Thursday, December 01, 2005

Define "Open-Minded"

There has been a considerable degree of flap of late over the state Board of Education of Kansas's decision to allow the criticism of evolution to be taught in public schools.

One of the most vocal of critics has been Dr. Paul Mirecki, chairman of the University of Kansas's Religious Studies department, who last week announced a course that would teach creationism and intelligent design as "mythologies" with the following stirring words, repeated on liberal blogs worldwide:

“The KU faculty has had enough,” said Paul Mirecki, chairman of KU’s religious studies department. He said he planned to teach “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” next semester....

“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.”

This of course was also announced by Provost David Shulenburger, who was careful to explain:

At KU, we instruct our teachers to create a classroom environment that encourages intellectual inquiry and civil discussion that helps students master the subject matter. This religious studies course will be held up to the same standard. All views will be respected and rights to freedom of expression will be fully observed. This university welcomes students of all religious faiths and prides itself on maintaining a climate of openness and tolerance.

Of course, the very next day, a point about Mirecki's own rationality was raised......

Paul Mirecki, chairman of KU's Religious Studies Department, wrote in an e-mail that the course was his response to religious fundamentalists promoting the study of intelligent design and creationism in the state's public schools.

"The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category 'mythology,' " the message said.

Mirecki, as one might expect, responded in outrage by claiming the email was "private", meant only to be shared with the student organization for which he is the faculty advisor (the ironically-named Society for Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics); Shulenberger again tried to reassure people that the course would be taught in a "professional manner", further arguing that Mirecki had compiled a "good record" as a teacher. Other academics argued that Mirecki was merely "fighting back" and was completely justified in his actions.

Unfortunately, things started to really go downhill on Wednesday when it was revealed that Mirecki's email in question was merely one of many similar ones he had written over the past three years to the same group, including this gem:

"I had my first Catholic 'holy communion' when I was a kid in Chicago, and when I took the bread-wafer the first time, it stuck to the roof of my mouth, and as I was secretly trying to pry it off with my tongue as I was walking back to my pew with white clothes and with my hands folded, all I could think was that it was Jesus' skin, and I started to puke, but I sucked it in and drank my own puke. That's a big part of the Catholic experience. I don't think most Catholics really know what they are supposed to believe, they just go home and use condoms, and some of them beat their wives and husbands."

Suddenly the University's tune changed, especially when it was publicly revealed that Mirecki was planning to involve KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway in his class.

Hemenway said Mirecki's comments were "repugnant and vile."

"It's extremely unfortunate. It misrepresents everything the university is to stand for," Hemenway said.

The chancellor said the university and Board of Regents have strict policies regarding faculty conduct in the classroom, and while Mirecki was speaking as a private person, his comments were linked to a course he intended to teach.

"You shouldn't be teaching a course with some sort of personal agenda," Hemenway said.

Unfortunately for Hemenway, Mirecki, and their fellow Democrats, I don't think the worst has happened. For instance, I wonder how the donors who recently endowed a professorship for Roman Catholic thought will take to leaving that money to support faculty members who apparently teach that Catholics are spouse-beating mouth-pukers. This also raises of just how much (or little) KU's "administration" is actually supervising its faculty, and what they're being allowed to teach students.

Finally, especially given Minecki's opening statement, it begs the question.....who's using the public school system and taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate who?

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