Friday, July 30, 2010

U of Illinois Reinstates Howell

The University of Illinois has announced that Kenneth Howell will be reinstated to teach his class this fall on Catholicism, the Chicago Tribune and Inside Higher Ed report.

The decision to end the Catholic Church's control over a course on Catholicism at a public university is unquestionably correct. The bigger question that remains is, should the person hired by the Catholic Church under this illegitimate relationship remain in place as the teacher of the class, particularly when there are academic freedom concerns about his termination? I am troubled by the fact that the administration is declaring Howell to be the teacher of the course before a committee investigating the case has reported. We do not really know, despite all the suspicions, whether Howell was legitimately removed from his post, since we do not know the reasons. However, I think the administration's is both wise and justified, both because of the political pressure and out of fairness to the students and teachers who wish to prepare for the fall semester. And no guarantee of future teaching can be made, nor should it be.

I think the University of Illinois deserves praise for its decision: in response to an allegation of an academic freedom violation against an adjunct, it quickly appointed a faculty committee to investigate. In response to a long-standing practice that violated academic standards, it quickly followed a faculty committee's recommendation to end it. Many other universities would do well to state clear policies that any teacher (tenured, adjunct, or graduate assistant) can file a complaint about academic freedom and have it taken seriously and investigated.

There is only one more thing that the University of Illinois and other colleges should do: require that when an adjunct's contract is not renewed, that adequate reasons are given for the decision. This would help protect adjuncts against arbitrary firings.

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