Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is there any actual substance to Ken Howell's claims?

This week's local kerfuffle is about an adjunct professor who's contract was not renewed by the University. He's now claiming anti-Catholic bias because a student complained about his anti-gay bias. The N-G articles are here and here. I'm getting in on this late, so there's not really much point, but what the hell.

Something about this whole thing smells funny. I just don't buy it. Both articles say that his contract was not renewed (he was not fired) "after" the anonymous student lodged his complaint. One thing that's conspicuously missing from the articles is that he was let go as a result of this complaint. His contract wasn't renewed after the Hundred Years War, either, but that doesn't mean one led to the other. The only suggestion that Howell's contract wasn't terminated because of anti-Catholic bias is coming from Howell himself.

My skepticism is driven largely by one point: undergraduates just don't have this kind of influence. It's not like university administrators sit around thinking "Oh woe is me, I must now lay of a highly skilled teacher because we have had a single anonymous complaint." It's not like they sit around rubbing their hands together, cackling evilly, and plotting a new Protestant schism, either.

Can I point out that the University is undergoing a major financial crisis at the moment? The entire freakin' staff had to take a 3% pay cut and now they're going to have to find a way to pay the new CEO's university president's 40% raise over his predecessor's salary. It really wouldn't surprise me if departments were looking for any way at all to save a few bucks. Cutting non-tenure track teaching staff might be a good way to reduce labor costs. I've asked a few people and they didn't know if other adjuncts are being let go or not.

I suspect there's more going on here than we know about. At most, I'd bet that this was just an excuse to get rid of someone that has been a nuisance or a problem in other ways. That a teacher is being gotten rid of because of one anonymous complaint just doesn't wash.

I'm also amused of the irony in the fact Howell claims "[Natural Moral Law] says that Morality must be a response to REALITY" while simultaneously claiming he was discriminated against because of his membership in a Church that also teaches that demonic possession is real.


Glock21 said...

I got the impression from the news article on it that the complaint and not retaining his position were linked... but maybe that made a better story. If it was just coincidental I fell for the media narrative.

It might be difficult to prove either way without better access to the communication (and even then without having to decipher the legal-speak from the University end to cover its butt).

Anonymous said...

It's not about the status of the accuser, it's about how well the accusation fits with the prevailing mindset of the university.

Recall the Duke lacrosse rape claim. How many professors jumped on-board with absolutely no evidence to support the accusation?

Now, if you have videotape of a U of I education professor saying that if you're black and you go walk in the park, they (whites) will come after you, nobody really cares (He said this in his speech at the opening ceremonies to black history month a few years ago). But an e-mail from a Catholic instructor that even hints that some world views don't fully embrace homosexuality... now that's something to act on.

Narc said...

"How many professors jumped on-board with absolutely no evidence to support the accusation?"

I don't know. How many did? Do you have any substance for what you're trying to imply or is this just another way of saying "I bet a bunch of liberal professors jumped to a conclusion because they're liberals."

" that's something to act on."

Again, I see no reason to believe that anything was "acted on" here.

Howell did not have tenure. His was an unpaid position. The University is within its rights to not renew his contract for any reason, even if he was just a jerk and no one liked him.

Anonymous said...


I apologize, I thought since you wrote a blog post about how a complaint from a lowly undergraduate couldn't possibly stir a faculty to act, you would be familiar with this.

Look up the group of 88 on Wikipedia.

Maybe nothing at all happened in this U of I case. I don't know. I was just responding to the logic you presented that accusations from undergraduates hold no merit in the eyes of college faculty.

It's very possibly nothing happened but that you are totally wrong in your reasoning.

Narc said...

As far as I know, Kenneth Howell was not involved in the Duke rape accusations, so it's not really relevant here.

I never said that undergraduates "have no merit in the eyes of faculty." I'm saying that there's no way that hiring and firing decisions on this scale are made solely on the basis of one anonymous email complaint from an undergraduate.

There is something else afoot here, probably office politics.