Ball State University in Indiana has produced the likes of David Letterman, Jim Davis, Joyce DeWitt, and yours truly (to save you the time it takes to scroll down and check on the author, this is Jessica. I assume Hemant probably went to U of I or something) [Hemant’s note: I went to U of I in Chicago!]. I had a great experience at BSU — I had amazing professors, met some of my closest friends, studied abroad, read Moby Dick (That’s right. Cover to cover), and, more relevantly, tried on my Outspoken Atheist Hat for the first time. I’ll be honest, that hat took a little breaking in.
And I bring up my alma mater with pride today, because University President Jo Ann Gora recently released a letter saying the following:
Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.
But let’s see what led up to all of this in the first place.
In March, The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with BSU because Assistant Professor of Physics Eric Hedin was teaching a class called “The Boundaries of Science” in which they said he was teaching Christianity to his honors students (PDF). According to the syllabus, he was simply teaching “hidden wisdom within this reality”… you know, Science!
In response, Ball State began monitoring his class to “ensure that course content is aligned with the curriculum and best standards of the discipline.” According to The Star Press, this was done by a four-member faculty review board.
BSU drew further criticism when they hired Guillermo Gonzalez, Intelligent Design proponent and author of a book called The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery, in July. Gonzalez was previously denied tenure at Iowa State University for not showing a “trajectory of excellence.”
As a result of all of this hubbub, Gora’s letter to faculty and staff clarified the university’s stance on what science is and what it most decidedly is not:
Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering. As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom.
Once again, Gora knocks it out of the ball park. Man, I am just brimming with Cardinal pride, guys!
Hold up, though. The Discovery Institute is on the case!
Senior fellow John West said Gora’s letter was outrageous (outrageous!) and that it was anti-academic freedom:
If all [academic freedom] means — which seems to be the argument that she is making — is that you have the freedom to teach what the majority of people think in a discipline then that is a sham. It really is Orwellian. It’s no news that there is evidence of intelligent design is a minority viewpoint in the sciences.
Cue my inner Liz Lemon:
Listen, bub. I was a literature major with a couple fluffy minors, and even I didn’t toss around the word “Orwellian” like that when I was an undergrad.
(Also… what did he just say? No, seriously. I had to read it a few times to make sense of it.)
The majority of scientists think that good science is science because of science. Yeah! (What I said makes at least as much sense as whatever he just said.)
So, I guess I am disappointed that all of this had to be an issue, that this kind of crap would have flown under the radar were it not for the FFRF and Jerry Coyne‘s tenacious coverage of the story, and that it was necessary for the school to reaffirm that we teach science in science classes.
However, I think Gora handled it well and hit all of the right notes. We don’t always get happy endings for stories featured on this site, but I was quite pleased with the outcome of this one.