11 December 2005

Kansas U prof update

As mentioned by Utenzi, University of Kansas religious studies professor Dr. Paul Mirecki was forced off the road while driving on the morning of Monday December 5, and then beaten by the driver and passenger of the other car. This was after he made disparaging comments towards people who believe in creationism (Edit: typo fixed). It's one thing to teach a course addressing creationism as a form of religion (because it is), but when you say bad things about people, it brings out the worst in them as well.

My response to Utenzi's comment was that I felt Dr. Mirecki's words and actions were uncivil and unprofessional, and he actually deserved a written comment to be put in his record for it. That's a very drastic statement, by the way. In academia professors get tenure for life, meaning they can't be fired unless something really extreme happens, and usually that extreme event has to be preceeded by a paper trail of other offences. Putting in a written comment starts him down the road towards being fired, which is entirely unheard of in academia, and ruin's that person's career and life.

What actually happened I feel was too drastic, and yet I have little sympathy for Mirecki. Dr. Mirecki was the chair of the University's religion department. The (unnamed) Dean came to him with a pre-typed letter saying Mirecki was resigning as chair of the department and returning to being just a professor. Dr. Mirecki says he was forced to sign the letter, resigning as department chair, and says this has ruined his career.

At most schools the Dean does not have the authority to actually force a resignation of the chair position, as usually departments vote to decide who has the chair. On the other hand, the Dean does affect firing, and so could've threatened Mirecki with that. Mirecki of course would have sued, and won, but meanwhile his career really would have been ruined.

Which brings me to his claim that this ruins his career. That's absolute hogwash. If he resigned voluntarily it would've been a bit of a disgrace, but he could work his way back from it. If he was forced into it, he could (and will) fight it, and in the meantime he's still a full tenured professor. I really don't see where the hurt is. But if anything ruined his career, it was his poor choice to insult the class of all Christians who believe in creationism, and to do so publicly. If there was any ruining done, he ruined himself.


themaxx.ca said...

But if anything ruined his career, it was his poor choice to insult the class of all Christians who believe in creationism, and to do so publicly.

Sending an email to someone doesn't really count as a public statement in my opinion. And he wasn't insulting "all Christians who believe in creationism". His comments were towards the fundamentalists. By calling them fundies and saying how funny it was that Intelligent Design was going to be taught in religion class, instead of Science like they wanted.

This thing was blown out of proportion by the neo-con to show the consequences of voicing your opinion about them.

The raise of fundamentalism' influence in politics is by far more dangerous to the US then any terror network the Bush administration spoon feed the nation about.

(BTW, great blog! Well written and and now part of my feeds list ;) and thanks for choosing my blog for the "rent my blog" )

Samit said...

But, wasn't Dr. Mirecki expressing his views? Taking into account the freedom of speech which is prevalent in US...

zandperl said...

In the US we are free to say whatever we want. However, not all comments are always prudent, and we have to deal with the consequences of freely saying things in poor judgement. For example, an employee who decides to call his boss an idiot is freely allowed to do so. However, the boss can also fire that employee.

Additionally, in many countries, including the US, certain aspects of free speech actually are regulated: in the US, libel and slander can be sued over; in Germany and Austria, Holocaust denial is a crime punishable by fines and jail time; and in the UK non-citizen immigrants who use hate speech incite violent acts can be deported.

I don't think there are any US laws prohibiting hate speech, so Mirecki's words insulting a portion of the population are not illegal, but I feel they were unwise.

utenzi said...

Typo alert, ZP. I think you wanted to say in the first paragraph "people who don't believe in evolution".

I still think that the use of the word "fundies" just isn't that bad. One of the vaunted advantages of academia is being able to have a viewpoint. That's why tenure is there. There's certainly plenty of religion and philosophy professors out there--and I've had a few of them--that make no bones about supporting a Christian perspective on science.

Samit said...

Which field do you specialize in, as a scientist? Is it physics?

prying1 said...

Beating a man because of his views is not the way to do it. It would have been better had the 2 men taken the course and challenged him with facts throughout the course.

I find I agree with Andrew Stangl, president of the KU Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics statement, "This is certainly not what people do in a civilized society.”

The attack on Dr. Paul Mirecki, if indeed it was by opponents of the course, only makes proponents of Intelligent Design and Creationism look bad.

zandperl said...

* Thanks for pointing out the typo, it's corrected now.
* I see "fundies" as a derrogatory term, as I would see it if creationists called me a "monkey-lover," or if people called me a Chink or a Kike. On the other hand, the term "fundie" could be more like "nigger," where the context and speaker is crucial to whether it's an insult or a friendly term.
* On a different topic, now that Blog Explosion is doing the battle by category, my record's improving! :) When people will take my challenge...

My background in astronomy, I teach physics and general science. Basic chemistry overlaps with my expertise, as do earth and environmental science, but biology does not. In this blog I try to cover various science topics in the news, as well as just whatever catches my eye, so there's a chance it'll be a field I've less experience in. If you find that I have inaccuracies, please do feel free to correct me - although I try to do some background research when I'm less familiar with the topic I'm covering, part of science is that we do admit our mistakes and try to learn from them.

*sigh* Yeah, the attack on Mirecki was definitely NOT a rational thing to do, and does not strengthen the cause of creationism in the evolutionist camp. I also find Mirecki somewhat to fault though, for his inflammatory comments via email to a group of students. These comments similarly do not help promote the cause of evolution to creationists. I think his inappropriate comments caused Mirecki to lose his department chair position, and that he should not have made them in the first place. Utenzi disagrees. :)

Samit said...

Cool... I find Physics very interesting. Plz visit my blog, whenever you find the time to do so.

utenzi said...

Speaking of Blog Explosion, ZP, I see what you were telling me a few weeks back.

Each time I post a science related post my wins in B of the Blogs dives. Sometimes I don't win a single battle until I post again. The anti-science bias is scary! Especially because I'm usually covering breast cancer and that should be fairly safe ground. *sigh*

zandperl said...

Hm, I never did finish that post on scientific illiteracy. It's on my to-do list for when finals are done. Remind me next week. :)

I wonder if people who write blogs about some other academic subject, say history (there are a few historical fiction blogs on BE) have similar trends in their battles. I bet if you made it a touchy-feely post about breast cancer, like how it tears apart a family, or about New Age holistic treatments, you'd do better.

Dread Pirate Robert said...

You said "I see "fundies" as a derrogatory term."

What about "ignorant?" Is that derogatory? How about "Christian Supremacist?" Is it any different than the way that Bill O'Reilly and most Christian fundamentalists use "liberal?"

The point is that beating someone for using it is wrong. The perpetrators of the crime were not assaulting him for calling them fundies, he was beaten because violence is how they respond to perceived slights to their beliefs when they don't have the ability to argue with reason, logic, and civility.

That said, I know plenty of wonderful people who have no conflict between their science and their various faiths. Honesty and the open-minded search for truth is always better than willful ignorance and the bullying of those who don't believe what you want them to.

I agree that the tone of his e-mail sounds disrespectful and inappropriate considering his position, but I've certainly called people worse in some of my private e-mails. As head of Religious Studies (that's all religions, their histories and theologies, not just Christian fundamentalism) he ought to be more tolerant of others' beliefs and probably deserved to lose his position as department head.

Oh, and I always vote for good science in Battle of the Blogs!

zandperl said...

You make interesting comparisons. "Ignorant" is borderline, but "willfully ignorant" would be an insult. "Christian supremacist" is. (All in my opinion.) I don't see "liberal" as an insult, but part of that's because I'm in an area where "conservative" is the insult and liberal is the norm. :-P

I also know a number of people who've reconciled their faith and science, but most of my friends in science fields are not religious. As for my peers in non-science fields, I'm afraid to ask them, for fear I will lose respect for them.

Thanks for the Battle vote! I'm up to a score of zero now. *grin*