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Ball State University President: Not Changing Our Position (and Not Answering Your Questions!)

FreedomUnderFire.gifBall State University (BSU) President Jo Ann Gora has formally responded to Discovery Institute’s letter of Sept. 10, which challenged Gora’s ban on faculty speech supporting intelligent design.

Discovery’s letter made three key demands: (1) It asked Gora to take specific actions to ensure that her ban on intelligent design will be applied in a manner consistent with relevant laws, the Indiana and federal constitutions, and BSU’s own policies on academic freedom. (2) The letter asked Gora to respond to previously submitted questions about potential violations of due process and academic freedom during BSU’s investigation of physicist Eric Hedin for teaching an interdisciplinary honors seminar that discussed intelligent design. (3) The letter asked Gora to investigate several Honors College courses that appear to violate standards used by BSU to judge Prof. Hedin and his honors seminar.

In her response to Discovery Institute, Gora basically failed to address demands 1 and 2. She also seemed to brush off demand 3, although a university spokesperson later released information suggesting that BSU has initiated a new review of the courses mentioned in Discovery Institute’s letter.

Failing to Implement BSU’s Speech Ban in a Constitutional Manner

In her reply, Gora failed to respond to any of the specific requests that she implement her ban on intelligent design in a fair, equal, and constitutional manner. Instead, she flatly declared that BSU was not changing its mind: “Nothing in your… letter persuades us we should change our position.” But Gora’s statement evades the issue of whether BSU is going to implement its ban on faculty speech in a way that is legally permissible. As Discovery Institute made clear in its letter, it believes all BSU faculty should have the right to express their views about intelligent design, pro or con. But if BSU is going to ban faculty speech on intelligent design based on the claim that the idea is religious, it must apply this ban equally to all faculty members, including those who oppose intelligent design. Indeed, if BSU really believes that faculty comments on issues it deems religious are unconstitutional, it must apply the same restrictions to all “religious” speech by faculty. To determine whether BSU is serious about applying its speech code in a constitutional manner, Discovery Institute asked Gora to:

  • “issue an immediate public directive to all BSU science faculty making clear that your ban on intelligent design in science classes applies equally to science professors who are critical of intelligent design as well as to those who support it.”
  • “issue an immediate public directive to all BSU faculty making clear that your new speech code will be applied consistently and that no faculty member henceforward will be allowed to endorse any view, pro or con, relating to intelligent design in any of their classes.”
  • “issue an immediate directive to all BSU faculty instructing them that they must take care never to express their own opinion in class on a topic relating to a religious idea. Since you have already singled out one idea that you think is religious (intelligent design), we further demand that the new directive provide a list of all of the topics regarded as religious by the administration and upon which BSU faculty can no longer offer their personal views.”
  • “repeal and/or revise… [BSU’s academic freedom] guarantees so that current and future BSU faculty, students, and the public are not misled into thinking that BSU provides more academic freedom than it actually does. In other words, to be consistent you must make it clear that at BSU, it is not the case that ‘Academic freedom and freedom of expression include … the expression of ideas, philosophies, or religious beliefs, however controversial, in classroom or other academic settings.'”

Discovery Institute added that if Gora was unwilling to apply her new ban on faculty speech in a fair and consistent manner, then she should repeal it. By failing either to repeal her ban, or to impose it on all faculty equally, Gora has now provided evidence that BSU intends to apply the ban on faculty speech in a blatantly unconstitutional manner.

Failing to Answer Questions about Due Process Violations in the Case of Eric Hedin

President Gora also failed to respond (again) to any of the questions Discovery Institute raised about numerous potential violations of due process and academic freedom in BSU’s investigation of Eric Hedin. Discovery Institute originally submitted these questions to President Gora on July 1, but she refused to respond and so the Institute re-sent them attached to its Sept. 10 letter. The questions include:

1. What specific language in the Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook authorizes the appointment and governs conduct of the special committee investigating Prof. Hedin and his course? …
3. What specific standards are the special committee and Provost using to determine as “appropriate” or not the content and teaching of Prof. Hedin’s course? Have these standards been applied to other BSU faculty? If so, how have they been so applied?…
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 Prof. Hedin’s academic department excluded from the evaluation process, including the special committee?…
9. Why is BSU subjecting Prof. Hedin to a level of scrutiny and analysis that BSU did not apply to Prof. George Wolfe, when Wolfe’s freedom to teach was challenged in 2004?

By failing once again to answer any of these questions, Gora appears determined to withhold from the public the information it needs to evaluate whether Prof. Hedin has been mistreated by BSU. This lack of transparency on the part of BSU should be of concern to every citizen in Indiana.

Investigating Honors College Courses for Violating BSU Standards

With regard to Honors College courses that appear to violate BSU’s own stated standards, President Gora also refused to respond to the complaints Discovery Institute raised about specific courses, including the one that apparently teaches that “Science Must Destroy Religion.” Gora merely offered the following pat assurance:

You can be assured that the syllabi and curricula of all of the courses you singled out, as well as those of other courses offered by the Honors College and elsewhere at the University, are reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Some were undergoing this process before we received the inquiry regarding Honors 296, and others are being reviewed and updated at the present time. Our intent is to ensure that their content and pedagogy reflect the highest academic standards.

This vague statement certainly sounds like a brush off. However, the day after Gora sent her letter to Discovery Institute, BSU spokeswoman Joan Todd claimed that BSU was in fact initiating a sweeping new review of all Honors College courses, including those identified by Discovery Institute in its complaint. In an email to the Muncie Star Press, Todd stated:

We have determined that all honors college courses will undergo a formal review by faculty within specific subcommittees of the honors college advisory council. The review will include the qualifications of the faculty member to teach the course material, the course content, and the appropriateness of the course pedagogy. It will occur prior to the semester in which the course is offered. Courses scheduled to be offered in spring 2014, as well as those about which concerns have been expressed, are currently under review.

There are four subcommittees that conduct these reviews in the honors college, focused on each of four areas: social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and colloquia.

This review structure may also be utilized when a concern is raised about the content of a course in the honors college.

It remains to be seen whether BSU’s new review of Honors College courses is real or a sham. It also remains to be seen whether the subcommittees doing the reviews will apply BSU standards fairly and equally to all courses. If the subcommittee appointed to evaluate honors courses in the sciences is anything like the lopsided committee appointed to investigate Eric Hedin, it is doubtful that the new reviews will be fair. But we will see.

The bottom line in all of this is that BSU has refused to take actions to ensure that its ban on intelligent design will be applied in a fair and constitutional manner. BSU also has refused to answer legitimate questions about potential violations of the due process rights of Prof Eric Hedin. BSU’s disregard for both academic freedom and the Constitution is shameful; and if BSU continues along this path, it is going to find itself in serious trouble.