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Welcome to the fray: KU professor Mirecki and bullying

In case you haven't heard about it this week, Dr. Paul Mirecki, a University of Kansas religious studies professor, has come under attack for his remarks concerning on a course on intelligent design that he offered (and withdrew under pressure).

Mirecki resigns from KU department post
By Sophia Maines
Lawrence Journal-World

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The embattled Kansas University religious studies professor who drew ire from Christian conservatives for his derisive remarks on an online discussion board has withdrawn from his post as chair of the department.

"Professor Mirecki said he thought it appropriate to step down and did so on the recommendation of his colleagues in the department and I have accepted his resignation," said Barbara Romzek, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This allows the department to focus on what's most important - teaching, research and service - and to minimize the distractions of the last couple of weeks."

Mirecki, a tenured professor who had planned to teach a course on intelligent design, came under fire recently when his remarks about the course and other statements made on the Internet became public.

Mirecki said the class would be a "slap" in the "big fat face" of religious fundamentalists. He later withdrew the course. And on Monday he reported to local authorities that he was beaten by two men who made reference to controversy.

Mirecki hospitalized after beating
By Ron Knox, Eric Weslander
Lawrence Journal-World

Originally published 05:37 p.m., December 5, 2005
Updated 06:31 p.m., December 5, 2005

Douglas County sheriff's deputies are investigating the reported beating of a Kansas University professor who gained recent notoriety for his Internet tirades against Christian fundamentalists.

Kansas University religious studies professor Paul Mirecki reported he was beaten by two men about 6:40 a.m. today on a roadside in rural Douglas County. In a series of interviews late this afternoon, Mirecki said the men who beat him were making references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks.

"I didn't know them, but I'm sure they knew me," he said.

Mirecki said he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

"I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind," he said. "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out."

He said the men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and he said he thinks they struck him with a metal object. He was treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

"I'm mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots," he said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Officials are classifying the case as an aggravated battery. They wouldn’t say exactly where the incident happened, citing the ongoing investigation.

The sheriff’s department is looking for the suspects, described as two white males between ages 30 and 40, one wearing a red visor and wool gloves, and both wearing jeans. They were last seen in a large pickup truck.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 843-TIPS or the sheriff’s office at 841-0007.

Mirecki recently wrote online that he planned to teach intelligent design as mythology in an upcoming course. He wrote it would be a "nice slap" in the "big fat face" of fundamentalists.

The remarks caused an uproar, Mirecki apologized, and KU announced last week the class would be canceled.

Mirecki apology doesn’t appease critics
By Sophia Maines
Lawrence Journal-World

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kansas University professor Paul Mirecki’s official apology for writing an e-mail disparaging religious fundamentalists hasn’t calmed the firestorm surrounding his plans to teach intelligent design in a religious studies class.

"If a person has hate in his heart and says something hateful and later apologizes, do you think the hatred in his heart has been mended?" State Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe, said Tuesday. "I’m surprised that something more severe isn’t happening to this teacher who obviously has a hatred for Christians."

Mirecki, who plans to teach about intelligent design next semester, has been criticized for a recent e-mail he wrote in which he referred to religious fundamentalists as "fundies" and said his class would be a "slap in their big fat face."

KU on Monday released a written statement by Mirecki, chairman of KU’s religious studies department. In the statement, Mirecki said his e-mail was ill-advised.

"My words were offensive, and I apologize to all for that," he said.

The State Board of Education’s conservative majority earlier this month successfully pushed changes in the state’s public schools science standards that critique evolution.

KU approved the course for next semester, but changed its title from "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies" to "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism."

A course description, reading list and syllabus are not available yet.

A second course, taught by John Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology, also is expected to discuss intelligent design. That class is planned for the fall.

Not enough

Conservative politicians said the apology and the change in the course title are small gestures.

"The integrity of university is in question right now,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, and vice-chairwoman of the House appropriations committee. “He’s only apologizing for getting caught. He’s not apologizing for his behavior."

Landwehr said she wants Mirecki and KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway to appear before the appropriations committee to answer questions about the course.

"I don’t want to make a judgment without giving an opportunity for these individuals to respond to us," she said.

State Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the apology was a step, but KU needs to be more forthcoming in order to quell concerns.

"It wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing," Pilcher-Cook said of the e-mail. "It was a strategy."

State Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, said she appreciates the university’s acknowledgment that this is a serious issue, but more needs to be done. She said KU needs to show that the course meets the standards of the university and the Kansas Board of Regents.
Online chat

Regarding the course’s name change, Brownlee said: “It’s like they’ve changed the cover of the book, but where’s the assurance that the content of the book will be different?”

‘Welcome to the fray’

As others responded to Mirecki’s apology, one KU professor said he’s seen this all too closely before.

Dennis Dailey, professor emeritus in KU’s School of Social Welfare, said he recently sent e-mails to Mirecki and Hoopes.

"My opening line was: ‘Welcome to the fray,’" Dailey said.

As Dailey watches the current controversy, he sees a battle similar to the one that enveloped him and his human sexuality course in 2003.

Dailey’s course on human sexuality spurred State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, to voice her concerns on the floor of the Kansas Senate and to take aim at KU’s funding. An amendment, proposed by Wagle, to cut funding to the KU School of Social Welfare ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. But Wagle succeeded in getting another proviso attached that requires universities to submit to the Kansas Board of Regents their policies regarding guidelines for sexually explicit courses and sexual harassment.

Dailey said being at the center of such controversies can be frightening.

"These people often are politically established," he said. "They often say things that are incredibly hurtful."

The low point in his saga, Dailey said, was receiving death threats and seeing how the issue hurt his family.

Steve Case, a KU scientist who served as co-chairman of the state’s science standards curriculum revision committee, also said he was not surprised by the current ruckus.

He said intelligent design proponents want to be able to spin the information to meet their needs.

"They want control of the information," Case said. "They want control of how it’s presented. They don’t trust academics."

Dailey said it is an "obscene" idea that Mirecki would have to answer questions about his course.

"No faculty member should have to go before any government body and justify the teaching of a course," he said. "It’s called academic freedom."

Dailey also said he’s not shocked by the current controversy. It’s natural, he said.

"This is how it’s supposed to unfold," he said. "I cannot imagine that the people on the State Board of Education and others raising the issues of intelligent design and attacking science could expect that the university, among others, would stand by and take that crap," he said. "They’re going to fight back. Welcome to the fight."

Welcome to the fight, indeed. I want to go on record as concurring with Dr. Dailey. I've heard enough anti-intellectual spin and denigration of academics on the air (especially on The O'Reilly Factor), and I would like to add my voice to what I should hope is a fairly strident backlash. There's no call for this kind of ad hominem rhetoric, and implying that the man staged or exaggerated his own victimization is certainly adding insult to injury. Make no mistake: this kind of abusive, disrespectful, boorish, violent, and arrogant behavior is nothing short of profound evil, and while I have breath in my body, I will not stop saying so.

As I wrote here a few days back, and as neookami posted:
I will not stand for this
Everyone Feels This Pain
Show your support

Tags: academia, bullying, creationism, e-mail, intelligent design, no silence, privacy, religion, religious studies, violence

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