the lesson of paul mirecki: academics to be “held accountable”

University of Kansas professor of religion Paul Mirecki announced not too long ago that he would be offering a course on Intelligent Design. That in itself probably wouldn’t have been too controversial, if not for the fact that the professor entitled his course, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies,” and then went on to publicly taunt the theory’s fundamentalist proponents. Under intense pressure from these groups, Mlrecki and his department cancelled the class, but, it seems that didn’t appease everyone. A few days later, two men ran the professor’s car off the road and beat him. Some have suggested that the professor might be making the whole thing up (not unlike Morton Downey Jr. and the infamous Nazi attack), but from all indications it would seem that the professor was attacked and that it did have to do with the fact that he didn’t want to “teach the controversy”, but to debunk. Here’s a clip from the local paper in Lawrence:

…But Altevogt [a conservative activist] said he was skeptical about whether Mirecki’s report was legitimate.

“He (Mirecki) has very little credibility left,” Altevogt said. “The one thing that could save his bacon is to become a martyr of sorts, or to elicit sympathy from being the victim rather than the persecutor.”

When told that some people were questioning the truth of his report, Mirecki fired back.

“The right wing wants blood, period. They’re not going to stop until they see blood. They’re not into anything else,” he said. “Whatever I do, whatever I say, they don’t believe anything because that’s the way they are… I know what happened. I got the hell beat out of me. They can say what they want.”

If you’ll recall, my post yesterday post concerned a conservative chain letter celebrating the actions of a fictional ex-military college student who slugged his liberal professor in the face, suggesting that he’d been acting on behalf of God. I disregarded the piece as just a stupid little piece of conservative fiction at the time, but now, taken together with this news about the attack on Mirecki, I think that maybe it’s pointing toward something much larger, and darker. Perhaps, it occurs to me, we’re entering an era in which the right not only demands more of a presence in academia (as we’re seeing more and more), but in which liberal faculty are “held accountable” for their unpopular beliefs. This event in Kansas might not, in other words, be an isolated event – the work of “a few bad apples.” It could be a harbinger of things to come.

(If my friend, the professor of religion, is in the audience tonight, I’d be particularly interested in what he has to say.)

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  1. Jim
    Posted December 8, 2005 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen this interview with the author of Incompetent Design theory?

    It’s funny because it’s true.

  2. mark
    Posted December 8, 2005 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard mention of it, but I haven’t read it yet…. Maybe, if I can stay up a little while, I’ll try to read it tonight.

    Hopefully, no one beats the hell out of the author.

  3. Jim
    Posted December 9, 2005 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Well, he lives in Massachusetts, so he’s probably safer than Mr. Mirecki.

  4. Jim
    Posted December 10, 2005 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Now here’s a creative way to get back at a disliked professor–tell the CIA that he’s a terrorist:

    “The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls “erroneous renditions,” according to several former and current intelligence officials.

    “One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.”

  5. chetlyzarko
    Posted December 10, 2005 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Mark, Michelle Malkin’s site actually posts a copy of the police report, which is remarkably sparse. I won’t call the professor’s story a fabrication without evidence since he’s entitled to presumption of innocence, but on the same hand, it’s wrong to take the professor’s word wholesale, especially the part that assumes that this was the doing of “right-wingers” who want “blood,” since they are entitled to presumption of innocence (and it might have been random violence, or any number of other explanations). There are some unusual parts of the professor’s story though, and your post here seems to dismiss all of the analysis and evidence regarding that with the Professor’s latest self-serving statement. Let’s look at evidence – and not speculate either way. At best, there is no evidence that the professor was beaten for the reason he believes or suggests – although some conservatives may be premature in the falsification charge.

  6. mark
    Posted December 10, 2005 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Well, if it sounds fishy to Michelle Malkin, that’s good enough for me.

    …OK, all snark aside, I’ll agree with you that there’s a chance that the fellow might have made it up. I suspect, however, that it’s a lot more likely that he’s telling the truth though. If he were lying, and it were found out, that would be the end of his academic career – and I don’t see someone doing that lightly. Of course, people have done riskier and more stupid things before. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what comes of the investigation. In the meantime, however, I think it’s safe to say that there are some on the extreme right who feel as though punching a liberal professor in the nose is a good thing… as evidenced by the content of the post before this one.

  7. chetlyzarko
    Posted December 11, 2005 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    It’s very difficult to prove falsification, but several academics have done it and been caught. The odds are on his side though. I agree with you about Malkin’s story – its not proof, but its certainly fair game for her research. And you need to give her some credit – she’s very sharp, and does more research than the average blogger.

    I don’t think your post proves that those who created the ad believe punching professors is a good thing, although it does prove that the people creating it have bad senses of humor and poor taste, at the least. And it depends on what you mean by “extreme right”. If you mean a very rare few, like militia, or nazis, you’re correct. But the same is true of the far left, communists, ALF, BAMN, etc.

  8. mark
    Posted December 11, 2005 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really feel like being put in a position where I’m defending this professor that I know next to nothing about. For all I know, he did falsify the attack. I brought the case up because it was in the news the day after I posted that conservative chain letter applauding the actions of a young man who punched his professor in the nose. (I think it’s pretty clearly a piece of fiction, but it wasn’t presented as such. It also didn’t spell out that the faculty member was a liberal, but it was clearly suggested.) My point was to bring the two threads together and to ask – What if they’re related on some subconscious level? What if the environment around this new push for God in the classroom is turning violent? We may never know whether or not this particular person is telling the truth, and hopefully no other attacks like this take place in the future. If something like this happens again, though, I guess we’ll have an answer.

  9. chetlyzarko
    Posted December 19, 2005 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Mark, I wasn’t criticizing that aspect of the point. To the extent that people took glee in the punching parable, they were wrong.

    In fact, I don’t think we actually disagreed anywhere in this exchange. Different focuses.

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