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Religious Foundation Courses at the University of Illinois: A Short History
By Harry H. Hilton, Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Engineering, UIUC

In 1919, a unique educational anomaly was created when the University of Illinois Senate and Father O’Brien of the Newman Foundation negotiated an agreement whereby the campus religious foundations were permitted to teach religion courses on their premises by their staff members for university credit. Although over the years, serious objections to this arrangement were voiced by subsequent Senates and the UIUC AAUP Chapter membership, the arrangement remained in effect, except for some modifications, for 91 years until July 2010.

The various denominational religious foundations have played and continue to play an active and important role on the UIUC campus by providing housing, meal services, spiritual guidance and fellowship for interested students. However, their in-house religious course offerings for university credit by their staff, when neither instructors nor course content were subject to the established faculty and Senate scrutiny and approval, certainly represented a radical departure from time proven procedures.

This matter surfaced again in 1958, when the UI moved to a unified course registration system – alas not yet computerized – when students now could register directly with the University for religious foundation courses. Prior to this time, students registered with the individual foundations, which then transmitted registrations and grades to the University Registrar.

The UIUC AAUP Chapter now took an active interest in the prevailing arrangement regarding the teaching of religious studies for university credit by the campus denominational foundations with no University oversight nor approval through the customary campus channels as to course content and instructor.
After a lengthy investigation and discussion, the Chapter Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee recommended to the Chapter in 1961 that this arrangement be terminated and that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) offer such courses through a new department of religious studies or through interdisciplinary rubrics between existing interested departments. After lengthy debates and Chapter approval, the LAS Faculty considered the matter and added its approval and was further joined by the LAS dean. This issue was then formally introduced in the UIUC Senate. Again after lengthy discussions, the Senate passed the resolution and forwarded it to the University Board of Trustees (BOT) with the additional explicit approvals of the UIUC Chancellor and University President. At the same time, all the various Campus Foundations, except the Newman Foundation, indicated that they would cease to participate in the existing program and stop teaching religious foundation courses for university credit and, indeed, did so.

After vigorous representations by Father (today Monsignor) Duncan of the Newman Foundation to the UI BOT, the trustees in a rare instance overrode a purely faculty and administrative properly vetted decision and refused to terminate the arrangement between the University and the Newman Foundation, which has survived until this year. Starting in 1970, the Newman Foundation remained the sole provider of university credit courses taught by its personnel.
The LAS College in the intervening years, instituted a Program in Religious Studies, and two years ago with BOT approval it created a full-fledged Department of Religious Studies. In 2000, the then-director of the program executed an operational agreement with the Newman Foundation reaffirming University control through normal campus procedures and channels over religious studies courses offered by instructors supplied by and financially supported by the Newman Foundation. This remained the operational instrument under which the Newman Foundation offered the Spring 2010 course taught by Dr. Howell. His salary was paid by the Newman Foundation and not the University, where he held a 0% time university adjunct professor appointment, which was awarded on a one-year temporary basis. This is consistent with the University practices regarding adjunct titles and appointments.

In May 2010, the night before the final examination of the Newman Foundation course, Adjunct Professor Howell send an email to his students, which was interpreted by at least one of them as coaching in answering the examination questions. He also indicated that only through prolonged and intensive study could one become knowledgeable of the subject and properly answer the questions. Upon complaint by a friend of one student in the class, the then department head wrote to the professor that he was fired. It was now the semester end and his one-year temporary university contract with no pay was set to expire on August 21, 2010.

Subsequently, in July 2010, the University terminated the arrangement with the Newman Foundation and hired Dr. Howell as an adjunct professor in the Department of Religious Studies on a standard one-year temporary part time appointment.

While the BOT is the unquestioned legal ultimate governing authority of the University, it has long time ago agreed to and subsequently frequently reaffirmed certain procedures through its repeated approval of amendments to the University Statutes among which are the principles of shared governance and academic freedom. The shared governance concept has certainly been heavily injured in 1972 when the BOT chose to disregard strong recommendations from the Senate, LAS Dean, Campus Chancellor and University President to discontinue university credit for religious foundation courses.

Possible academic freedom issues in general and procedural matters pertaining to adjunct professors are currently under review by the UIUC Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.