Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doctor Howell's dismissal (II)--followup and corrections

First, thanks to Gary at Goodwrites for links to the e-mail Dr. Howell wrote, the e-mail written by the aggrieved student, and e-mail addresses for various university officials who would be in a position to do something about the situation. The American Papist also has more detailed and clearheaded information than I have been able to muck up since Saturday, so check thou him out if I haven't entirely burned you out on the subject; then contact UIUC and the Diocese of Peoria.

Second, it was not a gay student group to which the student complained, it was the LGBT Resource Center. I stand corrected; my analogy to the Star Trek club is not accurate.

Third, it was not a student in the class who caused the uproar, but a friend of the student. The student in the class apparently described the lectures as preaching rather than teaching and allegedly found the subject to be inflammatory (I'm not entirely clear whether the person in the class was constantly complaining to his friend, or the friend was merely scandalized at what the person in the class was passing along). Either way, the friend who was agitating on behalf of the student has a loose enough grip on the facts to be unsure if Dr. Howell was a priest or not.

The behalfist pointed out that he and his friend in the class were both Catholic, and that he "didn't go to Notre Dame for a reason." If so, I must wonder why he would be shocked to hear something he should already have known, and if he didn't want a Catholic education, well, I don't see what taking actions he could predict would have a reasonable chance of resulting in the dismissal of someone else's instructor, has to do with him getting the best secular pluralist education he could hope for.

Fourth, I found it very rich that the associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ann Mester, saw fit to justify the university's decision by saying "The e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards ofinclusivity." (hat tip to Dave Armstrong of Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. By "rich" I mean "ironic" or "hypocritical." I am somewhat alarmed that a public university, especially one in the vicinity of Peoria, would have "standards of inclusivity" that go beyond honoring the sacred trust of the teaching office, honoring the trust of each student, but are this explicit and binding, on pain of breaking of contract.

I would be skeptical that this code of inclusivity is so explicit that Mestercould point to chapter and verse; I could be wrong, but I find it more likely that vague platitudes would be preferred in that they are easier to twist and easier to slip past the casual, trusting reader.

Perhaps Mester refers to these inclusivity standards that include not only race, age, and the various things commonly lumped under sexual orientation, but actually spell out religion, yet still suffice to get Dr. Howell dismissed on the grounds that he conveyed information about a religious institution.

These inclusivity police are either cowards, trying to "disappear" salient members of the would-be opposition, or they are very patient, working carefully and slowly to make average people afraid to make a wrong move or speak a wrong word, and then act with impunity against people who not only talk about things that some people don't like, but actually believe them openly. Why else would they tolerate Dr. Howell's presence, yet get upset when he tried to resolve a disagreement in class after hours by presenting information that an honest progressive atheist could just as easily have presented?

The university's pledge to inclusiveness goes on to say "In an environment ofinclusivity, there is no place for acts of hatred, intolerance, insensitivity...." Insensitivity and intolerance next to acts of hatred? Are they talking about acts of hatred, acts of intolerance (whatever that would be), and acts of insensitivity (which "there is no room for that here" would seem to demand as a response even to diplomatic differences of opinion and misunderstandings, if they're going to be consistent), or just talking about how attitudes of intolerance and insensitivity are right up there with posting "Irish need not apply" signs and lynching black people? Either way, how do they cope with a difference of opinion? How can they cope with a misunderstanding? Where do they find room to enlighten well-meaning rednecks who show up completely blind to the depths of their latent bigotry?

Okay, speed bump. Sorry. More a theoretical question than a practical one; it's still more common for politically correct people to behave as normal human beings than not, so there's obviously some tolerance of intolerance "in the field." Back on track....

To anyone who is having trouble sorting "conveying facts about Catholicism" from "pushing Catholicism," if Dr. Howell started this class like he did the one I took, he would have pointed out that he was a Catholic and believed what he was teaching, and he would be teaching from that perspective in order that students may get a better understanding of the Church "from the inside," but that he expected and accepted disagreement (UIUC being a state school and all) and would not hold any differences of opinion or belief against any student, either in class or in the gradebook. His job was to rectify misunderstanding and clear away ignorance, not abuse his position and the teacher-student trust.

Dr. Howell is not an unapproachable guy. It's possible a student might be too timid even to approach him over a concern or disagreement, but there's no rational way a friend of such a student, either acting on the timid student's request or taking it upon himself to take up the timid student's banner, would up and...not go confront the professor, instead going first to the LGBT office and notifying the campus media before informing the department head that he's really not a gay activist. Sorry, pal, but you are now; welcome to the club. Dues are 20c a week and you have to bring doughnuts on Tuesdays.

In case any apologists missed the low-hanging fruit in the combox over there:

Don't confuse "nature" with "natural law," or "nature" in the sense of "plants and animals doing their thing unimpeded in the wilderness" with "nature" in the sense of "essential qualities of being." This is a basic distinction, and someone arguing that animals exhibit homosexual behavior, or that straight couples sometimes engage in sodomy, in the fact of that is like being told in a physics class that relativistic effects on time and motion are immeasurable at pedestrian speeds and then complaining that you can clearly see that when two people approach each other at the same speed, they close the distance in half the time it would take for one to walk all the way to the other. You're ignoring the underlying idea to show that you don't grasp the means to challenge the assertion that Newtonian motion is merely an approximation.

Referring to "natural law" is not just making a religious argument while swapping out "God" for "nature." "Nature" doesn't will or intend, in the human sense, anything. If I point out that humans tend to eat meat because the nature of their bodies does not include the ability to synthesize all the necessary amino acids, a reasonable argument would be "that's cruel to animals; complete protein in the diet can be achieved by eating this and that combination of vegetable proteins." An unreasonable argument would be "you're just saying God wants you to eat meat so you don't have to give up your backyard barbecues or stop looking down on us hairy-legged granola types!"

On occasion, rare enough that I'm not inclined to put much stock in the unsupported claims, it's argued that the "gay sex is unhealthy; that's evidence for a natural law position" claim is disproven by this or that anonymous corpus of sociological or biological research. It was brought up in the comboxes I mentioned (where the messages are posted, in case I've allowed myself to ramble into obscurity; not at Goodwrites), but a preponderance of evidence was only referred to in passing.
To anyone who thinks that's good enough reason not to think we could do well to discourage anal sex on the grounds of its dangers, I ask: What's so great about rectal prolapse?

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