As you may know, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Ball State University (BSU) president Jo Ann Gora. BSU then launched an “ad hoc” investigation against physicist and astronomer, Professor Eric Hedin. Gora then banned intelligent design from science classes.
Last week, the Muncie Star Press, BSU’s hometown paper, published an opinion on the brewing BSU controversy titled, “Daniel Murphy: Ball State fails to follow proper procedure.” Murphy concludes his piece this way:
It is the faculty who hold the responsibility of evaluating the content of Hedin’s speech in the classroom — not the provost who chose instead to create his own rules. [Provost] King’s actions stand as a dangerous precedent and cast a chill over academic freedom at Ball State. [Emphasis added. — JY.]
Eric Kelly made the same point about procedure in the pages of the same paper a few weeks earlier:
In the “shared governance” system at the university, the faculty, not the administration, is responsible for academic matters, ranging from the content of courses through the requirements to earn a particular degree. The governance and administrative system includes mechanisms to deal with course content.
If a faculty member deviates significantly from the approved course description, that is a matter for the department chair to review and, if necessary, to discuss with the department curriculum committee. If they fail to deal with a real issue, the college dean can and should perhaps intervene.
None of this appears to have happened in the Hedin case.
Why care what Murphy and Kelly say about rules, procedure, and academic freedom?
Kelly is a lawyer and professor who formerly chaired the Ball State University Senate, the faculty body that BSU administration sidestepped in order to conduct its own investigation of Dr. Hedin.
Murphy is a professor at another Indiana institution and a member of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, Indiana Conference, of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The AAUP gave us the academic freedom statements upon which nearly all faculty handbooks in the country are built.
The slickest way for administrators to dodge the requirements of academic freedom is to dodge the faculty handbook, which is what BSU has done, as Kelly and Murphy point out.