Thursday, December 01, 2005
The Kansas City Star
The University of Kansas withdrew its controversial religious studies course on intelligent design today.
University officials pulled the course from next spring’s offerings at the request of Paul Mirecki, head of the university’s Religious Studies Department. Morecki, who proposed the course and was to teach it, came under fire when e-mails he had sent came under public review. In one e-mail, he said the course would irritate conservative Christians.
“The fundies (fundamentalist Christians) 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,’” Mirecki wrote.
Intelligent design is the belief that nature shows evidence of a creator. Proponents were a driving force behind the Kansas Board of Education’s recent decision to insert significant criticism of evolution into the state’s science curriculum standards.
Over the objections of conservatives, KU officials said it was appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be analyzed in a religious studies class.
The course, entitled “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism,” sparked criticism as soon as it was announced last week. The class was to be taught as an elective to upper level undergraduates and graduate students next spring. Already, 25 students had signed up for the course.
Conservative lawmakers demanded hearings into how the course was created and how it would be taught, and reacted with outrage after Mirecki’s e-mails came to light. In e-mails posted to the KU Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, Mirecki, who was the group’s faculty adviser, criticized fundamentalists and made sarcastic comments about conservative Jews and Catholics.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway strongly condemned the e-mails, calling Mirecki’s words “repugnant and vile.”
In a written statement released by the university, Mirecki cited the controversy as reason to cancel the class. He also apologized for the e-mails.
“Students with a serious interest in this important subject matter would not be well served by the learning environment my e-mails and the public distribution of them have created. It would not be fair to the students,” Mirecki wrote. “It was not my intent when I wrote the e-mails, but I understand now that these words have offended many on this campus and beyond, and for that I take full responsibility. I made a mistake in not leading by example, in this student organization e-mail forum, the importance of discussing differing viewpoints in a civil and respectful manner.”
Hemenway said the course still has a place, but there’s no word when it will be taught or by whom.
“This unfortunate episode does not in any way diminish our belief that the course should be taught,” Hemenway said. “It is the role of the university to take on such topics and to provide the civil, academic environment in which they can be honestly examined and discussed.”