-f**kers and pedophiles. It was that while the “consent” line might be a sufficient defense for legality, it alone is not a sufficient moral defense as the same argument can be made for things that are clearly wrong.”

    The professor’s inclusion of bestiality and pedophilia in his examples does nothing more than continue the mantra that has been part of the anti-gay right’s talking points since Day One. You can go back to Anita Bryant for that. It’s a tactic they’ve used again and again: equating sexual orientation to paraphilias in an effort to blur or obliterate the distinction. The most blatant example was the right’s finding that the hate crimes bill passed last year protected “thirty sexual orientations,” in which they included bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia, and a host of others that are recognized as pathological. Of course he’s equating them — that was the whole point of using those examples. I doubt that even this professor is dim enough to think that a dog can give consent.

    Think for a moment of the statement that the name of this blog satirizes. Think of “Man on Dog” Santorum. Think of every rabid anti-gay freak you’ve ever heard. He doesn’t have to say “homosexuality is the same as bestiality or pedophilia” any more — the link is out there.

  45. Priya Lynn
    July 15, 2010

    Timothy said “Also, I’m not sure why you would consent to being punched in the face.”.

    Boxers consent all the time to being punched in the face – boxing is not morally wrong. Guys wanting to prove how tough and macho they are sometimes volunteer to be punched in the face, I don’t find complying with that morally wrong either.

    Cd, thanks for the explanation of “natural law”. I have a bit of a hard time understanding you but if I’ve got it right christians take whatever they want to be law, even arbitrarily and claim that breaking their pet laws is against the law of nature.

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