by Kathleen Gilbert
CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, July 30, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - While students of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) have hailed the school's decision to reinstate professor Kenneth Howell, many have also received the news with caution, saying that the decision leaves some questions unanswered.
News broke earlier this month that Dr. Kenneth Howell would no longer be allowed to teach at UIUC after a student complained about Howell's instruction to students in his Catholicism course. The student claimed that an email from Howell explaining how homosexuality is incompatible with the natural moral law amounted to "hate speech." The popular professor had taught Introduction to Catholicism at the school for nine years, and also served at the school's diocesan-run Newman Center for 12 years.
After the school received a deluge of criticism - including from the school's atheist club - a UIUC statement Thursday announced that the university "will continue Kenneth Howell’s adjunct appointment for the fall semester, and has offered him the opportunity to teach Religion 127, Introduction to Catholicism."
Eli Lazar, a former student of Howell's Introduction to Catholicism course, called the announcement "great news," but stopped short of declaring victory.
"I think it really shows that this campus has a University president that really feels the 'pulse' of students on campus," Lazar told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN). "However, this is definitely not a victory yet. I think the President needs to address the concern that this is not just a delaying of a future firing of Prof. Howell under more accepted conditions."
Other students who led the charge defending Dr. Howell also expressed concern.
Alumna Trisha Tan expressed concern about the fact that the university has announced that it will be funding Dr. Howell’s position from now on, instead of the diocese, as previously. She said she would "hardly consider this to be the end."
"While this is certainly a victory, it raises many more questions: what are the ramifications of the University's funding his position going to be now? What is the relationship going to be between SJCNC (St. John’s Cardinal Newman Center) and the University, now that the agreement under which he had been teaching has been dissolved?" Tan told LSN.
"We must ask, indeed, if this is an underhanded attempt to silence the Church. With the University now funding the courses and the position, inevitably questions of Church-state relations will arise - questions which have been uneasily tabled for the last several decades."
Ryan McDaniel, a Ph.D. student at UIUC, faculty member at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and a leader in the fight to reinstate Dr. Howell, noted that while the professor's teaching assignment has been re-offered, "the situation is not antebellum."
"He was not so much reinstated as instated afresh in a new situation," said McDaniel, who added that "the real story here has become the decision by UI to end a decades-old agreement to have an Adjunct Professorship of Catholic Thought funded by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria."
The school's statement in which it announced that it was reinstating Howell had focused upon the decision to provide the salary for its Adjunct Professor of Catholic Thought itself. Referring to the school's unique relationship to the diocese, Nicholas Burbules, a professor on the committee that reviewed the relationship, told the Chicago Tribune: "This is the time to undo something that probably should've been undone 40 years ago."
"There needs to be a strict firewall between instruction at the Newman Center and the religious studies department," he said, going on to suggest that the Newman Center-sponsored education should not count toward graduation. McDaniel called Burbules' idea "demonstrative of his prejudice" against Catholic education. "I would like to see UI further challenged to explain itself about what was so 'improper' about the long-standing relationship it had with the Diocese of Peoria," he said.