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Archive for Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pressing their point

Criticism of a proposed Kansas University course can be adequately aired and responded to without a legislative hearing.

November 30, 2005

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State legislators have made their point about a proposed new course at Kansas University. Scheduling a full-blown hearing on the matter would be a waste of taxpayer resources and a misuse of legislative authority.

A number of state legislators have expressed dismay at a religion course slated to be taught in the spring semester and a related e-mail from the faculty member who proposed the course. It's certainly fair for them to register their complaints, but holding legislative hearings on this matter seems like a huge overreaction, especially because university officials already are addressing the legislators' concerns.

The class originally was titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and Other Religious Mythologies," but faculty members who approved the teaching of the class on Monday dropped the "and Other Religious Mythologies," a phrase that had caused special offense among legislators. Chancellor Robert Hemenway has met with legislators and is looking into the course and whether it received proper review before being approved.

Paul Mirecki, associate professor of religion, also has apologized for statements he made concerning the course in an e-mail to a group of colleagues. He agreed with many critics that, even though his remarks were not intended to be made public, they were ill-advised and offensive. He took full responsibility for his mistake and expressed his regret for making statements that betrayed his own commitment to civil discourse.

Obviously, the comments of state legislators are not being ignored, but apparently some of the lawmakers want to press their case. Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, is among those calling for full-blown hearings on the matter when the Legislature convenes in January. "I would like to have the opportunity to ask some questions and get some answers," she said.

It seems that KU officials already are being receptive to questions and responsive to legislators concerns. If Landwehr has questions, she should ask them and get them answered, but that doesn't require a legislative hearing.

Sen. Karin Brownlee met with Hemenway for more than an hour Monday, but said she still was concerned about whether the course met the university's standards. "The KU administration - it is their job to hold their faculty responsible, and then it is the job of the Legislature to hold the administrators accountable."

Primary responsibility for state universities and their administration actually rests with the Kansas Board of Regents. If legislators are going to take on the task of overseeing university administration, they probably also should bypass the Kansas Board of Education and go straight to local school superintendents to evaluate how they are running their schools. Or they could step over the secretary of corrections and talk to the heads of individual correctional facilities in Kansas or dip into the operation of any number of other state departments. That level of micromanagement by the Legislature is not proper or desirable.

Legislators certainly are entitled to state their strong objections to this or any other course at a state university, but a full-blown legislative hearing on this matter simply isn't justified. Legislators should ask their questions, get their answers and then talk to the Kansas Board of Regents about whatever corrective measures they believe may be necessary.

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