Illini Student Defends Kenneth Howell, Church Teaching on Homosexuality

I received an e-mail from Ms Kelly. I responded. I deleted her email address. I respect her views but I maintain that Dr Howell is a homophobe. To state that consensual sex between same-sex partners is wrong, sinful and violative of so-called natural law is intolerable in a modern, progressive, diverse society. It is contemptible and utterly without justification. Yet I noted and repeat. Professors should be given academic freedom protection that includes the right to voice opinions to and in class. Some choose to do so rarely; others more frequently. Professors cannot indoctrinate or proselytize but are not mere ciphers of knowledge either. The issue is one of an instructor being afforded the rights of other citizens: free speech.

From: Megan Kelly [mailto:megankelly]
Sent: Sun 7/11/2010 8:14 PM
To: Kirstein, Peter N.
Subject: Regarding Dr. Ken Howell

Hi Prof. Kirstein,

I’ve been following the recent news concerning Dr. Kenneth Howell with interest, and I enjoyed reading your blog entry on him. As a former student and acquaintance of Dr. Howell’s (Intro to Catholicism, Fall 2007; resident advisor at the Newman Center), I’m familiar with his persona. A couple of quick comments: 

1. Dr. Howell encouraged his students to participate in friendly debate during class when I took the course. If a student disagreed with a teaching of Catholicism, Dr. Howell let them speak and never said they were wrong. He might better explain to them what the Catholic Church’s stance is on the topic, but never said that their opinion was invalid. Further, he also did not grade students based on their belief. 

2. Dr. Howell is not homophobic. I was disappointed to see that your headline ignorantly described him as such. As a professor at a Roman Catholic university, ([St.] Xavier), I would expect you to be somewhat familiar with church doctrine: Catholics believe that homosexual acts are sinful. However, they believe it imperative to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of orientation. Although this wasn’t relevant to the e-mail Prof. Howell sent, it was something he discussed and encouraged. 

Thank you for time.

Sincerely,

Megan Kelly
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From: Kirstein, Peter N.
Sent: Mon 7/12/2010 8:08 AM
To: Megan Kelly
Subject: RE: Regarding Dr. Ken Howell

Dear Megan:

Thank you for taking the time to write me. I am always eager to be corrected and critiqued.

1) I believe I stated in my piece that Mr Howell stated that he encouraged student dialogue and that I had not seen any evidence to the contrary. So I do not believe I suggested otherwise.

2) While I do not know precisely what Mr Howell said in his email to his class or in class, it was clear he was advocating a position consistent with church doctrine interspersed with the so-called natural moral theory of the far right. I believe church doctrine is indeed homophobic and anti-modern. I agree with your brief synopsis of church doctrine, although I am not a theologian, but find it hard to separate the pronouncement of sin with toleration of the sinner. Homosexuality in my opinion is not sinful and to label it as such is biased and prejudicial. Let’s say you are straight and you have a twin who is a lesbian. You go to church and when it is time to receive communion, you stand and proceed but your twin can’t. Still think the church is tolerant and not homophobic?

I have already stated that it appears his academic freedom was violated and AAUPs willingness to intervene were Mr Howell to contact AAUP. The president of AAUP, Cary Nelson, has indicated that publicly and in an email to me.
 
Best wishes,
 
Peter
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