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:
- Astronomer Catherine Pilachowski is a past President of the American Astronomical Society, and she was on the governing council of the group when it issued a declaration denouncing intelligent design in 2005 and stating that it shouldn’t be taught in science classes.
- Biologist Gary Dodson is the signer of an anti-creationism petition circulated by the pro-Darwin lobbying group the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Hedin doesn’t teach creationism (and intelligent design is different from creationism), but the NCSE constantly tries to conflate ID with creationism, and it actively opposes academic freedom to discuss the evidence for design in nature. Dodson is also currently listed as an official “scientific consultant” for The Clergy Letter Project, another staunchly anti-ID and pro-Darwin group. As a “scientific consultant” Dodson is supposed to offer his services to clergy “who have questions about the science associated with all aspects of evolution.” Additionally, Dodson in 2009 was a presenter and discussion leader for the Darwin Day conference organized by a group calling itself the “Ball State Freethought Alliance.” The Ball State Freethought Alliance was an avowedly anti-religious group. According to the President of the group at the time, “our original goal seems to have been just belittling religion and generally being arrogant in a way that likely didn’t attract many people.” The Darwin Day conference was even promoted by the Center for Inquiry as an event where people could “[m]eet with other Secular Humanists.”
- Geologist Richard Fluegeman delivered the opening lecture at the same Darwin Day conference in 2009 organized by the Ball State Freethought Alliance.
- Juli Eflin is a philosopher of science and a feminist scholar. It’s unclear what her views are on intelligent design.
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?