KU could face heat in Topeka

? Top legislative leaders said Friday they were satisfied with Kansas University’s decision to cancel a planned course on intelligent design because of the professor’s controversial written remarks bashing religious conservatives.

But if history is a guide, KU could face heat when the legislative session starts Jan. 9. And some ranking lawmakers have promised hearings in which professor Paul Mirecki and KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway would be called on the carpet.

The flap started last month when Mirecki said he would offer a spring semester class teaching intelligent design and creationism as mythology. Mirecki is in the religious studies department.

A Mirecki e-mail was disclosed that included disparaging remarks about fundamentalists and his pledge that the class would “be a nice slap in their big fat face … “

He later apologized, but then his postings to a private, electronic message board for KU’s Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics student group surfaced. Mirecki, faculty adviser to the group, made comments insulting the pope and Catholics, writing that the pope was “a corpse in a funny hat wearing a dress.”

KU dropped the class Thursday, and Hemenway criticized Mirecki’s comments.

Lawmakers talk

On Friday, top legislative leaders said the matter was settled to their satisfaction.

Professor Paul Mirecki

But over the past several years, some lawmakers have tried to punish KU for what they said were inappropriate actions.

¢ Last year, state Rep. Carl Krehbiel, R-Moundridge, unsuccessfully tried to delete $54,000 from KU’s budget.

Lawmakers said Krehbiel was displeased with KU for initially agreeing to pay a portion of the salary of a professor who went to work for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. Sebelius’ office had later decided to pay all the salary from the governor’s budget even before Krehbiel’s proposed cut.

¢ In 2003, state Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, made national headlines when on the Senate floor she accused KU professor Dennis Dailey of showing pornographic videos, making vulgar remarks to female students and promoting pedophilia in his human sexuality class.

After an investigation, KU officials concluded Wagle’s charges were baseless.

Possible backlash

Could fallout from the religious studies course hit KU next year?

“It certainly doesn’t do them any good,” said state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing.

Wilk has been a major supporter of KU in efforts to increase bioscience research, but he said the e-mails from Mirecki “were a disappointing event.”

“I no longer see this as the issue of the class,” Wilk said. “It’s an issue of intellectual honesty. Our universities should be the standard bearer, and a question of ethics of the individual professor – it’s a reflection on the institution and the entire higher education system.”

Wilk said he was satisfied KU administrators were taking the matter seriously. He said he doubted KU would face financial repercussions from lawmakers.

KU is seeking about a 5 percent increase in its operating grant, and the Kansas Board of Regents have launched a proposal to increase taxes to pay for $600 million in deferred maintenance and continued upkeep of buildings on the state’s six public university campuses.

Leaders satisfied

The Legislature’s top leaders also said Friday they were satisfied the issue had been appropriately dealt with by Hemenway.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, “feels like the chancellor has handled it as a personnel matter and it’s taken care of,” Morris spokeswoman Patti Van Slyke said.

House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, also said he didn’t feel KU would suffer long-term damage.

Neither Hemenway nor KU Provost David Shulenburger could be reached for comment Friday.

Reggie Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Board of Regents, said Hemenway has kept the board updated on KU’s decisions and will decide later if the regents need to get involved.

Mirecki’s e-mails

In a written statement from the university, Mirecki said the continued controversy surrounding his several e-mails on the student group’s discussion board pressed him to drop the course.

His postings date back to 2003.

In one, Mirecki talked about his first Catholic holy communion.

“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.”

In another, Mirecki referred to the late Pope John Paul II as “J2P2,” a form of Star Wars character R2D2.

And Mirecki once discussed KU’s religious studies department: “Maybe there is some confusion about what we do in the Religious Studies Dept here at KU. We do not teach students the ‘how to’ of religion, that is, how to do religion or how to be religious, nor are we apologists for religion. The majority of my colleagues here in the dept are agnostics or atheists, or they just don’t care…As I often tell my students on the first day of class ‘If anyone gets converted in this class, its not my fault.'”

Hearing wanted

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said she wanted a hearing during the session so Hemenway and Mirecki could be questioned about the course.

Landwehr said her displeasure with the e-mails, however, would not affect her feelings about other KU issues.

“I don’t penalize an entire organization for the actions of one or two individuals,” she said.

KU’s Faculty Council, a 40-member organization, passed a resolution Thursday trying to communicate that faculty are sensitive to religious issues and the beliefs of others.

“It was important the we affirm the principles in which we operate,” said Jim Carothers, English professor and the council’s presiding officer.

The resolution reaffirmed the importance of academic freedom and the right to offer courses examining controversial subjects. But it also acknowledged that KU’s faculty handbook calls for exercise of appropriate restraint and respect for others’ opinions.

“We want to convey that this is not the way we intend to do business,” said Joe Heppert, chairman of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.