Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No! No! We're serious! 

So on Tuesday the Lawrence, KS, Journal-World runs an article describing a course titled �Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies�. The professor for the course is Paul Mirecki, chairman of the religious studies department at the University of Kansas, and he says he's teaching the class because "the KU faculty has had enough."

The course also will cover the origins of creationism, why it�s an American phenomenon, and why Americans have allowed it to pervade politics and education,
Mirecki said. He said several KU faculty have volunteered to be guest lecturers.

�Creationism is mythology,� Mirecki said. �Intelligent design is mythology. It�s not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not.�

Now there's nothing wrong in my view of trying to teach a course that seeks to explain the popularity of intelligent design and creationism. And it's certainly topical in Kansas, where the state's Board of Education now requires that students be taught criticisms of the theory of evolution. But what's with the comment that "the KU faculty has had enough"? Should the inspiration of a course be to 'teach those yokels a lesson'? Some state politicians, unsurprisingly, don't like having stick poked in their eyes. And Mirecki is poking.

Mirecki said intelligent design proponents liked to view themselves as the victims, but that�s not the case.

�The educational system of Kansas is under attack,� Mirecki said. �All they are is oppressors. They�re not martyrs and victims ... I�m expecting insecure, threatened people to start being more and more vocal. They don�t want their beliefs to be analyzed rationally. That�s what this class is devised to do.�

So the pols are poking back.

But some conservatives, such as Sen. Kay O�Connor, R-Olathe, were unmoved.

�Why poke a stick in somebody�s eye if you don�t have to?� she said. �If you�re going to have an intelligent design course and call it mythology, I think in the very least it�s a slap in the face to every Judeo-Christian religion that�s out there.�

And John Altevogt, a conservative columnist and activist in Kansas City, said Tuesday that state officials should require the university to change the name of the Department of Religious Studies to the �Department of Religious Intolerance.�

�If we can�t do that,� Altevogt said, �maybe we settle for some cuts in spending.�

The provost of KU is backpedalling a bit and arguing that the word mythology is both misunderstood and unfortunate. Today's story is full of justifications of how this is a serious course with serious content and "objectivity", as if yesterday's quotes of Prof. Mirecki had not happened. It seems like Kansas should take a lesson from Wisconsin and think twice about how it comes across to legislators. But it would also do well to look into the responsibilities of faculties as contemplated by the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
Emphasis mine. I don't think Prof. Mirecki has read that last sentence. He certainly hasn't understood it. And it's not like he recently forgot...