Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mirecki resigns from KU department post, etc

More on the Mirecki saga, with my comments, bold and in square brackets.

Mirecki resigns from KU department post, The Lawrence Journal-World, Sophia Maines ... December 7, 2005 The embattled Kansas University religious studies professor who drew ire from Christian conservatives for his derisive remarks on an online discussion board has withdrawn from his post as chair of the department. "Professor Mirecki said he thought it appropriate to step down and did so on the recommendation of his colleagues in the department and I have accepted his resignation," said Barbara Romzek, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This allows the department to focus on what's most important - teaching, research and service - and to minimize the distractions of the last couple of weeks." Mirecki, a tenured professor who had planned to teach a course on intelligent design, came under fire recently when his remarks about the course and other statements made on the Internet became public. Mirecki said the class would be a "slap" in the "big fat face" of religious fundamentalists. He later withdrew the course. And on Monday he reported to local authorities that he was beaten by two men who made reference to controversy. ...

Professor cedes leadership post: Department chairman at KU stirred furor with class plan and e-mails. The Kansas City Star, Dec. 08, 2005, David Klepper ... Conservative writer John Altevogt, who had called on Mirecki to resign as chairman after the e-mails were uncovered and then raised doubts about Mirecki's account of the attack, said Wednesday it was the right move. "I think it's an excellent decision, for the university and for Dr. Mirecki," he said. .... On Wednesday, Mirecki said he would no longer be giving interviews to the media. "I've got too much of backlash from the reporting," he said. One of Mirecki's colleagues, professor Timothy Miller, who once headed the department, said members of the faculty talked with Mirecki about his options before he made his decision to resign. "There's been lots of conversations about what's good for professor Mirecki and what's good for the department," Miller said. "I hope this new development will be positive on both fronts." Miller said he hoped Mirecki and the department could put the controversy behind them. There are students to teach, and finals are coming up. "We're living under quite a cloud and quite a burden these days," Miller said. "Paul has had a pretty rugged two weeks, and we've got work to do."... [Also at The Capital-Journal & Seattle Post-Intelligencer. See next on doubts about Mirecki's claim "that he was beaten by two men who made reference to controversy". It is significant that Mirecki's resignation was "on the recommendation of his colleagues in the department", i.e. he did not jump but was pushed. Mirecki's position of Chair of the Religious Studies Department had clearly become untenable, with his credibility in tatters, and the university itself under threat from the legislature of an inquiry and funding cuts. So, it seems to me that Mirecki's story "that he was beaten by two men who made reference to controversy" may be a response by Mirecki to his impending demotion (see below).]

Mirecki mum on details of beating The Lawrence Journal-World, Eric Weslander, December 7, 2005 ... a bruise visible under his right eye, Paul Mirecki paid a visit Tuesday afternoon to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. Mirecki, a Kansas University religious studies professor, has been in the national spotlight since he reported early Monday that he was beaten by two unidentified men who made reference to his controversial online remarks about religion. Sheriff's officials on Tuesday continued to investigate the case, and they've asked for the public's help in finding the suspects Mirecki described: two white men in their 30s or 40s, one with a red visor and wool gloves, both wearing jeans, and driving a large pickup truck. As he waited outside the sheriff's office, Mirecki said he'd stopped returning phone calls from the media. And he declined to talk with a reporter about details of the case. Within moments, a sheriff's deputy came out to meet him and bring him into the office. "We can always develop more information when we have an opportunity to talk to the victim a second time," Lt. Kari Wempe, a sheriff's spokeswoman, said. "I do not know what the purpose of that interview is." ... Early Monday, Mirecki reported to deputies that he was driving in a rural area south of Lawrence when two men in a large pickup truck began tailgating him and he pulled over. He said he got out and the two men beat him with their fists and a metal object while making references to the recent Internet controversy. He was treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. "I got the hell beat out of me," he told the Journal-World on Monday. Key facts about the reported attack remained unclear Tuesday, including exactly where it happened. A report released by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said the location was "unknown" and listed it as south of 31st Street on either East 1400 Road or East 1500 Road. Louisiana Street turns into East 1400 Road outside the city limits. Haskell Avenue becomes East 1500 Road. Also, there was conflicting information about whether Mirecki reported it at the scene or at the hospital. In an interview Monday with the Journal-World, he said he called police from the side of the road, but sheriff's officials said they were dispatched to the hospital. Mirecki declined to clarify the discrepancy when asked about it Tuesday outside the sheriff's office. "I can; I just don't want to," he said. The sheriff's report, which is classified as an aggravated battery, says that Mirecki suffered minor injuries. It says the incident started about 6:20 a.m. and was reported about 6:40 a.m. KU faculty on Tuesday pondered the effects that recent weeks' events would have on the religious studies department. "I don't think we know how it's going to shake out yet," professor Tim Miller said. "This is a difficult time to get through. I want to get through as well as we can." Religious studies professor Jonathan Boyarin said, "I hope that we will be able to move forward in our scholarship and teaching with mutual respect among the academic community and the people of Kansas and the larger community around us." ... [After this story first broke, I wrote: "I must say that I am surprised that after two `men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and ...struck him with a metal object' that all he has to show for it `is some bruises and sore spots.' I therefore would not be surprised if there are some who question whether it really happened. However, I assume it did." And indeed, Mirecki critic John Altevogt was reported as saying that "he was skeptical about whether Mirecki's report was legitimate." and "He (Mirecki) has very little credibility left ...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." While I assume it could have happened (quite frankly I no longer can say that I assume it did happen), here are what I see as major problems with Mirecki's story:

  • Mirecki's injuries seem too minor. Mirecki claimed that two "men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and ... struck him with a metal object" yet all that his only injuries were, "I’m mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots." Elsewhere, Mirecki claimed that "his injuries included a broken tooth." As I initially said, I would have thought that being beaten up by two men, including with "a metal object" would produce more than "some bruises and sore spots." As for the "broken tooth," it is strange that Mirecki did not mention that first of all, since it would seem to have been his most severe injury and the most long-lasting. It is also strange that Mirecki did not mention being hit in the face, which would have to have been the case if one of his teeth were broken. And then would not Mirecki have severe bruising and/or bleeding around his mouth?
  • Why would Mirecki's assailants park their vehicle so close that Mirecki could read its number plate? Remember, Mirecki says above that, "two men in a large pickup truck began tailgating him and he pulled over" and that "they pulled up real close behind." So Mirecki could have read their number plate and given a detailed description of the vehicle, but did not. Maybe Mirecki was too dazed to do this, but his assailants were not to know this.
  • Why would Mirecki got out of his car? Mirecki said, "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out." But no one in their right mind would get out of their car in such circumstances, but would instead drive off.
  • Unclear and conflicting information in Mirecki's story. See above where "the location was `unknown'" and "conflicting information about whether Mirecki reported it at the scene or at the hospital."
  • Where are the identikit pictures? Mirecki's does not say these men were wearing masks, so where are the identikit pictures based on his description of them?
  • Why has the University not condemned the beating? As far as I am aware, the University of Kansas has not condemned the beating, or indeed even commented on it. Indeed, the University has now stood Mirecki down as Chairman of its Religious Studies Department.

Other problems raised elsewhere with Mirecki's story include:

  • Mirecki's refusal to answer media questions about his story: "He declined to answer any questions to the Lawrence media, including those that might clear up discrepancies in his story".
  • The police have withdrawn their original hate-crime classification. This sounds like the police don't believe Mirecki's story?
  • How did these men know it was Mirecki, given it was nowhere near his home, nor his normal route and it was before sunrise? Sean Gleeson puts his finger on this major implausibility in Mirecki's story:
    "Mirecki claims that he was driving `south of Lawrence,' though he can’t say where. This would not be his route to work; it was in fact the opposite direction from his office. But he says he was `going out for breakfast, taking a drive, and thinking about things.' ... In order to accept this story, you would have to believe that these two rednecks were acquainted with the world famous Paul Mirecki, and recognized him in the dark (the sunrise in Kansas that morning was 7:25), from behind, on a rural highway. (Either that, or they were staking out this unknown stretch of road, somehow knowing that Mirecki would aimlessly drive by, thinking of things.) And that Mirecki drove himself to the hospital afterwards, without remembering where the crime took place."
  • Mirecki would not be the first to fake a hate-crime: "...especially given the small cottage industry in faked hate crimes sweeping American campuses and, in some cases, the academy itself." For example, Professor Kerri Dunn who claimed her car was "spray-painted with anti-black, anti-female, and anti-Semitic slurs" in "a well planned ... act of terrorism" but "the FBI and local police ... discovered that she herself had terrorized her car" and moreover, "the Associated Press reported ... this was one of more than `20 hate crime hoaxes' to have been perpetrated on college campuses nationwide in the last several years, as the offenders "draw on the socially conscious atmosphere of a college campus to perpetrate their fraud."

Now, the police might any day now catch the two culprits, proving that Mirecki's implausible story was in fact true. But failing that, there is another, more plausible explanation that fits the facts, namely that Mirecki had been told by his colleagues to resign as Chairman of the Religious Studies Chairman. After the meeting, he went for a long "drive ... thinking about things" and in the wee small hours either had an accident (e.g. fell over) or got into a fight, sustaining minor injuries. He drives to hospital and there he decides to get some revenge/sympathy by inventing a story about being beaten up by "two unidentified men who'd been tailgating him in a large pickup truck" and who "made references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks." The hospital then called the police and Mirecki found himself in more hot water. This would explain why the university never commented on Mirecki's reported beating, if they knew it was the very night that Mirecki had been told to resign as Religious Studies Chairman.

Again, I do not say that Mirecki's story is not true, but I do say that it seems to me to be very implausible. It also seems to me that for the police there are three main options: 1) catch the two culprits; 2) abandon the investigation; or 3) charge Mirecki with making a false report. It is going to be interesting to see which of these options the police take in the coming weeks.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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