Tag Archives: Ball State

What the Hell is Happening at Ball State?

For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, Ball State University is one of the state’s public universities–and lately, the source of some disquieting events.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I only know what I read in the media, and I do understand how easy it is to get a distorted picture from what the media chooses to highlight. Still, there are some very troubling signs coming from Muncie, Indiana.

First, there was the Professor who reportedly championed creationism in a science class.  The course itself was unobjectionable, once you got beyond the incredibly turgid description; “a seminar investigating physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.” However, there were reports that the instructor was actively proselytizing and endorsing a Christian viewpoint rather than discussing scientific inquiries. Since Ball State is a public university, such endorsement–if verified– would violate the Establishment Clause.

The controversy made the news again when the professor was awarded tenure.

Eric Hedin, the associate professor of astronomy and physics at Ball State University who was investigated in 2014 for allegedly teaching intelligent design, has earned tenure. That’s despite claims that he was proselytizing in a science class and the university’s strong affirmation of the scientific consensus around evolution in light of the allegations.

Despite the concerns–and negative publicity– raised by the allegations, the university subsequently hired Guillermo Gonzalez,  who had written a book in support of intelligent design, to teach astronomy and physics classes.

Intelligent design is religious doctrine; it is not science. Hiring two advocates of a doctrine overwhelmingly rejected by science to teach science is, at best, worrisome.

Then in January of this year, the Muncie Star-Press announced the sudden resignation of the University’s President.

 Ball State University’s board of trustees accepted the mysterious, sudden and unexpected resignation of President Paul Ferguson during a special meeting at the university’s Indianapolis Center on Monday.

The suddenness of the resignation–and the Board’s unwillingness to offer any explanation for it–generated a number of damaging rumors, including rumors of University financial problems. To date–unless Google and I missed it–there has still been no explanation.

Now, we have news of a major grant to the University by the Koch Brothers and Papa John Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza notoriety.  In March, they donated $3.25 million to Ball State to create the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

A student group concerned that the grant will purchase influence over curriculum and the Presidential search issued the following statement:

We have reason to believe this will lead to the appointment of a Koch-connected official, as the situation at our university is frighteningly similar to what happened at FSU (Florida State University) where there was an open (presidential) search the same time they were setting up a Koch institute in their department of economics.

The students charge that the Kochs spend millions promoting discredited anti-environmental positions under the aegis of a free-market agenda in order to protect their vast interests in fossil fuels.

George Mason University, Florida State University, Troy University, all of these have been infiltrated by the Kochs. George Mason is now the number one climate-denying institution.

I work at a university, and I know how attractive big grants can be, even when there is no fiscal crisis. Most grants come with no strings attached, and support important research–my own university, like many others, has policies against taking funds unless the accompanying documentation protects academic independence. The stories from Ball State thus far, however, do not describe any conditions that Ball State has attached to its acceptance of the grant.

One would hope that establishment of an Institute on free enterprise would not operate to distort or even affect the teaching of science, including climate science, on the same campus.

Of course, a science department willing to hire creationists may be willing to “adjust”…..



Here We Go Again

According to the Indianapolis Star,

 Four legislators, including Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Education Committee, say “serious questions have been raised about whether academic freedom, free speech and religious liberty have been respected by BSU in its treatment of professor Hedin, its subsequent establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design, and its cancellation of professor Hedin’s … class,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Gora.

For those with cloudy memories, the roots of this particular “inquiry” are described here.

Why, exactly, do Hoosier voters are continue to elect people who do not understand the difference between science and religion, the operation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses or the difference between Free Speech and government speech?

Let me spell this out—not that Senator Kruse or his theocratic cohorts will listen.

Academic freedom insulates the academy from the Senator’s own efforts to dictate the content of courses taught by the University. It does not protect a professor who is teaching discredited or inappropriate materials— I don’t have “academic freedom” to teach flower arranging in my Law and Policy classes; a historian does not have “academic freedom” to insist that the Holocaust didn’t occur; and a professor of science does not have “academic freedom” to substitute creationism for science.

Freedom of speech and religious liberty allow Senator Kruse to believe and promote any cockamamie thing he wants. It does not give him—and it most definitely does not give the legislature, which is government—the right to demand (overtly or covertly) that a public university give equal time in science class to an unscientific religious belief.

Can creationism be taught? Sure—in a class on comparative religion, or in a history of science class, or as part of a political science class’s exploration of the ongoing tension between religious orthodoxy and science.

Senator Kruse and his cohorts do raise a question that Hoosier voters should take seriously: When will the General Assembly stop spending so much time on religiously-motivated efforts to marginalize gays, keep women second-class and pregnant, control what Hoosiers drink and when, and teach religious dogma in our public schools? When will they start paying attention to the economy, the quality of life in our state, and the other genuine problems we elected them to address?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath.