Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paul Mirecki: assault, the media and protection

I was horrified to read of the assault on Paul Mirecki on Hypotyposeis, and the follow-up posts there. Paul Mirecki is Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Kansas, and has been the subject of media reports recently on a course he was apparently to offer on "Intelligent Design and Creationism", subsequently withdrawn because of unfortunate remarks Mirecki made in a leaked email. Stephen Carlson mentions his work on Charles W. Hedrick and Paul A. Mirecki, Gospel of the Savior: A New Ancient Gospel (Calif. Classical Library; Santa Rosa, Calif.: Polebridge, 1999); he's also made his reputation on the study of magic and ritual in the ancient world, e.g. P. Mirecki and M. Meyer (eds.) Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2002).

It emerged yesterday that Mirecki has resigned as chair of the dept, and there are some useful posts on Thoughts from Kansas (specifically here and here and a detailed post with lots of comments here). One of the things that I find something of a concern about this issue is the media pursuite of the professor, especially in the latter part of this article:
Rausch said she last saw Mirecki at the religious studies department’s monthly faculty meeting on Monday and noticed “big swollen spots” on his face.

“It transformed his face,” she said.

Jesse Plous, New York senior, and Tiffany Jeffers, Shawnee senior, are enrolled in Mirecki’s Dead Sea Scrolls class. They said they didn’t notice bruises or scratches when they met for class at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

Lindsay Mayer, Holbrook, Ariz., junior, another student in the class, said she might have seen a small bruise on the side of his face, but said injuries weren’t extremely noticeable.

Mirecki didn’t show up for class on Wednesday. The students said Mirecki had never mentioned the controversy in class.

“It’s a good class, it really is,” said Plous. “It’s too bad he’s been steeped in controversy. I hope it pans out for the guy.”
Perhaps because I am now in American higher education myself, I find this report pretty depressing. The thought that a professor has now had to absent himself from class because of media harrassment, and that his colleagues and students are being interviewed on his character and integrity, is a very unhappy situation. I have long since ceased from releasing any personal information (address, phone number etc.) on phone-books, the web and so on (and I am surprised that Mirecki has been less careful) and this story hardly discourages me from that kind of course of action.

Update (Sunday, 01.34): Jim Davila has a superb post on the topic on Paleojudaica and it includes a couple of new fullish newspaper reports:

Professor blasts KU, sheriff’s investigation
Mirecki says he may sue university
By Sophia Maines (Contact)

Embattled KU professor has long history with religion
By Sophia Maines (Contact)

But most importantly, let me agree with Loren Rosson on Jim Davila's post.


steph said...

I first learned of this shocking story when Michael Turton posted the article on Biblical Studies on Tuesday.

I found it even more distressing that the same story was posted today by another blogger linked on this blogroll, sadly with an offensive heading.

I feel very sorry for Paul Mirecki, his family and his students.

crystal said...

Yikes! You'd like to think the university is one place it's safe to air any opinion :-(

Brian said...

As an academic of 25 years, I'd have to say it's naive - but winningly so - to even hope, no less assume, that a university is automatically a "safe" place to voice a dissenting opinion. People in and out of the academy may take you to task, and with some harshness. But this incident is quite chilling. It is a symptom of underlying problems. I found Mirecki's comments objectionable, even repulsive, and immediately understood how others might find them even more so; but the treatment he has received is even less attractive. Let us not mince words on that, or fail to see where this may eventually lead, with consequences for many more of us in our teaching!