LAWRENCE, Kan. - A University of Kansas religion professor apologized Monday for a recent e-mail that infuriated religious conservatives already upset about his decision to teach a course that equated intelligent design and creationism with mythology.
Also on Monday, the department faculty approved the course but dropped the reference to mythology. The course, originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies," will instead be called "Intelligent Design and Creationism."The class was added to next spring's curriculum after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.
In the e-mail, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university's Religious Studies Department, called supporters of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism religious "fundies" and said it would be a "nice slap in their big fat face" to teach the
subjects as mythology.
In a written apology Monday, the professor said he
would teach the class "as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view."
Mirecki's e-mail was sent Nov. 19 to a list-serve group for the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, a student organization for which Mirecki serves as faculty adviser. Mirecki addressed the message to "my fellow damned" and signed off with: "Doing my part to (tick) off the religious right, Evil Dr. P."
The university on Monday defended the teaching of the class. "Given the current national debate, it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class," Provost David Shulenburger said in a statement.
During the weekend, Chancellor Robert Hemenway began a review of Mirecki's e-mail, which resulted in Mirecki's apology, issued Monday night in a written statement."I accept full responsibility for an ill-advised e-mail I sent to a small group of students and friends that has unintentionally impugned the integrity and good name of both the university and my faculty colleagues," Mirecki wrote. "My words were offensive, and I apologize to all for that."
He said he had assured the university provost that he would teach the course "as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view."
In response to the controversy, talk swirled among legislators about withholding funding from the university.
"If you read his e-mail, it's not a short e-mail. It's not a little blurb. It's venomous," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. "He's not sorry he wrote it. He's sorry it became public."
Landwehr, R-Wichita, said withholding funding from the school remained "a very good possibility." She said she would request a hearing with Mirecki and Hemenway before the House Appropriations Committee once the Legislature convenes its 2006 session in January.
Steve Abrams, chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education and chief architect of the board's new science standards, said Mirecki's e-mail shows he "doesn't have much respect for other viewpoints."
Even those who normally support the universities and their faculty have been watching the debate."It's a major concern for us, and it's a major concern for the university," said Donna Shank, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents. "Typically, the board would not get involved in what classes are taught. But obviously, this has struck a nerve and is worth watching." Shank, of Liberal, said teaching a class about intelligent design and creationism was valid, given the timeliness of the topics. But she said Mirecki's motives for teaching the class remain a question.
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