Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Firing a Catholic prof: the back story

posted by Rod Dreher

Fascinating, and very ugly, insider story of anti-Catholic bias and academic politics behind the recent dismissal of Ken Howell. If this account is correct, then it’s pretty clear that the complaint that Howell’s teaching was anti-gay was merely a pretext.
As it turns out, I’ve had a few conversations in the past week with various friends professionally involved with academia. The picture they collectively paint — low salaries, high stress, intensely political — make teaching at the college level sound like going into the lion’s den. A college teacher I had dinner with the other night was telling me about how poorly compensated most faculty members are, even at elite universities — and yet, tuition keeps exploding. He said he doesn’t know how much longer this model of the university can sustain itself. He teaches in the liberal arts, but he said he doesn’t know how parents can justify sending their kids off to college, and taking on heavy debt loads to have them come out four years later being pretty much unemployable, and unable to begin paying off the tens of thousands — and perhaps even over $100,000 — in debt they’ve accumulated for a degree that’s not worth much, practically speaking.
This bleak judgment meant a lot to me, coming as it did from a professional scholar of politics and philosophy. We both agreed that we had no idea how we were going to be able to afford to send our kids to college. I tell you this, though: I wouldn’t spend a single farthing to send my children to a college whose faculties and administration operates the way described in this back story. If I were considering the University of Illinois for my child, I would start making calls and do my best to get to the bottom of this case. If the critics were proved correct to my satisfaction, I’d cross that college off my list. College is far too expensive to accept politicized shenanigans passing as pedagogy.



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Richard

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:06 am


I’m with ya on everything here. What has shocked me is learning that there are many tenured faculty making well into the $100,000s in salary and teach only a couple of courses and then many more people at the absolute bottom of the chain – associates and all that – who get crapped on. This is two yars old but is still pretty instructive http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/14/aaup
What I truly wonder above all is if these institutions even care what you as a parent think. The mantra of “College for Evereyone – whether they want it or not” is making a lot of colleges into little more than diploma factories. With all of the federal and state money available now, do these people even have to care what parents think?
Where all of the tuition, state and federal support, grants and endowments go is beyond me.



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EB

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:24 am


The University’s big mistake happened nearly a century ago, when it contracted with (essentially) pastoral organizations, formed to school students in their own faiths, to provide for-credit classes. As a public institutuion, it should never have done that. By contrast, in the ’60′s I took religious studies classes (for credit) where the professor, an active Protestant (ordained, I think), taught about his own and other religions from an adademic point of view, not a faith-formation point of view. He did an excellent job; it can be done. And this was in an institution with Baptist roots!



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JW

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:36 am


(I am a future professor in the final stages of my doctoral work so what I am about to say will sound strange and contradictory) I think colleges and universities need to cut back on the number of programs offered and the number of students accepted. I think far too many people go to college when most should not be in a college or university in the first place. I have been teaching undergraduate classes for the past few years at a very good private university and I must admit that my experience of these classes has made me think about ways to sustain the university.
Of course this advice comes with great risk to my own future livelihood, but I believe it is true. The current university model cannot be sustained esp. in light of the constant influx of government money into these institutions via financial aid. Slash the federal/state aid money, tighten up the loan possibilities, and reduce the number of students and faculties at universities – will have to close and consolidate universities to help salvage facilities and the like. It will be an ugly process but the only viable one I think for the future.
It does not help when I also think that some universities deserve to close. The radical leftist teaching that most propagate in the name of education and in the name of the university has no place in higher education.



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MH

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:56 am


I think Rod’s professor friend is generalizing his experience to all programs when they are only relevant to the liberal arts.
In my experience a degree in the hard sciences or business is well worth it.



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JLF

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:01 am


JW. I’m sure you will agree that radical rightist teaching propagated in the name of education and in the name of the university also has no place in higher education. Next step: defining the boundaries. That will be task which will require partisans on both sides to strip themselves of ideological bias and come to some kind of broad agreement on where the middle really lies. Since the more strill the extremes, the narrower the middle, this is an epistemological challenge I don’t think American society can meet at the moment.



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Neo

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:11 am


Anti-catholic bias huh? I’d agree if he told the students about the rest of Roman Catholic Theology regarding homosexuality. Somehow Catechisms 1935 and 2358 were left out. As were several documents from Vatican II. What this professor taught was not catholic teaching. At best it was part of catholic teaching, at worst it was the traditionalist wing’s version. If the professor had been following the catechism this wouldn’t have happened therefor its not anti-catholic. It was anti-intolerance, anti-twisting of catholic doctrine.



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Peter

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:12 am


College is far too expensive to accept politicized shenanigans passing as pedagogy.
So you wouldn’t send your kids to a private school where professors have to sign a statement saying they are Christians and will teach in accordance to the faith? Because that’s politicized shenanigans that sacrifice academic freedom.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:29 am


Two things. One, Rod, you’re right about the university system. It’s flat out broken, and there’s a reason that I’m getting out now. I’m finishing my degree in the next few months, and instead of looking for a tenure track job I’ll be looking for something to cover the cost of my loans while I… do something else. I don’t know for sure what that is yet, but at least for the time being academia is not the right place for me or our family.
That having been said: you’re still not hearing what a lot of us have been saying about the Howell case. The email he sent out showed a shocking ignorance about the issues he was supposedly teaching. It threw up a great many red flags for those of us who have worked in the university setting, and frankly if I had been involved in the department I would have discouraged his being allowed to continue. *NOT BECAUSE I DISAGREE WITH WHAT HE WAS SAYING.* But because his presentation was abusive and relied on urban legends and a VERY poor understanding of the issues involved.



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amicusveritatis

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:38 am


I am afraid the intellectual crudity and obvious bias of Mr Howell’s email, coupled with the patronizing dismissal of the young as unready to judge such issues, would more than justify the dismissal of Mr Howell. Consider the intellectual limitations, to put it kindly, of his discussion of how to evaluate sex in moral terms – while completely ignoring the idea that sex can be an act of love and shared pleasure. There is also a total failure to contextualize his views and distinguish them from those of other religions or intellectual allegiances. Justifiably, the university decided not to expose young minds to this retrograde, poorly structured, and illogical nonsense.



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Rod Dreher

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:44 am


So you wouldn’t send your kids to a private school where professors have to sign a statement saying they are Christians and will teach in accordance to the faith? Because that’s politicized shenanigans that sacrifice academic freedom.
It depends. I wouldn’t accept that in a public university, but if I sent my kids to a Catholic university, I would expect that, or at least wouldn’t mind it, even though I’m not Catholic. But it depends on how that dictate is interpreted. If it means do not present alternative views, then I would object by not sending my child there. If it means present alternative views, but in the context of teaching that the Catholic Church’s view is the correct one, then I would be much less concerned, even as I would work to make sure my child knew where we differed from Catholic doctrine and dogma. I would certainly not send my child to a college that compromised science teaching by subjecting it to religious dogma.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:45 am


To the academics weighing in on this thread, I offer my respect, and unfortunately a criticism: What have you been taught about objectivity (not the component of the scientific method, but it’s baby sibling) and making assertions?
I would, for example (and not expecting a response even so) challenge JW to offer objective evidence of [t]he radical leftist teaching that most propagate in the name of education and in the name of the university…, particularly some standard of measurement for both “radical” and “most”. As sincere polemic, I’m always willing to listen to such things, but when polemics masquerade as assertions, they either result in non sequitur or serve to distract from the actual topic.
I always have sympathy for the local situations. I always reject projection of anecdotal descriptions to broad generalizations. Show me the evidence, show me the patterns, and you may find to your surprise that there’s at least one person on the left who shares your outrage.



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M.Z.

posted July 20, 2010 at 9:56 am


Professors are not poorly paid.
http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Professor,_Postsecondary_%2F_Higher_Education/Salary
The old rule I’m familiar with is that professors should be paid 80% what they can make in the private sector. Being a professor was never intended to be an end in itself. In the liberal arts, there is a little high school teacher envy, but even there, the norm previously was not for doctors to be teaching freshman comp.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:02 am


The e-mail was perfectly fine. The most controversial thing Howell noted was that anal sex is inherently unhealthy. Given the way aids affected homosexual men, I’d think this would be pretty obvious, but given the way the modern liberal has become adept at throwing a hissy fit whenever plain facts are presented to him/her, it’s become a dangerous practice.
As far as lib arts degrees go, they’re fine as a luxury. If you can afford it, go for it. It’s certainly not worth indenturing yourself to the government for the rest of your life through student loans. Better to learn how to fix pipes, wiring or AC and study literature in your spare time.



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Boz

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:05 am


Anti-Catholic bias in the mainstream academy is ugly. In my experience, administrators and other faculty will generally seek out your views on various culture war issues. Part of the problem, however, is the oversupply of faculty means that university departments rarely pay a price for ignoring qualified candidates. The department at a public university where I worked essentially disqualified somebody invited for a campus visit after a group of faculty members did a google search and discovered that he was an active member at a Baptist congregation. When he arrived on campus, he was closely questioned about his religious views, specifically the view that faith and reason aren’t necessarily in contradiction. We hired somebody with suitably left-wing credentials (though nowhere near the publication record of this Baptist fellow) who turned out to be a fantastic teacher. The other guy didn’t sue us–win, win all around.
On the other topic, higher education is essentially a bubble. The easy flow of federal money means that people can go without thinking too closely about how they are going to pay and schools don’t have to think about making tuition really affordable. I was sitting on a train in the subway the other day and saw some ads for a “for-profit” university stressing that students could use their veterans benefits to pay for classes. This is the situation more broadly across higher education. Don’t grapple with market forces because the government will be there to pick up the tab.
A final question. What do conservative advocates of the liberal arts (I recall Peter Lawler bloviating about this at PoMoCon last week) make of all the demonstrated drawbacks of the classic liberal arts degree (lots of debt without compensating job prospects)? I went to the University of Dallas and experienced this first hand. I’ve wondered in retrospect how people deal with this reality.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:13 am


Polichinello: There’s really no way that I can fully respond to your comment on a family friendly blog. But your comment reflects the same problem as the email. There is a wide, wide range of physical expression in gay and lesbian relationships, all of which are also practiced by hetero couples. To focus on one as the defining feature is not only the mark of real ignorance about the issue, it’s just plain silly.



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Judith

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:26 am


Dang. One thing can be said about Ken Howell’s email, it sure has brought people with their personal anger issues out of the woodwork.
I was pretty grossed out by his email too. But I was born in 1952, and the way I was raised, you learn to deal with evil by forming your own opinions and learning to express yourself. Half the fuel for doing that is given to one in the form of people like Ken Howell.
These days, people freak out every time someone like Ken Howell opens his mouth, and try to sanitize the scene. I often think about all the awful things my school teachers got away with saying and doing when I was a kid, and I’m still here, and surviving just fine, along with everyone else.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:36 am


There’s really no way that I can fully respond to your comment on a family friendly blog.
Like I said: hissy fit.
Really, get over yourself, Liz. Howell was talking about a specific act as an example in dealing with a moral question. As you implicitly acknowledge, the act does take place. I suppose Howell could go through the usual abasing act of tossing out a million throat-clearing whatfors and parallels in the heterosexual world, but that would render the final product a full paper instead of cursory e-mail, which it was supposed to be.
…all of which are also practiced by hetero couples.
Please. Anal sex is a pretty rare practice among heterosexuals, and if the professor had been writing a more comprehensive piece will all sorts of sorts of soothing clauses to settle the digestion of oversensitive little souls like you, he’d have noted his objections to these acts as well. However, like it or not, anal sex is common with male homosexuals, and it was appropriate to note this as an example of behavior that could fall afoul of Natural Law moral philosophy when discussing homosexuality.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:44 am


Hissy fit? No, I just wasn’t going to go into the details of sexual acts on someone else’s blog. But you’re wrong about the statistics. Anal sex is NOT all that rare among heterosexuals (35-40%), and while it is more common among homosexuals (probably around 65%) it’s not the end all be all.
If you’ll pardon the expression.



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the stupid Chris

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:44 am


The picture they collectively paint — low salaries, high stress, intensely political — make teaching at the college level sound like going into the lion’s den.
It’s been like this for ages, Rod. Even back in the 50s, 60s, 70s. One of the things freedom to research brings with it is plenty of free time that often gets gobbled up in gossip and the like.
Did you catch this this: http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/the-trouble-with-meritocracy/
Speaks to the same thing, doesn’t it?



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Your Name

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:47 am


Why are so many imoortant details missing in so many posts???
“If it means present alternative views, but in the context of teaching that the Catholic Church’s view is the correct one”
Shouldn’t that end, “the Catholic Church’s view is the correct one – according to the Catholic Church”?
And “anal sex is inherently unhealthy” forgot the very important part – namely, UNPROTECTED anal sex.
And, “Anti-Catholic bias in the mainstream academy is ugly.” omits/ignores the fact that anti-gay bias in Catholic academies is every bit as ugly (and prevalent, too).
Et cetera.
These are far from “plain facts”; they are tidbits of semi-correct ‘statistics’, taken much out-of-context and given the ususal radically ‘right’-wing slant. Speaking of “dangerous practices”!
You people are so obvious.



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John M.

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:47 am


“Anal sex is a pretty rare practice among heterosexuals”
Bwahahahaha! Thanks! That’s the best laugh I’ve had in years!



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Rachel

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:49 am


Rod, if you want an affordable education for your kids I might recommend Thomas Aquinas College. It is liberal arts and slightly impractical, but it’s also extremely affordable for a private college and, through work-study and donations, the administration tries really hard to make sure that kids graduate with at most 20,000 in debt. The faculty is also incredibly dedicated. It is very Catholic (of course), but my experience is that the one Orthodox student we had in our class was always treated with respect and affection–there is also a convent of Orthodox nuns nearby who occasionally wander on campus.
Plus, the campus is gorgeous. Which is the most important thing, obviously.



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Your Name

posted July 20, 2010 at 10:59 am


35% of [heterosexual] women and 40% of [heterosexual] men aged 25-44 report having engaged in anal sex.
http://www.springerlink.com/content/625x42vt61816091/
That don’t sound so “rare” to me.



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M.Z.

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:02 am


I believe this has to be the equivalent of the one drink makes you an alcoholic fallacy.
If we use a 12 month look back window, is anyone really going to argue that homosexual men engage in anal sex at least twice as often as heterosexual men.



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Anon Prof

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:12 am


There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about the inner workings of universities in this thread:
First, the increased cost of public universities is largely driven by a decrease in state support. At the land grant university where I teach, direct state funding is less now than it was in 1985 even without adjusting for inflation. Now we get ~10% of our funding from the state and it is projected to shrink further. We are public in name only. U. of Michigan and the U. of Virginia are two other schools I know of who receive a pittance from the state. As direct state funding has decreased, tuition has increased and that has been covered largely by debt. I’ve seen no evidence that the budgets of universities have exploded once pass through funding is taken out of the equation. Rather the cost has been shifted from tax payers to students and their parents. This doesn’t sound like a bubble to me, nor am I convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing.
Second, endowments are not sources of unrestricted funds. If a donor provides funding to pay for a building, the university cannot decide to use that funding for operating costs. If Steve Jobs gives Stanford 10m to endow the chair of scientific literacy, the university cannot use that money to pay the salary of five regular chemistry profs. Research grants can only be spent by the principal investigator on the funded project. The indirect funding (typically 50% of the direct costs) can only be used to pay for the support of the research enterprise and is only charged against non-capital direct costs. The billion dollar research budgets at universities cannot be used to offset the costs for students.
Research active faculty at R1 universities typically teach a 1+1 load (one course each semester). They are also expected to advise and financially support graduate students (which at our university includes paying their tuition and stipend from grant money), mentor undergraduate research projects, engage in public outreach, and provide administrative service to the university (serving on the admissions committee for example). In my department, we are expected to support at least two graduate students which means that in addition to the research funding we raise, we also bring in at least 20k/yr in tuition. Faculty in departments where research funding is more scarce have heavier teaching loads (nominally 3+3). Perhaps I should teach extra courses rather than mentor the 10 undergraduate and 4 graduate students in my program. But then the university would have to give up the 40k in tuition I raise (and that covers more than half of my 9mo salary). Students (and their parents) want small classes taught by full professors who are current experts in their field. This is expensive.
The 80% of the private sector sounds about right in comparison to salaries at research universities. Here are the latest numbers for physicists from the AIP:
http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/salary/salsum06.pdf
typical range for R1 universities is 64-100k (9mos), industry is 93-136, and medical/hospital is 105-170. There is a huge disparity across disciplines – liberal art and education profs are at the bottom while law and business profs are at the top. I expect that the emphasis on expensive disciplines such as computer science, business, and engineering at the expense of philosophy, literature, and religion is driving part of the cost. Students in the humanities subsidize scientists, engineers and business students. This is starting to change as schools look to differential tuition.
For those who advocate for more vocational training in lieu of a college degree, where are all these jobs for AC repairmen, mechanics, and truck drivers? Is there really such a shortage that salaries in these fields are inflated? I’ve not seen evidence of it. True, the few who major in _______ studies had probably not plan on making a living off of their education. But science, engineering, architecture, education, and nursing majors do quite well. Law school and MBA degrees appear to be overrated unless you are at a top program (there is a bimodal salary distribution from what I understand).
Finally, while I lament the dearth of politically and religious conservative voices on campus and in my discipline, I have to say that I have never had my religious or political views questioned. No one has ever treated me shabbily (as far as I know) for being a conservative republican and or an evangelical christian.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:15 am


Elizabeth Anne: I assume you refer to the CDC numbers. They refer to an experience, not a regular practice, which is far more common amongst male homosexuals. So there’s a good reason for Howell to use this practice as an example in a discussion about moral philosophy. Only a fascist thug would use it as an excuse to deprive the man of his job.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:18 am


I believe this has to be the equivalent of the one drink makes you an alcoholic fallacy.
Exactly.



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kevin s.

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:18 am


“I believe this has to be the equivalent of the one drink makes you an alcoholic fallacy.”
I was about to say the same thing. Pretending those numbers represent an apples to apples comparison is either oblivious or disingenuous.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:31 am


For those who advocate for more vocational training in lieu of a college degree, where are all these jobs for AC repairmen, mechanics, and truck drivers?Is there really such a shortage that salaries in these fields are inflated? I’ve not seen evidence of it. True, the few who major in _______ studies had probably not plan on making a living off of their education. But science, engineering, architecture, education, and nursing majors do quite well.
The majors you’re endorsing (education excepted) provide you with a technical skill. A liberal arts or a business degree doesn’t really do that, and to get that degree you often have to go into just as much debt as you would for a engineering degree. Better to learn a trade, earn a living and then pursue your philosophy degree at leisure.



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Richard

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:51 am


Franklin – really. The leftist and secularist bent of academics is a subject of constant reportage, even by themselves. Check out Peter Berger’s new blog as one minor example.
What, exactly, would satisfy you as “objective” evidence? Their signed confessions of secret Marxist tendencies? I’m kidding, of course, but if you can’t see the overwhelming bias of university faculty and leadership towards the left, then you can’t see, that’s all. I’m ok with that, too – let’s just be honest about it (not suggesting you aren’t).



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Anon Prof

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:56 am


Polichinello,
If all of our business, humanities and education majors decided to enroll in a trade school, how would they be better off? Do you have evidence that the unemployment rate for BAs is higher than for carpenters, welders, or A/C repairmen? My impression is that just the opposite is true. Maybe the current economy distorts things too much. Maybe a better question is was the unemployment rate of BAs higher five years ago? Again, my understanding is that college grads in all fields were still doing better. I’d be very interested in evidence to the contrary.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:56 am


I’m not interested in how many homosexuals engage in anal sex. A much more interesting inquiry would be, how many homosexuals hold that anal sex is not an appropriate expression of conjugal love?
captcha: rushing entailing



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Coldstream

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:58 am


Anon Prof commented:
“where are all these jobs for AC repairmen, mechanics, and truck drivers? Is there really such a shortage that salaries in these fields are inflated? I’ve not seen evidence of it. True, the few who major in _______ studies had probably not plan on making a living off of their education. But science, engineering, architecture, education, and nursing majors do quite well. Law school and MBA degrees appear to be overrated unless you are at a top program”
Being an adjunct at a City/Tech college, I’ve never really seen much difficulty in vocational students finding jobs. Are they super-paying Law school degree type jobs? No, but they are generally acceptable (maybe not truck driving) and usually always in demand. The last salary info I saw for HVAC installers/repairers in our area put the median salary about $19-$20 per hour. Not shabby for our part of the country. Couple that with the extremely cheap tuition of our school, and such students have their loans paid off very quickly (if they have any at all).
Do the majors you list do quite well? Sure they do. However, I don’t think that all students are cut out for those majors (whether academcially or as a matter of personality), and certainly many vocational students are not. Having worked in transportation I can anecdotally, but safely, say most truck drivers are not quite chemical engineering material.
Also the fact that the modern university system awards more degrees in things like Visual and Performing arts or Social Sciences than they do Engineering or Education leads me to question whether we are serving our students well. If many of the students don’t actually make use of their education, then what is point of their college experience other than tossing them into a hole of debt that even bankruptcy can’t clear.



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Franklin Evans

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm


Point taken, Richard. However, I was rather explicit about challenging the “radical” qualifier, and the usage of “most” (generally taken as more than half). Further, how much evidence do we have (caveat: personal rewording of the original) that this left majority in academia is bent on indoctrinating their students?
JW (and others) make bald assertions. I don’t believe I’m out of line in demanding evidential support for them.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:12 pm


If all of our business, humanities and education majors decided to enroll in a trade school, how would they be better off?
There are, of course, exceptions, but generally, they’d lead significantly more productive lives for one. They’d avoid a huge debtload that often comes with university, and they wouldn’t have wasted a few years at chug-a-lug U getting a scrap of paper that’s losing its value as the years progress.
Look, with the exception of the technical degrees you list, college degrees are basically IQ tests for employers. They use them as a screen since they can administer tests for themselves, lest they fall awry of disparate impact litigation. But as more and more people see the emptiness of the degree and its diminishing returns, the college bubble is going to pop. Best to have a marketable trade to fall back on.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm


A much more interesting inquiry would be, how many homosexuals hold that anal sex is not an appropriate expression of conjugal love?
There actually is a subset that argue this because of health and moral reasons.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm


Reading the linked account only confirms that getting rid of this professor, and even the whole program, was a good idea. These people from the Newman Center either can’t tell the difference between academic teaching and proselytizing, or they don’t want to know the difference, and hence don’t belong at a public university.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm


I wasn’t claiming it was apples to apples: it’s not. Just claiming that A) It’s not all there is to the physical relationship between homosexual partners and B) It’s not “rare” among hetero couples.



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celticdragonchick

posted July 20, 2010 at 12:46 pm


Only a fascist thug would use it as an excuse to deprive the man of his job.
We now have a Godwin.



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Your Name

posted July 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm


Elizabeth Anne,
Someone should let you know that according to catholic teaching, the act is question would also be a sin for a hetero-married couple. The same natural-law argument would apply.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 1:16 pm


Your name – I was under the impression that such and similar acts were acceptable within the broader context of a sexual relationship that was fully open to life and were not engaged for the purpose of avoiding conception. (I was told this by an orthodox Catholic couple, who were in turn taught this by their very conservative priest. But I do not claim to be an expert in canon law.)
BUT ULTIMATELY my whole point was that this was only one of a number of problems with Prof. Howell’s email that suggested, to me and to a number of others here, that this was probably not the first complaint and that there were serious issues with his teaching.



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PlanetAlbany

posted July 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm


While I agree with the thrust of this post, I’m afraid the proposed solutions won’t wash. I very much doubt that when Rod’s kids are looking at colleges, he’s going to be effectively researching exactly how each institution addresses these issues, and directing each kid accordingly. Life doesn’t work like that.



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Your Name

posted July 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm


“And ‘anal sex is inherently unhealthy’ forgot the very important part – namely, UNPROTECTED anal sex.”
A condom doesn’t protect an anus from the abuse and damage inflicted on it by anal sex. It simply ain’t designed for the act and suffers from it.
captcha: noxious outcomes



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm


We now have a Godwin.
No, when the act fits the description, Godwin doesn’t apply. Having a man fired man because you disagree with his political or philosophical position can be fairly described as fascist. If Howell had been sacked for taking opposition, Lord knows we’d be seeing a lot uglier terms shrieked with all the shrillness you could muster, CDC.



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Polichinello

posted July 20, 2010 at 2:03 pm


BUT ULTIMATELY my whole point was that this was only one of a number of problems with Prof. Howell’s email that suggested, to me and to a number of others here, that this was probably not the first complaint and that there were serious issues with his teaching.
Well, thanks for sharing your psychic vision with us, Mentock the Magnificent.
Maybe as a closer you can give us the numbers to the next Powerball drawing. Don’t worry, if you know, it’s not really gambling, just a wise investment.



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Elizabeth Anne

posted July 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Polichinello, while we clearly disagree, I have been nothing but polite to you. I would appreciate the same courtesy in response. You do not have to like my point, agree with it, or even find it interesting, but this level of snide response is unbecoming.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm


Is the text of this guy’s email posted somewhere? I looked around and couldn’t find it. Anyone got a link?



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Your Name

posted July 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm


“A condom doesn’t protect an anus from the abuse and damage inflicted on it by anal sex. It simply ain’t designed for the act and suffers from it.”
Then you are doing it wrong. Or are simply ignorant of how to do it correctly. Ever hear of lube?



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Rod Dreher

posted July 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm


OK, enough of the anal sex talk. I’ve had about enough.
Polichinello, be respectful in your disagreement with Elizabeth. There’s no reason to be nasty.



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Cecelia

posted July 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm


There is a lot I could say on this subject but I am going to try to restrict my comments. I would say Anon Prof covered the funding issue very well.
I am not familiar with all the details of the Hillman case but I would bet the real issue here is that he was adjunct faculty – which of course means he got paid peanuts, was not tenured and could be fired at will. The University probably figured it was easier to fire him than risk a law suit. Such is the life of the adjunct professor. If he were tenured faculty the situation would not I think have ended this way.
As for choosing a school for one’s child – it amazes me that parents and their offspring approach selection of a school the way they do. And then complain about colleges when in fact they make poor decisions in selecting a college. School rankings, fancy buildings and free ice cream in the cafeteria tend to impress people when in fact that has little to do with how well a young person will do. First, any parent who is willing to drop 20 – 40,000 a year or any young person who is willing to accrue the same amount in loans and then major in the functional equivalent of basket weaving is a fool. I really think the British custom of working a year before entering college is a good one – a lot of kids come into college with little in the way of focus or maturity or life experience and have no idea what they really want to study. Second, people do not focus on the important issues when choosing a school. How many people look at graduation rates? A school that has very high (over 90%) graduation rates is doing a good job of knowing what kind of student is right for their school and does a good job supporting that student during their years at the school. You also want to scrutinize the drug and alcohol policies and do not rely on what is printed in their pamphlet – ask around. While research is an important indicator of a good school – be sure you know that the emphasis of the school is on teaching undergrads. How much face to face, one on one time will a student have with professors? And most important of all – what kind of child do you have? It really matters that you have a good fit between the school and your child’s personality and temperament. A lot of kids wilt in big state universities who would have thrived in a smaller school. As for religion – I teach at a private school that has Christian origins but is generally secular now – yet there are a number of very active religious organizations on campus that create a community for students who desire it. The presence of those types of communities can mean a lot more than professors who sign statements agreeing to teach that which is consistent with a particular religion.



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hlvanburen

posted July 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Rod Dreher: “OK, enough of the anal sex talk. I’ve had about enough.”
With respect, Mr. Dreher, it’s difficult to separate the issue from the firing of this professor, as it was highlighted in the e-mail he sent to the student.
http://www.news-gazette.com/news/religion/2010-07-09/e-mail-prompted-complaint-over-ui-religion-class-instructor.html
From that e-mail:
“One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the “woman” while the other acts as the “man.” In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don’t want to be too graphic so I won’t go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.”
Apparently the professor holds that because anal sex is injurious to one or both partners it violates natural law and is therefore immoral. Now I agree with you that the subject can get a bit disgusting if discussed in too graphic a detail. But to chastise the discussion of anal sex in this thread would seem to support the position of the professor’s opponents that his e-mail was inappropriate in the context of teaching a religion class.
The professor bases his argument on the statement from a physician. While the physician may well be competent, such an admission leads me to offer this quote of the professor’s own words from later in the same e-mail.
“Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter.”
To the professor I would ask…have you done extensive research into homosexuality? If so, then certainly you would find a weightier source than one physician for your analysis of anal sex. If not, then by your own words you are not ready to make any judgment on this matter.



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BobSF

posted July 20, 2010 at 3:52 pm


Well, a couple things.
I’m surprised at the number of posters, especially among the professor’s supporters, who even got to the part about his doctor’s unmentionable revelations vis-a-vis “the back door”. Weren’t you gobsmacked and stopped cold by his assertion that dogs can consent to sex?
If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a ten year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of. The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like “informed consent.” Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that “informed consent” might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong. I don’t think that it would be wrong according to the consent criterion.
When did that sneak into the catechism?
His email:
http://www.news-gazette.com/news/religion/2010-07-09/e-mail-prompted-complaint-over-ui-religion-class-instructor.html
Am I misreading the “back story” Rod links to? Over a decade of special accommodation to one and only one religion in this ill-advised arrangement mixing public university teaching and religious organizations? And they’re complaining?



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Broken Yogi

posted July 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm


“Having a man fired man because you disagree with his political or philosophical position can be fairly described as fascist. If Howell had been sacked for taking opposition.”
Actually, firing someone for their political or philosophical positions is not fascism, it’s bigotry. But the professor here is not being fired for having Catholic views. It was well known that he was a Catholic when he was hired. In fact, that’s precisely why he was hired. He’s being fired for using his position as a soapbox to preach his views, rather than to teach about Catholicism. That’s neither fascism nor bigotry, it’s just a basic management prerogative. If a Catholic university were to fire a profesor for preaching against Catholicism in the classroom, I don’t think you’d be calling that fascism, or even bigotry.



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Anon Prof

posted July 20, 2010 at 5:54 pm


The back story Rod links to (if true) shows that Howell’s dismissal is part of an ongoing effort to exclude particular points of view from on campus theology classes. I’m not sure whether these off-campus arrangements are a good idea or not. On the one hand, they provide a free way to offer an insider’s perspective that is not well represented within academia. On the other, it isn’t clear how quality control of the instruction is maintained without running into the sorts of problems we’ve recently witnessed. However, if the history posted in this link is accurate, outrage over Howell’s email was simply a pretext for making a move the department has wanted to make for quite some time.
Howell was an adjunct with no job security. In my mind, the moral of the story is that tenure is still absolutely essential if academic freedom is to have any meaning and if heterodox points of view are going to be freely explored in the academy. The erosion of the tenure system by the over reliance on adjuncts is a big problem.



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Spambalaya

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm


When Prof. Howell’s dismissal was originally brought up in a previous post, I spent a great deal of time reading to what I thought was the end of the discussion and then spent nearly an hour writing and researching a long response to it (yes, when I approach such a serious issue I often write very slowly and carefully, because it’s painful to me if I don’t get it right, and I suspect many of the posters I most respect her do so as well) only to discover after hitting the Send button that Rod had closed the thread for no discernable reason other than that “I’m tired of this thread. I think I’ll close it.” That was a very frustrating experience in a long week that was full of them, and I almost swore off this blog that night before finally calming down
So instead of taking up my evening trying to reconstruct that post again and losing more minutes of my life that I’ll never recover if this thread closes as well while I’m typing it, I’ll simply say that a poster in that thread had it absolutely right when s/he said that there’s a vital difference between teaching about a subject and teaching a subject. Prof. Howell stepped way over that line with his email; not only did he argue that the Catholic viewpoint was the right one, but he was dismissive toward students who might dissent from this assertion as lacking in necessary wisdom and was personally insulting toward any student in his class who was gay or lesbian or even bisexual, not to mention that he was reinforcing the prejudices of their fellow classmates and saying it was okay to think gays and lesbians are immoral people. I’m simplifying greatly here, but as I said, hitting the Send button seems to be of greater importance than constructing a detailed argument at this point.
When I was at the University of Maryland in the late ’70s there was a professor of government and politics, Don Devine, who was engaging and challenging. We loved and deeply respected his ability to take any major school of political thought–Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Conservatism, Liberalism, even Anarchism and Monarchism–and present comprehensive arguments both in favor of and in opposition to each of them in turn. However, most of us never had a hint about his own political leanings. (A few who were more politically active were probably familiar with his writings in that field, but the majority of us taking his intro to GVPT course didn’t have any reason to have such awareness.)
A couple years later President Reagan was elected, and appointed Prof. Devine to be Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Those of us who recalled his class kept remarking how we never knew he held such deeply conservative leanings, and how if we had known we would have written some very different final papers than what ultimately reached his desk.
It’s one of the immortal truths of academia that many, if not most, average insecure undergraduates will skew their papers to mirror the known biases of their professors rather than challenge them. It’s a natural impulse, but stultifying to an honest exchange of ideas and intellectual growth. Prof. Howell’s email, rather than minimizing this impulse toward appeasing authority and fostering an environment where questioning and challenging are encouraged, did exactly the opposite. This isn’t teaching; it’s indoctrination, in the most technical sense of the word.
Damn, I did spend way too much time typing here after all. So is this thread closed yet?
Captcha: erogenous corner. Darn all those anal-sex commenters!



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Rick

posted July 20, 2010 at 11:41 pm


If I understand the article correctly, students taking the class are informed up front that the class provides an “insider’s perspective”. The Newman Center and the University are not claiming in the catalog that it is an objective study of Catholicism.
Natural Law Theory would not state that anal sex is immoral because it can cause injury. It would say that anal sex is immoral because the penis, rectum (or mouth for that matter) do not “fit together” in a procreative fashion.
You might disagree with that perspective, but it is the Natural Law Theory perspective. Natural Law is not a synomym for appearing in nature, it is a philosophical not scientific perspective.
Regarding the general morality, from a Catholic perspective, of anal and oral sex: they may be okay as “foreplay” but male climax must be achieved in the vagina and without barriers.



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Brett in Oregon

posted July 21, 2010 at 2:03 am


I think the University was right in firing the Professor. I say this from hearing only the Professor’s side and evidence and not the Univeristy’s. This whole arrrangement with the University and Newman Center is unsettling! It’s interesting that the Newman Center fired him from his position there as well. Besides, wouldn’t Natural Law according to Roman Catholics requre the Newman Center to stand up for justice and keep his position (i.e. income) before he contested and got the University review?
Natural Law Theory should have been taught in that Modern (Roman) Catholicism class. Shouldn’t 15 weeks of Intro to (Roman) Catholicism have been more about God (the Trinity), Jesus (100% human/100% divine), the afterlife (Heaven, Purgatory, Hell and, now defuct, Limbo), and the sucession from Peter? Not to mention all the angels, saints, dogma, history, etc? That’s a lot of background to cover for a 15 week Intro class! Also, the “end-all-be-all” of Catholic Natural Law Theory was philosopher Thomas of Aquinas circa 1225 to 1274. He is closer to our time than he was to Jesus’! Shouldn’t Aquinas’ time be “modern” for an institution that is all about tradition? To me, it sound’s like Catholic apologetics for students getting University credits! I could be wrong; Modern Catholicism might be about Vatican II and the after affects (since Catholics don’t have to remind non-Catholic Christians that they’re going to Hell), but it still reeks apologetics to me. The U’s Department of Religious Studies did not provide enough oversight over this arrangement and should have seeked to corrected or dismantled it once it was noticed. I do fault the University also.
There could be anti-Catholic bias in the University system but I don’t think this is a case of one of them.



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Your Name

posted July 21, 2010 at 2:28 am


I forgot to mention in my post that the University is reviewing its arrangment with the Newman Center – it’s a good thing. I pray they come to the just decision.



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Denis Drew

posted July 21, 2010 at 8:43 am


Re: Howell
The Catholic Church also opposes divorce, pre-martial sex, abortion — and masturbation. Would openly espousing any of these teachings also constitute “hate speech” — or does that only apply to the current hot-button issue? ;-)



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Broken Yogi

posted July 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm


“The Catholic Church also opposes divorce, pre-martial sex, abortion — and masturbation. Would openly espousing any of these teachings also constitute “hate speech” — or does that only apply to the current hot-button issue? ;-)”
If one advocated that such people should be seen by others in class as sinful and degraded human beings, then yes, it would clearly be hate speech.



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