Education Icon Education
Free Speech Icon Free Speech

Ball State University: Why It Matters

Joshua Youngkin

FreedomUnderFire.jpgWhat is academic freedom? For one, it’s a real thing, real as in we didn’t make it up here at Discovery Institute. Do a Google search on "academic freedom." (Be sure to use quote marks.) I got over 794,000 results when I did a search today. Only a tiny percentage of those come from Discovery Institute.

Academic freedom is also a big idea in the world of education, which as a field of funded and regulated activity is itself a really big deal. We wouldn’t have spent $638 billion of taxpayer money on public K-12 schooling in the 2009-2010 school year, or about 7.3 percent of GDP in 2010, if education didn’t matter deeply to us.

So what is this big idea in the important field of education, this academic freedom? Well, it is at least the notion that ideological groups outside of a school should not be allowed to shut down the schooling that goes on inside a school. Schools and classrooms that want to explore multiple views on hot topics in science and other fields should be free to do so, says academic freedom. Who are these pressure groups, these outsiders, to say, "No, you can’t"?

Sad to say, sometimes these outsiders successfully pressure a school’s administration to turn away from academic freedom, away from parents, away from students. These groups have learned the cynical lesson that they can often get even good folks at a school to cave in if they can only get their lawyers to threaten to sue. That’s what happened at Ball State University, a big state school in Indiana, the very "Crossroads of America."

So that’s why we write so much about Ball State. It’s not just about some professor you’ve never heard of out in the middle of the country who lost his class for who-knows-why. It is really about a test case for what academic freedom, and higher education itself, will amount to in America in the coming years. Are you curious how the battle of Ball State will turn out?

I’m curious all right, but I don’t ask this question out of idle curiosity. This is not like watching the game without having a dog in the hunt. The whole higher ed world has been watching the Ball State case slowly unfold, and taking notes. If Ball State ultimately goes the wrong way on this, retaining its limitation on speech about intelligent design, you better believe other schools are going to learn the lesson and shut down on their students too when told to do so by a pressure group’s lawyers.

That’s the way higher education works. Stay tuned.

Joshua Youngkin

An attorney, and previously, Discovery Institute Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs.



Ball State UniversityViews