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Ball State President’s Orwellian Attack on Academic Freedom

John G. West

(Updated, 09/09/13)

Jo Ann Gora, President of Ball State University (BSU) in Indiana, has weighed in on the subject of intelligent design, declaring that science faculty can’t discuss intelligent design as a scientific theory in science classes. Incredibly, Gora insists that her university’s “commitment to academic freedom is unflinching,” even while she imposes a gag order on science faculty who think there is evidence of intelligent design in nature. Gora further bans all faculty at BSU—whether in science, or in some other discipline—from endorsing intelligent design in the classroom. Falsely claiming that intelligent design is a religious idea, she declares that “faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others.” How much do you want to bet that this ban on endorsing ideas doesn’t extend to BSU faculty who endorse attacks on intelligent design?Hedin_Eric.jpg

Memo to President Gora: Academic freedom was designed to protect dissenting and unpopular views among faculty. That’s the whole point. Redefining it as the “freedom” to teach only the majority view isn’t academic freedom; it’s a power play right out of the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. Gora’s statement makes a mockery of true academic freedom. It also exposes Gora as a complete hypocrite on the subject. Nearly a decade ago, she and her university went to the mat defending the academic freedom of a left-wing peace studies professor with controversial views. Now it turns out that their commitment to academic freedom is a sham: Academic freedom at Ball State apparently only means the right to teach views the university administration agrees with.

Of course, the context for Gora’s remarks is the continuing controversy over BSU physicist Eric Hedin, under attack by the extremist Freedom from Religion Foundation because he may have covered the issue of intelligent design as part of his “Boundaries of Science” seminar. Although Gora doesn’t mention Hedin, the university issued a companion statement that said:

Provost Terry King and Professor Hedin have both reviewed the panel’s findings and are working together to ensure that course content is aligned with the curriculum and best standards of the discipline. The university is particularly appreciative for Dr. Hedin’s active participation and cooperation during this process. His academic credentials are an asset to the university. He remains an important and valued member of our physics and astronomy department.

The statement about Hedin is notable for how little it actually says. And President Gora’s statement, far from clarifying matters, adds more confusion:

  1. Hedin’s honors seminar is supposed to be interdisciplinary. The course description for the seminar published by the university clearly states that it doesn’t just deal with science; it also has to deal with important human questions raised by science. This course description applies to all the different faculty who teach the course. So Hedin’s honors seminar isn’t simply a science course. Does that mean Hedin can talk about intelligent design in the class according to Gora? In further email correspondence with a university spokesman, the answer seems to be no, because BSU is now insisting that Hedin’s interdisciplinary course is a science course after all.
  2. President Gora forbids teaching that intelligent design is a scientific theory in science courses. But teaching about the controversy over intelligent design is not the same thing as teaching ID as a scientific theory. So can professors still teach students about the majority and minority views about intelligent design in the scientific community?
  3. If Gora really believes that intelligent design is religion and that it is inappropriate to present in science classes, does her gag order apply equally to scientists on her campus who are opposed to intelligent design? For example, does her new speech code forbid scientists from attacking ID in science classes?

After all, in her view, that would be tantamount to attacking religion, and therefore would be unconstitutional according to her legal analysis.

If anyone thinks that Gora’s statement is the end of the Hedin matter, they are mistaken. This is just the beginning. BSU is a state university, and its blatant double standard on academic freedom raises fundamental questions that will need to be answered.

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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