Sunday, December 11, 2005
CNN.com has an intriguing story about a professor at the University of Kansas who sought to discredit intelligent design theory as just another form of creationism and made a number of insulting remarks about Christian evangelicals in email exchanges. Professor Paul Mirecki planned to teach a course entitled: "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."
As some of you may have read, Mirecki was attacked and beaten up about a week ago by assailants whom mentioned their displeasure with his stance on the intelligent design debate (see Leiter Reports post here and Pharyngula post here). A few days later, Mirecki resigned his position as the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Kansas.
Mirecki now claims he was given no choice by the University and forced to resign his chairmanship because of his controversial stance on these issues. Although he remains a professor at the University, he claims that, "[t]he University penalized [him] and denied [him his] Constitutionally protected right to speak and express [his] mind." He also maintains that his career has been ruined and his speaking engagements canceled, and consequently, has now retained an attorney.
University of Kansas spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said [yesterday] that Mirecki resigned the chairmanship last week on the recommendation of faculty members. Nevertheless, she also said that, the university "stands unequivocally in support of his First Amendment rights and his rights to academic freedom."
From a public employment standpoint, Mirecki would not seem to have a procedural due process claim against Kansas, as public employees are not seen as having a property interest in administrative positions such as the chairmanship of the department as opposed to having such interests in their professorial positions. On the other hand, Mirecki could potentially have a First Amendment retaliation claim under the Connick/Pickering line of cases because he was demoted for speaking out on a matter of public concern and his rights to free expression may outweigh the efficiency concerns of his government employer. That being said, because Mirecki's conduct has caused a substantial disruption to the university, a Pickering balancing test may indeed come out in the University's favor.