Creationism, Intelligent Design Course Withdrawn Over Offensive Remarks

A controversial course about creationism and intelligent design at the University of Kansas was cancelled by the professor who was to teach it, following publicized e-mail messages he wrote mocking Christian fundamentalists.

Professor Paul Mirecki, chairman of religious studies, had planned to teach a spring 2006 course initially titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies.”

Under pressure following complaints, he removed the reference to mythology but on Thursday, he said that teaching the course had become “untenable” due to the controversy over e-mail messages he had sent through the discussion forum moderated by a student atheists and agnostics campus group for which he served as a faculty adviser.

In a statement released by the University of Kansas on Thursday, Mirecki apologized for the e-mail messages posted since 2003 on a Yahoo list-serv discussion board. In one message, he referred to Christian fundamentalists as “fundies,” adding that the course would be a “nice slap in their big fat face.”

“I made a mistake in not leading by example, in this student organization e-mail forum, the importance of discussing differing viewpoints in a civil and respectful manner,” wrote Mirecki, in the released statement.

A response to the professor’s statement was issued in the same release by University Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor David Shulenburger, who agreed to drop the course but felt it had merit and should be taught at a later date.

“While the e-mails were unquestionably offensive, I know that Professor Mirecki regrets the situation he created,” stated Shulenburger, adding that Mirecki had taught biblical studies for 16 years at the university, and had an international reputation for his work. He hoped that Mirecki would continue his work.

University Chancellor Robert Hemenway also issued at statement in response to Mirecki’s withdrawal of the course, describing Mirecki's e-mail comments as "repugnant and vile."

“They do not represent my views nor the views of this university,” Hemenway stated. “People of all faiths are valued at KU, and campus ministries are an important part of life at the university.”

Hemenway did, however, note that the “unfortunate episode does not in any way diminish our belief that the course should be taught.”

“It is the role of the university to take on such topics and to provide the civil, academic environment in which they can be honestly examined and discussed,” he stated.