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Questions Raised about Impartiality of Panel Reviewing Ball State University Professor’s Course

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New evidence suggests that faculty members selected by Ball State University to review Professor Eric Hedin’s “Boundaries of Science” honors course may be far from impartial on the topic of intelligent design (ID). Indeed, three of the four appointed panelists are publicly connected to groups explicitly opposed to ID:

Can panelists publicly connected with groups like the National Center for Science Education, the Clergy Letter Project, and the Ball State Freethought Alliance really be fair or impartial when investigating the merit of Hedin’s course? Or have their prejudices and conflicts of interest already predetermined their conclusions? I’d love to believe that the panelists are so professional that they will keep their own personal biases in check, but I’ve seen enough academic politics over the years to be highly skeptical of the panelists ability to give Hedin a fair hearing. At the very least, Ball State University seriously compromised the credibility of its investigation by stacking its review panel with members whose public activities and affiliations represent clear conflicts of interest and/or prejudicial backgrounds that could interfere with the impartiality of their review.

There are additional troubling issues about the review panel. According to the syllabus for Hedin’s course, the vast majority of the course focuses on issues in physics, cosmology, and astronomy — not evolutionary biology. Yet fully half of the members of his review panel seem to have been chosen for their interest or expertise in biological evolution. At the same time, even though a central theme of Hedin’s course (again, according to its syllabus) is the relationship between faith and science, not one of the reviewers appears to have expertise in the area of faith and science. Why?

Given that this investigation began because of an outside group’s attack on Hedin’s academic freedom, one might also wonder whether any members of the review panel were chosen who have expertise in academic freedom issues or in defending the rights of faculty who may hold unpopular or minority viewpoints. Again, if not, why not?

Then there is the question as to whether the panel should have been convened at all. According to the local newspaper, BSU has claimed that it followed established policies in convening the review panel. But it is not at all clear whether this is the case. What are those established policies? And to what other professors have they been applied? One reason the Hedin case is so disturbing is because it appears he is being judged according to a standard not applied to other faculty. In September 2004, another outside interest group (in this case, a conservative student group founded by activist David Horowitz) raised issues about alleged ideological indoctrination going on in a course taught by a peace studies professor George Wolfe. In the Wolfe case, there was no review panel. Indeed, according to Wolfe both the Provost and the President of BSU rose to Wolfe’s defense early on in the controversy in order to protect his freedom to teach his course.

Imagine that instead of defending Wolfe, BSU had appointed a “review panel” to investigate his course. Imagine further that the review panel was composed of one professor who had issued a declaration attacking peace studies as illegitimate, a second professor who had signed a petition by a conservative lobbying group denouncing peace studies and who had served as a consultant to another group opposed to peace studies, and a third professor who had spoken (along with the second professor) at a conference organized by a conservative activist group who thought that peace studies was anti-American and should be abolished. What do you think the response of the media, let alone other professors, would have been then?

Double standard, anyone?

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



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