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Darwin Defenders Get Ben Stein Expelled from University of Vermont’s Commencement Address

Casey Luskin

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Ben Stein “has withdrawn from an engagement to speak at the University of Vermont’s spring commencement after his invitation drew complaints about his views on biological evolution.” The article reports: “According to the Burlington Free Press, the vast majority of protesters were not affiliated with the University of Vermont; only ‘about a half dozen’ objections came from the campus.” So why did protests about Stein start pouring in from outside the University of Vermont (UVM)? The answer seems clear: Stein’s invitation to speak at UVM was first raised to the Darwinist community in a post by PZ Myers titled, “University of Vermont makes an embarrassing decision.” Given the large following of PZ’s blog, this undoubtedly resulted in readers who were “not affiliated with the University of Vermont” sending e-mails protesting Stein’s involvement.

It also seems highly unlikely that Stein’s withdrawal was completely voluntary–after all, Dan Fogel, the President of the UVM, has been making it patently clear that supporters of intelligent design deserve second-class treatment at his school. Fogel has been all but parroting PZ’s rhetoric that “it’s a real slap in the face for the university to drag in this disgrace who has been a figurehead for a movement that is trying to replace science with superstition,” as Fogel stated:

“This is not, to my mind, an issue about academic freedom or the openness of the campus to all points of view. Ben Stein spoke here last spring to great acclaim,” UVM President Dan Fogel said. “It’s an issue about the appropriateness of awarding an honorary degree to someone whose views in many ways ignore or affront the fundamental values of scientific inquiry and I greatly regret that I was not attuned to those issues.”

Like many Darwinists, Fogel is so blind to his own intolerance that he doesn’t see the contradictions in his own argument: He claims this isn’t about academic freedom, but he’s refusing to give an honorary degree to Stein simply because Stein supports intelligent design.

But does Fogel’s view support academic freedom? Fogel’s pretext is the usual one used to discriminate against ID proponents–he claims that Stein’s “views in many ways ignore or affront the fundamental values of scientific inquiry”–but this is just plain old intolerance for those scientists and scholars who think that intelligent design is an idea worth taking seriously. Thus Fogel’s argument is self-refuting: the fact that he won’t give honorary degrees to someone simply because they support ID demonstrates the lack of academic freedom for ID proponents in the academy.

Fogel makes the same mistake in this non-credible denial that academic freedom is the issue:

“But I have to say, the issue here, and this is important, is not freedom of expression. Ben Stein has come to our campus to speak, and some of the faculty that are colleagues here wrote to me to say that they have no objection to him coming here to speak. It was the legitimate concern among members of the community regarding the implications of granting an honorary degree to someone whose ideas fundamentally ignore the basics of scientific inquiry.”

Again, Fogel’s denial that this bears upon academic freedom has a huge credibility gap: Fogel claims this isn’t about freedom of expression, but it seems clear that scholars aren’t free to express support for intelligent design or they are charged with “ignor[ing] the basics of scientific inquiry.”

The response from PZ? “Fogel just shot way up in my esteem.” QED.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Ben SteinExpelledPZ Myers