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Ball State Gets Spanked

Two can play at this game.

Ball State University’s President Jo Ann Gora recently declared the theory of intelligent design not science, but rather a religious belief, effectively banning educators during science classes from delving into the notion that an intelligence of some sort helped form the universe and life on Earth.

Now intelligent design scholars at the Discovery Institute have sent Gora a scathing 10-page letter that lists numerous examples of apparent academic hypocrisy and double standards found at Ball State. Institute officials demand the hypocrisy either be corrected, or the decision against discussions of intelligent design in science classes be reversed.

Gora had made her ruling after the public university received national attention and legal pressure over its “Boundaries of Science” class, taught by Professor Eric Hedin, which included theories of intelligent design, prompting atheists to dub it proselytizing and demand it be axed.

In their letter, Discovery Institute officials say if that’s the case – they want all the secular proselytizing and hypocritical policies found at the Indiana campus removed as well.

For example, its scholars reviewed science courses at Ball State similar to Hedin’s and found “large amounts of nonscientific content.” Here are some examples:

Honors 296, “‘Old’ and ‘New’ Science,” devotes an entire week to the topic of “Science and Religion” according to its syllabus. This week is followed by another week on “Science and the Individual” that also appears to focus on religious or spiritual topics. Honors 297, “The SustainABLES: Air, Biodiversity, Land, Energy, & the Seas,” is just as much about public policy as it is about ecology. Honors 298, “The Biology of Life,” promises to address “the numerous ethical and societal issues surrounding such topics” as “aging, cancer, cloning, euthanasia, genetic engineering, gene therapy, the Human Genome Project and recombinant DNA biotechnology.” The syllabus further states that students in the course will “openly discuss the moral and ethical issues within modern biology.”

Not only do Honors 296, 297, and 298 seminars typically have large amounts of nonscience content, a perusal of the official BSU description for these courses reveals that BSU actually requires the seminars to cover non-scientific content. … BSU cannot have it both ways. If it maintains that intelligent design cannot be discussed by Prof. Hedin in Honors 296 because it is non-scientific and therefore outside the scope of a “science course,” then non-science content in all of the other sections of Honors 296, 297, and 298 must be banned as well.”

Discovery Institute officials also took to task campus officials for investigating Hedin’s academic credentials as part of an official probe into his class.

Since you chose to investigate Eric Hedin’s qualifications to teach his course, we ask that you launch equivalent investigations to review the qualifications of all other BSU faculty who teach sections of Honors 296, 297, and 298, including the following:

(a) BSU English Prof. Brent Blackwell: Prof. Blackwell has repeatedly taught Honors 296, which according to BSU is supposed to be a science course. Yet Prof. Blackwell appears to have no academic or professional training in the sciences, not even an undergraduate degree. Both his Ph.D. and his B.A. are in English.

(b) BSU Biology Prof. Ann Blakey: Prof. Blakey teaches politics, law, economics, and other non-scientific content in her Honors 297 seminar. But according to her BSU website, she does not have academic qualifications or professional background in any of these areas. Nor are these areas listed as her areas of research.

(c) BSU Biology Prof. James Olesen: Prof. Olesen deals with the moral and ethical aspects of such issues as euthanasia in his Honors 298 seminar. Yet his BSU website shows no evidence of any academic training or publications in philosophy, ethics, religion, or related areas.

Next Discovery Institute officials called Gora’s bluff, so to speak.

In your July 31 statement, you asserted that “intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses,” effectively banning BSU science faculty from even discussing the topic in any science class. You further claimed that, “Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses,” but that “even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others… As a public university, we have a constitutional obligation to maintain a clear separation between church and state. It is imperative that even when religious ideas are appropriately taught in humanities and social science courses, they must be discussed in comparison to each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.”

Thus, in addition to banning science faculty from discussing intelligent design, you appear to have forbidden all BSU faculty from expressing their personal or professional beliefs in favor of intelligent design in any class at BSU. … Accordingly, we ask you to issue an immediate public directive to all BSU faculty making clear that your new speech code will be applied consistently and that no faculty member henceforward will be allowed to endorse any view, pro or con, relating to intelligent design in any of their classes. …

Since your ban on faculty speech related to intelligent design is based on your claim that individual faculty are not allowed to endorse or take positions in debates over religious ideas, you need to make sure that you apply your new restrictions to all faculty statements regarding all religious topics. …  Therefore, we ask that you issue an immediate directive to all BSU faculty instructing them that they must take care never to express their own opinion in class on a topic relating to a religious idea.

Discovery Institute scholars next highlight Ball State’s Honors 390 seminar “Dangerous Ideas” as an egregious example of a violation of Ball State’s “new policy forbidding its faculty from favoring or endorsing one side of a religious debate over another.”

According to the Spring 2013 syllabus for this course, the sole textbook used is … “What Is Your Dangerous Idea?” … a volume edited by John Brockman, who has been honored as one of the “25 most influential living atheists.” This completely one-sided book appears to be one long argument for atheism. Indeed, its contributors declare that “Science Must Destroy Religion,” that “There is no God; no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives,” and even that science should assume the role currently played by religion and that scientists should function as our “high priests.”

The following excerpts provide examples of the virulently anti-religious point of view promoted by the book: “Science Must Destroy Religion… Religious faith—faith that there is a God who cares what name he is called, that one of our books is infallible, that Jesus is coming back to earth to judge the living and the dead, that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise, and so on—is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas.” …

Although we believe that Prof. (Paul) Ranieri’s apparent teaching of a one-sided course on religion should be allowed as part of academic freedom, BSU must now do unto its other professors as it has done unto Dr. Hedin, for the sake of self-consistency and legal compliance. Otherwise, BSU will violate the Establishment Clause by permitting religious hostility in some cases …

In the end, the Discovery Institute hints at legal action.

We ask for a response to each of the items listed above by no later than the end of business on Monday, September 30, 2013. If you do not respond by that time, we will assume that you do not intend to answer our questions, or otherwise cooperate with our reasonable requests, and that we must therefore seek remedy elsewhere.

Click here to read the full letter.

Click here to read one prominent University of Chicago atheist’s reaction to the letter.

Click here to see an online petition demanding justice at Ball State.

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor of The College Fix. She previously worked as a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for a decade in Southern California, and prior to that held editorial positions at The Weekly Standard, Washington Times and FrontPageMagazine. She is also a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship recipient and has contributed to National Review.

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