(CNSNews.com) – Threats of legal action persist after the University of Illinois responded to demands by the Alliance Defense Fund to fully reinstate a professor relieved of duty for teaching Catholic doctrine on homosexuality in a Catholic doctrine class.
The university said that the professor had not been “fired” -- and “there is no case or controversy” at this time.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, Dr. Kenneth Howell claimed that the head of the religion department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) informed him last May that he would no longer be teaching on campus due to complaints of “hate speech” over teaching Catholic doctrine on homosexuality in an Introduction to Catholicism class.
In a letter to the Alliance Defense Fund, Steven Veazie, deputy counsel for the University of Illinois, said that Howell is still on staff.
“(C)ontrary to some reports, Prof. Howell has not been ‘fired.’ He held, and continues to hold, the appointment of adjunct professor,” Veazie wrote.
According to Veazie, Howell’s teaching assignment for the fall semester “is as yet undetermined pending a review of this matter by the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.”
Veazie went on to say that the University has not violated Dr. Howell’s legal rights, and that there is “no case or controversy upon which legal action would be warranted at this time.”
As CNSNews.com previously reported, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), representing Dr. Howell, had demanded that the University fully re-instate the professor by July 16, or face legal action.
In its response to Veazie’s letter, the ADF reiterated that Howell’s First Amendment and 14 Amendment rights were violated when the university relieved the professor of his duties, due to the content of his speech.
“While he continues to hold his appointment as adjunct professor, that title is virtually meaningless if he has no classes to teach,” ADF attorney David Hacker wrote in a letter to the university.
Hacker pointed out that Dr. Howell was scheduled to teach during the fall 2010 semester, but currently has no teaching assignment.
Hacker also expressed concerns over the “review” of Howell’s situation, saying that opinions among University officials are “tainted” against the professor.
For example, he said, the Champaign, Ill.-based News-Gazette published e-mail correspondence from Ann Mester, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UIUC, to Dr. Robert McKim, head of the religion department, in which she purportedly wrote that she believed "the e-mails sent by Dr. Howell violate university standards of inclusivity, which would then entitle us to have him discontinue his teaching arrangement with us."
Neither Mester nor McKim commented for this story.
Dr. Howell sent an e-mail to his students attempting to clarify the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality after an in-class discussion. That e-mail prompted a complaint to university officials, whch stated: “(T)his hate speech at a public university is entirely unacceptable.”
According to Hacker, the University continues to violate Dr. Howell’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights each day he is not fully reinstated, and that the professor does not need to hear the Faculty Senate Committee decision before exploring court action.
“Thus, absent written assurance that Dr. Howell will continue to teach his regularly assigned courses in the fall of 2010, he will proceed to litigation,” Hacker wrote.
The legal group is demanding Howell’s reinstatement by July 27.