Religion in class sparks conflict

By February 6, 2004

A Lakeland Community College professor says his teaching duties were reduced as punishment for disclosing his religion to his students during class.

James Tuttle of Willoughby, a part-time instructor for 41/2 years, claims that the college’s dean of arts and humanities gave him only one class to teach in fall 2003 instead of the three he expected. He said he was further punished when he was given the last pick of classes for this spring, leaving only logic classes which he chose not to teach.

Lakeland President Morris Beverage Jr. said that Tuttle was not being punished and that religion was not the issue. He added that the issue was Tuttle’s performance, but said he could not comment on personnel matters.

Tuttle’s cause has been taken up by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“Asking a philosophy professor to divorce his deepest philosophic views from his teaching is both outrageous and absurd,” said Greg Lukianoff of the foundation.

Tuttle’s problems began last March when student Alexis Linton complained that he talked about his Catholic beliefs too often in the introductory philosophy class. She also said that he looked at her distastefully when he found out she was a pagan.

Tuttle said that he asks students to fill out a form that includes a question about their religion.

“I don’t do it to pry in their lives,” said Tuttle, also an instructor at Cuyahoga Community College. “But religion is so integral to philosophy and total world view that I like to know their religious background.”

He said he was “mildly amused” when he read the student’s reference to paganism.

In response to the student’s complaint, James Brown, the dean of arts and humanities, reviewed the course outline and was disturbed by a disclaimer that Tuttle had included.

In a letter to Tuttle, Brown said, “In essence you are saying ‘This is Dr. Tuttle’s philosophy and style – now take it or shut up.’ This class is not about your philosophy.”

Tuttle said he was merely advising students about his religious perspective and that students were free to speak with him if they felt uncomfortable.

Part of the disclaimer said: “Since your teacher happens to be a committed Catholic Christian philosopher and theologian – and a passionate, controversial (not politically correct), candid, and zany/earthy one for that matter – please be aware of where I am coming from and where you are coming from.

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Schools: Lakeland Community College