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AP Breaks Story on Academic Freedom Under Attack at U of Idaho

AP reporter John Miller broke the story of University of Idaho President Timothy White’s edict banning “views that differ from evolution” in any “life, earth, and physical science courses or curricula” as inappropriate for the university. (see our original post here)

Nowhere does the statement say what a differing view on evolution might be. And differing from what exactly? Darwinism? Intelligent design? Structuralism? Self-organization? What is appropriate for UI science classes? Can a professor

present research critical of any of these theories or only critical of some? What about evidence that supports these theories can that be discussed with students?

There’s a disturbing pattern emerging. Universities that have public and prominent proponents of intelligent design are seeing a rise in viewpoint discrimination. UI’s banning of discussion of differing views on evolution comes on the heals of Iowa State University’s faculty petition declaring ID as non-scientific and therefore verbotten from their science curriculum. Is this going to be the new trend wherever a scientist publicly expresses interest or support in non-Darwinian views on evolution? It seems quite coincidental that in each of these cases there is such a professor.

At UI you have noted microbiologist, Scott Minnich, who is a well respected scientist whose research on the plague earned him a place on an elite team deployed to Iraq to protect our troops from biological warfare. Minncih is widely published in technical journals including Journal of Bacteriology, Molecular Microbiology, Journal of Molecular Biology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Journal of Microbiological Method.

Meanwhile at ISU astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez has also been targeted by Darwinists with an effor to curtail his academic freedom. Gonzalez is a world class expert on the astrophysical requirements for habitability and on habitable zones and a co-founder of the Galactic Habitable Zone (GHZ) concept. Astronomers and astrobiologists around the world are pursuing research based on his work on extrasolar planets host stars, the GHZ, and several discoveries pertaining to stellar abundances. In the past he has received grants from NASA. And he is the co-author of “Observational Astronomy” by Birney, Gonzalez, and Oesper an advanced colleged astronomy textbook.

Are such scientists not free to discuss their own views and research related to biological evolution? Or intelligent design? Is not this the role of universities to provide for the free exchange of ideas and information on all issues, even controversial ones? These sorts of attacks on academic freedom are the exact opposite of the discourse appropriate on university campuses. Universities should be vigorously and openly debating the contentious issues of our day, especially in the sciences.

Instead, you have what appears to be paranoia about opposing views to Darwinism coming to the UI campus. The Moscow Daily News reports:

“The discussion arose after a situation arose at UI about a year ago when a student lodged a complaint about a teacher who stepped in as a substitute. Hartzell said the student reported this person might have mentioned intelligent design in the classroom. She specified that the person wasn’t Minnich and it wasn’t somebody on UI’s faculty.
As for Minnich, she said “he doesn’t introduce that into the classroom. He hasn’t crossed that line. He doesn’t proselytize in the classroom. He doesn’t use the academic setting to advance his own ideas, but he is willing to talk about these ideas.”
“As far as I am concerned, he is free to do whatever he wants on his own time,” Hartzell said.”

They launched an entire investigation when a student complained that a substitute professor “might” have mentioned ID in a class. Oh horrors! ID “might” have been “mentioned”! The end of the world is truly upon us!

And note what is considered praise of Minnich: “He doesn’t use the academic setting to advance his own ideas.” Imagine that! A professor isn’t supposed to advance his own ideas! So much for academic freedom. I guess professors are just like herd animals, and all they are supposed to do is parrot the party line.

Minnich’s colleagues are more supportive than Gonzalez’ according to the Daily News:

“He also conducts research in areas of the bacterial flagellum and yersinia and directs the biology program for the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho Medical Education Program, which makes medical education more accessible through collaboration and shared resources.
“He has done a lot of important work in the area of bacterial pathogens,” said Hartzell, who said she finds Minnich to be a wonderful colleague and very professional.”

In fact, Minnich’s repeatable, laboratory experiments on the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria show something very interesting. When placed back into a pool of unresistant bacteria where the antibiotic is no longer present, the resistant bacteria are quickly overwhelmed by the bacteria that lacked resistance. Thus, the microevolutionary adaptation of the resistant bacteria came at the price of overall fitness, suggesting that there are limits to how far the bacteria can evolve and remain viable in a natural setting. That’s fact-based evidence that counts against Darwinism, but according to the University of Idaho president’s letter, it’s not something Scott Minnich is allowed to mention to his students. The laboratory results — repeatable in any sufficiently sophisticated lab in the world–have been deemed impermissible. Was this the University of Idaho president’s intention? Can he clarify his statement by speaking to this particular instance of laboratory evidence that runs contrary to modern evolutionary theory?

But apparently this information is just to dangerous for UI students to be exposed to. Maybe they’re afraid it’s contagious? Imagine the tragedy if such ideas spread?

The NCSE certainly seems to think so. It’s no surprise that NCSE director Eugenie Scott’s 2005 tour is coming to both UI and ISU in the very near future. The University of Idaho maintains that the edict censoring science wasn’t focused at Minnich, but it seems that even Scott found that hard to believe.

“White wrote that national media attention on the issue prompted the letter. Meanwhile, evolution disputes are unfolding in at least 19 states.

His letter also came just a week before Eugenie C. Scott, an activist who has fought to segregate creationism and intelligent design from science classes, is due to speak at the University of Idaho on Oct. 12. Her presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the UI Administration Building Auditorium and is open to the public.

Scott said the school’s science faculty, who invited her, haven’t explicitly mentioned Minnich as motivation for bringing her for a lecture titled “Why Scientists Reject Intelligent Design.” Still, “the elephant in the living room is: there is a proponent of intelligent design on the faculty of the University of Idaho,” said Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.” (emphasis mine)

I guess if there’s an elephant in the science room it takes an 800lb gorilla like the NCSE to try and make it disappear.

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.