Date: July 13, 2010
Dear President Hogan and Dr. McKim (Head of the Department of Religion),
By now I suspect you've been deluged with emails regarding the firing of Dr. Howell over one student's objection to a philosophical email which he apparently did not comprehend.
The Catholic blogosphere is in a raging fire of their own outrage. Many have said, "Enough is enough."
When an esteemed professor, an obvious thought leader within your university; is kicked to the curb over an exaggerated sense of injury -- fair and thoughtful debate has died. I am appalled by the lack of critical thinking students are receiving by this action. If anyone were to thoroughly read Dr. Howell's very helpful email, which illustrates utilitarianism and the application of it toward one of the more pressing issues of our day; and come to the conclusion that such earnest intellectual inquiry is "hate speech", then I shudder to think of the type of young person your university will unleash upon the world after four years of "higher education." Don't you teach students how to hold their own and defend intellectually their arguments instead of pandering to cheap and easy emotional babble? My, God. I'm afraid for our country's future.
I attended a university and loved philosophy. I found it challenging to defend whatever I thought of was right by employing the principles I was being taught within classes such as rhetorical theory, logic, and empiricism. I would have found it laughable if a student tried to engineer a professor's firing simply because she couldn't hold her own intellectually. And that's what it looks like to those of us who've already been around this mountain. The student took the coward's way out. And you followed suit.
If you will not permit the teachings of philosophy its due course, or remain true to your mission of offering religion courses, you dilute a student's education which will have consequences upon enrollment and fundraising. People study religion to understand its tenets and inception. They study it to become equipped to make decisions in their life. Can you imagine teaching Islamic Studies without the Koran? Judaic Studies without the Tanakh? How is Catholicism to be accurately taught without the Catechism of the Catholic Church? How is Catholicism to be taught without being punished for being "Catholic?"
This is bad publicity of the worst kind for UI. Not only do you look like knee-jerk reactionaries catering to a whining mental toddler, you also present your education in an unflattering light by not being able to distinguish presumption from actual wrongdoing.
Firing Dr. Howell was not a solution, but the beginning of a far larger problem for your university. Reinstate him to his position and allow him to do what he does best. Teaching students not what to think -- but how to think.