A year of controversy: Intelligent design vs. academic freedom
A little more than a year ago, Ball State became the center of a debate in higher education about academic freedom.
The controversy surrounded an honors course taught by Eric Hedin, an associate professor, called Boundaries of Science. Hedin was accused of intermingling his religious ideas, including intelligent design, in with accepted scientific teachings.
President Jo Ann Gora later said the teaching of intelligent design, the idea that a creator shaped the universe, has no place in a science course. This statement didn’t bring an end to complaints against Ball State.
Here is a look at the events that changed the course content and review process of the Ball State Honors College courses and set a precedent for the rest of the university.
May 15, 2013 — The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization advocating for the separation of state and church, files a formal complaint against Eric Hedin, then an assistant professor at Ball State. The complaint accuses Hedin of expressing religious beliefs in his Boundaries of Science Honors College course.
June 2013 — The university selects four professors, one from Indiana University and three from Ball State, to investigate Hedin’s course. The members are Gary Dodson, a professor of biology; Juli Eflin, a professor of philosophy; Richard Fluegeman Jr., a professor of geological sciences; and Catherine Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at IU.
June 12, 2013 — Ball State hires astronomy assistant professor Guillermo Gonzalez, a senior fellow with intelligent design think tank Discovery Institute. Gonzalez previously taught at Iowa State University but left after he was denied tenure for reasons he said included his ties to intelligent design. Gonzalez released a statement saying he pledged not to discuss intelligent design in his classes.
July 31, 2013 — President Jo Ann Gora releases a statement saying intelligent design is a religious belief and not a scientific theory, and therefore should not be taught in a university course. She also argues against many critics who call the teaching of a creator is academic freedom. The panel investigating Hedin allows him to continue to teach if he adjusts his course’s content.
Aug. 19, 2013 — Fall Semester begins and Hedin starts teaching with a full course load, although some people complain about Ball State’s methods when investigating his class. The Discovery Institute criticizes the university, saying the methods were inconsistent with a similar case — George Wolfe, a music professor, who was accused of pushing his political ideas into his class in 2004.
Sept. 10, 2013 — Gora receives a letter from the Discovery Institute. The letter demands the university investigate four classes, focusing on Paul Ranieri, an associate professor of English. The institute said Ranieri’s HON 390 class Dangerous Ideas, which uses “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” as its textbook, teaches a one-sided view of religion, including a section that declares “Science must destroy religion.” The other classes criticized are: 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 HON 298 The Biology of Life.
October 2013 — Ball State announces a new, formal review policy for all Honors College courses. The process will investigate appropriateness of teaching style, teacher’s qualifications and course material. All current honors classes will be reviewed and all new classes will be evaluated a semester before they begin.
March 10, 2014 — Four conservative lawmakers, led by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, send a letter to Gora to question the university’s decision to prohibit the teaching of intelligent design. The letter said Gora’s statement against intelligent design raised questions about whether Ball State had violated Hedin’s religious and academic freedoms. Other signers of the letter include Sens. Travis Holdman of Markle and Greg Walker of Columbus and Rep. Jeff Thompson of Lizton.
March 18, 2014 — Gora replies to the legislators' letter to ask Kruse, Holdman, Walker and Thompson to meet with the university in person to discuss the disagreement involving academic freedom. Later, the legislators agree to meet on Ball State’s campus with Gora.
April 3, 2014 — Kruse, Walker and Holdman meet with Gora. The legislators later released a statement calling the meeting productive, saying it offered an opportunity to discuss academic freedom and receive input from university officials.
May 2014 — Hedin is among 19 assistant professors to be promoted to associate professor by the Board of Trustees. Hedin said he was thankful the university confirmed that he is a valued faculty member.
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