Discovery Institute requests Ball State review 4 classes
The Daily News
The Discovery Institute sent a 10-page letter to the university on Sept. 10, in regards to President Jo Ann Gora’s July 31 statement that intelligent design is not a scientific theory and should not be addressed in science courses.
Gora’s statement was in response to complaints levied against Eric Hedin, an astronomy professor who was accused of teaching intelligent design in an honors science course.
“Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses,” Gora said in the statement. “However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others.”
In the new letter from the Seattle think-tank, “endorsing one point of view over others” is what they said some Ball State classes are doing.
The letter concentrates on associate English professor Paul Ranieri’s HON 390 class, “Dangerous Ideas,” but also asks for investigation into assistant English professor Brent Blackwell’s HON 296: “‘Old’ and ‘New’ Science,” associate biology professor Ann Blakey’s HON 297: “The SustainABLES: Air, Biodiversity, Land, Energy, & the Seas [Water]” and assistant biology professor James Olesen’s 298: “The Biology of Life.”
Joan Todd, a university spokesperson, said on Sept. 10 that the university has received the letter and is reviewing it.
John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute and one of the letter’s authors, said the goal the organization hopes to achieve is total academic freedom for all teachers.
“Either Ball State needs to provide genuine academic freedom for all faculty on the same topics or they have to ban academic freedom for all faculty on the same topics,” he said. “They can’t be selective.”
The letter focuses on Ranieri’s single textbook for his course, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable,” edited by John Brockman, whom the Discovery Institute considers a prominent atheist.
The Discovery Institute provides several selections from the book in its letter to Gora and the Board of Trustees, including the first paragraph from a chapter titled, “We are entirely alone.”
“Living creatures capable of reflecting on their own existence are a freak accident, existing for one brief moment in the history of the universe,” the textbook said. “There may be life elsewhere in the universe, but it does not have self-reflective consciousness. There is no God; no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives.”
West said “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” is the only listed textbook for Ranieri’s class, but there may be unlisted readings.
“Maybe Professor Ranieri provides balance elsewhere in the course,” West said. “He doesn’t list any other specific readings in his syllabus, so we’re asking [for an investigation].”
The institute concludes its letter with a series of questions it asked in a letter it sent over the summer.
“They [never] responded to our letter of several months ago where we asked about the procedural irregularities in the investigation of Professor Hedin, so that’s why we reiterate this in our current letter,” West said.
The Discovery Institute first became involved with Ball State when the university received complaints from the Freedom from Religion Foundation in late May.
One of the institute’s main points in Hedin’s defense was that teachers can bring up their personal beliefs under the idea of academic freedom. Gora contested this by denying that academic freedom was at play in the case.
“[Academic freedom] cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught,” she said in her July statement. “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. The best academic standards of the discipline must dictate course content.”
Provost Terry King used a panel of four professors to help him review Hedin’s courses to align them with university standards, and Hedin’s status at the university was not affected.
Note: The headline of this story has been changed to reflect that not all four classes the Discovery Institute has requested for review are cited for teaching atheism.