Bitterman made his remarks about how he used the Bible on Tuesday the 18th; he was fired already on Thursday the 20th — and over the telephone, too. Why so fast? It's not clear, but one student threatened to sue the college over hearing something so contrary to his religious background. Have we really come to the point where conservative, evangelical Christian students can now exercise veto power over course material and prevent legitimate history from being taught when it contradicts their theology?
“I’m just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master’s degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job,” Bitterman said. ...
Bitterman’s Tuesday course was telecast to students in Osceola over the Iowa Communications Network. A few students in the Osceola classroom, he said, thought the lesson was “denigrating their religion.”
“I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn’t given any more credibility than any other god,” Bitterman said. “I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there.”
Bitterman said called the story of Adam and Eve a “fairy tale” in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class. “I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here,” he said. “From my point of view, what they’re doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the 8th century.”
Source: DesMoines Register
Describing the story of Adam & Eve as a "fairy tale" might be inappropriate as part of an official lesson, but as a remark made privately after class it shouldn't be any basis for any sort of disciplinary action — and certainly not dismissal. Simply treating the stories in the Bible in the same way as the stories in Homer absolutely shouldn't be the basis for disciplinary action. It's true that such treatment of biblical stories will offend conservative Christians who are convinced that their myths are real history, but it's not the obligation of instructors to coddle and defer to the religious beliefs of students.
Barbara Crittenden, president of Southwestern Community College, insists that Bitterman's firing had nothing to do with free speech — but if his firing was based on this lesson, that's hard to believe. Unless there is a lot more going on here than we know about, it really does look like Bitterman was fired because he refused to transform his history class into a revival meeting. Right now I think I'd be very cautious about taking any classes taught by anyone at Southwestern Community College — I'm not sure I would be able to trust whether the instructors were allowed to present the information as it really is or if they are being censored by fear that the administration will fire them if they don't teach about talking snakes.