Ultimatum to Illinois Over Catholic Studies Instructor

July 21, 2010

The Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing Kenneth Howell in the controversy over his teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has given the institution an ultimatum: either assure in writing that Howell will teach his regular courses in Roman Catholic studies in the fall, or he will sue. The letter states that the university has violated Howell's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Howell has for years been an adjunct at Illinois, but he was recently told he would not have additional courses, following complaints over an e-mail he sent to students. His supporters argue that the e-mail was just an explanation of Catholic teachings on homosexuality and that punishing him for that would undercut the values of academic freedom. His critics argue that the e-mail reflected an attempt to indoctrinate students with faith, not teach them about a faith -- and some question the arrangement under which a Catholic center nominates and pays for adjuncts to teach courses on Catholicism at the university. Illinois officials have appointed a committee to study the academic freedom issues involved in the case.

But a letter sent by the Alliance Defense Fund Monday argues that the committee may be unfair to Howell. "We are concerned that the committee's investigation into this matter is tainted already with bias toward affirming the dismissal. President Michael Hogan commented that the purpose of the committee is to 'reassure ourselves there was no infringement on academic freedom here.' This remark gives us concern that university officials do not appreciate the gravity of the constitutional violations in this situation."

Illinois officials did not respond to requests for comment, but have previously indicated that they were committed to a fair inquiry into the issues.

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