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Vexations and Succour in Honour of Dr. Daniel C. Browning Jr.

This petition had 657 supporters

"Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm—but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” - T.S. Eliot

"Never entirely nor at once depart from antiquity [nor from a wonderful professor of it]." Edmund Burke

        The administration of William Carey University has indeed departed from an irreplaceable scholar of antiquity, and has apparently also, and at once, taken leave of its senses. Certainly too, a great injustice has been visited upon William Carey University's students, alumni, and staff with the sudden and unaccounted for firing of Dr. Daniel C. Browning Jr. from service as a tenured professor of History and Religion. This action was carried out with an undignified and recreant subtlety which is now laid bare for all to see. The sole medium through which this was communicated to Dr. Browning was a condescendingly brief letter; no member of the administration had delivered the solemn news in person. This breach of human decency, this lack of due respect to Dr. Browning's earned privilege and rank, and complete disregard of merited distinction and love from friends, colleagues, students, and family, is tainted with cowardice, spite, envy, and pride. Dr. Browning's classes adhere to a vanishing tradition of academic merit, often to the frustration of administrators who seem to prefer short-term commercial success, which guarantees their effervescent taste of fame. The administration of William Carey University claims "academic excellence" and "spiritual growth" to be among the highest goals of the institution, yet the empirical evidence reveals a lust for material gain and personal ambition. These things are acquired at the expense of a familial atmosphere among staff and students and at the high price of reduced quality of education. The administration should remember that many students choose to come to this Christian university in order to better themselves. Thus, they seek to follow in the footsteps of faculty members in whom they find more to emulate than lust for material gain and local fame: virtues such as integrity, honesty, and genuine personal regard. Once exhibited, such things sow the seeds of trust, love, respect, devotion, and a work ethic grounded in inter-relational achievement and academic pride. These are the priceless virtues of persons who gladly bear the cross of habitual self-sacrifice for the love of family and students, honour in action, duty to positional calling, and faith in God.

        Nothing warrants a monopoly of the moral high ground implicitly claimed by the administrators of William Carey through this action. Whatever the complaints might have been from students who did not appreciate the amount of work expected of them, a professor's worth is measured by more than commercial appeal. The administrators of William Carey University have acted dishonourably toward Dr. Browning. What is more, they have perpetuated an already anxious working environment for the remaining faculty and staff; this also directly corresponds to an instability which the students now face. The anxiety created when academic integrity is at the mercy of an administration's whim, and therefore at the expense of the institution under its care, is unhealthy for staff and students alike. Neither the administrators of William Carey nor the professors who will attempt to fill the vacuum left by Dr. Browning will ever know the loyalty and love Dr. Browning has earned from his students for over 26 years.

        Dr. Browning is not a face commonly seen speaking in Chapel. Nor is he one of the redundant few often chosen to stand in the media's spotlight on behalf of the school he worked so hard for. He was, however, known affectionately by any student who gave him a chanceーwhether or not the student performed well in his classes. His students knew he did not discriminate, that he was fair, and that only by holding them to a certain standard could virtue, academic and otherwise, be fostered. According to previous alumni, Dr. Browning has had a steady group of students seeking advice and sanctuary in his office for at least two decades. That group consisted, and still does consist, of well-performing and poorly-performing students alike. Many of them were blessed to experience his S.T.E.P. trips, exploring the official and unofficial sights of Italy, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and a few other places in between. Although these were by far the best study-abroad trips available at Carey, the school did not extensively fund them or help to advertise them. Many times the trips failed to meet minimum numbers of travelers due to such neglect. Dr. King might speak of the legacy of the Jews in his own unique way from the pulpit at Chapel; but no one at Carey knows or loves Israel and the Israelis as much as Dr. Browning does. The "Powers that Be" might lace their advertising messages to the students and patrons of the school with stories from the Old and New Testaments, but none of them is more enthralled by the Bible's history and content, and none seems to embody, without pretension, the Christian values therein as naturally as Dr. Browning. With uncompromising devotion to the rich complexity offered by his fields of study as well as the Judeo-Christian legacy, he nurtures an educated love and respect for Scripture and the other foundations of our culture. If other professors might be inclined to play to the weaknesses and undeveloped strengths of students, Dr. Browning consistently draws out and develops the strengths of those students who, in their turn, show due appreciation for the Western academic tradition and its religious underpinnings. William Carey University will not replace Dr. Browning. It cannot. It may not even try. All appearances suggest that this action to effectively fire Dr. Browning was based in selfish and worldly concerns coupled with a palpable lack of respect for the God-given human dignity of Dr. Browning. This action was taken without regard to his family, presumably without consultation of those who knew him best, and most importantly, without due consultation with him. For his 26 years of service, a brief and matter-of-fact letter is all that he received from the administration.

The harsh tone of this essay does not in any way mirror the character of Daniel Browning. It is simply the heartfelt reaction of many who feel a certain loyalty to him after years under his humble and caring guidance.

        The signers of this petition seek to elicit an apology for the impersonal and uncivil manner in which these affairs were conducted by the administration, and to be explicitly stated as coming on behalf of Dr. King personally if that is the case. It is also asked that Dr. King give a full explanation to Dr. Browning of the causes for the termination of his contract. This is to be elucidated in a comprehensive and fair manner, in which Dr. Browning may challenge any inaccuracies regarding the details behind the termination. Also, a separate dedication to Dr. Browning and his years at Carey is requested, to be written by volunteers from the William Carey Scholars. Many of these students' names, whether they are currently serving or now among alumni, will be found among myriad others on this petition. The apology will be made accessible to the students and faculty of the school, as well as to Dr. Browning. The dedication will be published at the expense of the school, or of any administrators who wish to pay for the dedication directly, in both the Hattiesburg American and The Cobbler. The suggested alternative is, of course, to renew Dr. Browning's contract and restore to him the classes he has been obliged to relinquish in the past couple of years. Let it be known that Dr. Browning would almost certainly not approve of the exact nature or content of this petition, due to his humility and unwillingness to instigate dissatisfaction or disturbance in the university.

These are our humble requests.

Sincerely and emphatically,

Indubitably Disappointed Students, Alumni, and Sundry other Friends of Dr. Browning

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