Mirecki apology doesn’t appease critics

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

Journal-World reporters Sophia Maines and Scott Rothschild will be online today to take questions and comments about Kansas University’s controversial intelligent design classes.

Maines covers KU for the Journal-World; Rothschild covers the Kansas Legislature. They’ll discuss the controversy and how it’s playing on campus and in Topeka.

The chat starts at 1:15 p.m. at ljworld.com. (Submit questions early.)

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.”