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More than 7,000 Urge Ball State University to Protect Academic Freedom of Professor Eric Hedin

On July 1, Discovery Institute delivered a petition to Ball State University (BSU) from more than 7,000 people, including more than 1,200 residents of Indiana, urging the university to defend the academic freedom of assistant professor of physics Eric Hedin. Professor Hedin has been under continuing attack by atheist activists Jerry Coyne and the Freedom from Religion Foundation because of an honors seminar he teaches on the “Boundaries of Science” that discusses the debate over intelligent design as one of its topics.

The petition was accompanied by letters to BSU’s President Jo Ann Gora and the university’s Board of Trustees from Discovery Institute Vice President Dr. John West.

“Academic freedom means nothing if it does not protect professors from all sides of the intellectual and ideological spectrum,” wrote West, who went on to refute false claims that Professor Hedin taught “creationism” or proselytized in class. West challenged BSU for treating Professor Hedin differently from a peace studies professor whose academic freedom had been attacked nearly a decade ago.

“BSU’s treatment of Professor Hedin thus far differs dramatically from its treatment of Professor George Wolfe when he was under similar attack from an outside group in 2004,” explained West. “Even though allegations against Professor Wolfe were actually more serious than those leveled against Professor Hedin, BSU’s investigation of Wolfe was less exacting and invasive.”

West questioned the legitimacy of the special committee appointed to investigate Hedin, noting that its membership includes several faculty with clear conflicts of interest on the issue of intelligent design and that it seems to be operating outside the policies and procedures provided for in BSU’s own Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook. West also criticized the lack of clarity regarding the standards by which Hedin and his course are being judged by the committee, and whether those standards have been applied to other BSU faculty.

West ended his letters by asking BSU’s President to respond to nine important questions relating to whether the university has been applying a double standard in its treatment of Professor Hedin:

  1. What specific language in the Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook authorizes the appointment and governs conduct of the special committee investigating Professor Hedin and his course?…
  2. What other professors at BSU have been subjected to investigation by a special committee using the language and other policies, procedures, and standards referenced in question 1?
  3. What specific standards are the special committee and Provost using to determine as “appropriate” or not the content and teaching of Professor Hedin’s course? Have these standards been applied to other BSU faculty? If so, how have they been so applied?
  4. What specific standards are the special committee and Provost using to determine whether Professor Hedin is “qualified” to teach his course? Have these standards been applied to other BSU faculty? If so, how have they been so applied?
  5. What specific measures has BSU taken to ensure that Professor Hedin is treated fairly and that his academic freedom rights are protected during this investigative process?
  6. How were members of the special committee selected, and what specific measures were taken by BSU to ensure that committee members would be impartial and free from conflicts of interest?
  7. Why was Professor Hedin’s academic department excluded from the evaluation process, including the special committee?
  8. Please explain whether the Provost and any members of the special committee have been specifically instructed by BSU that they must act in accord with the following provisions of BSU’s Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook: “Academic freedom is essential … and applies to both teaching and research … Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning” (p. 63); “[t]he teacher is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing the appointed subject, but should be careful not to introduce a controversial matter which has no relation to the subject” (pp. 63-64); “Academic freedom and freedom of expression include but are not limited to the expression of ideas, philosophies, or religious beliefs, however controversial, in classroom or other academic settings.” (p. 68)
  9. Why is BSU subjecting Professor Hedin to a level of scrutiny and analysis that BSU did not apply to Professor George Wolfe, when Wolfe’s freedom to teach was challenged in 2004?