Academic freedom at Ball State University: the case of Eric Hedin...

Ball State University is a state school in Muncie, a small town just north of Indianapolis. According to Indiana Public Media, Ball State administrators recently cancelled an honors physics and astronomy course taught by tenure-track prof Eric Hedin because Hedin's course syllabus included the concept of "Intelligent Design."

Ball State president Jo Ann Gora justified the cancellation to her faculty and staff:

Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom – it is an issue of academic integrity.

Right.

Ms. Gora should be rebuked by her peers at the next...

faculty senate meeting, then Ball State's trustees should fire her. Gora has failed to support the mission of a university to seek and teach truth.

It is laughable that, in such a politically volatile area as whether or not there is any first cause, Ms. Gora would, with a straight face, declare that a prof who teaches a first cause has taken an ax to "academic integrity" and is not worthy of the protections of "academic freedom."

If the scholars of Muncie cannot bring themselves to defend academic freedom, Governor Pence and our state legislators should flex our tax dollars. Note I said "our" tax dollars.

A state-funded upper tier administrator who refuses to allow a scholar-scientist to probe the frontiers of human knowledge back at the founding of the universe is unworthy of any leadership in any institution of higher education. Her leadership is inimical to the purpose of a university.

Inquiring minds find such leadership at best, boring; and at worst, stultifying and repressive.

Ball State Professor Eric Damien Kelly points out the negative impact President Gora's actions and justification will have on scholarship in Muncie:

Every pre-tenure faculty member and every contract faculty member – which is more than half the faculty – will be very nervous about what they teach...

 

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

Or a University could handle it like the University of Mount Union, where I taught previously to IU.  As I was leaving there to join IU in Spring 2011, I found out that one of my TENURED colleagues, an Associate Professor of Chemistry (who had already been denied promotion) was fired because he discussed Intelligent Design in a class. I wrote a letter to the President and Human Resources, telling them that I was ashamed to have been part of the institution, but it didn't matter.  Academic freedom is a sham--just be sure to keep the loud constituents as happy as possible.

Apart from the issue of academic freedom is the issue of logic. Lessee.....you define "academic integrity" as a matter of adherence to a controversial hypothesis, then teach the young skulls full of mush that there IS no other viable hypothesis because.....administration decided it.

And then we're going to wonder why those young skulls full of mush at best don't take authority seriously, or at worst we're going to find them thinking as nonsensically as Ball State deans. Yikes.

That said, having grown up in Indiana myself, the acid joke is that Ball State didn't have an academic reputation beforehand, so what have they really lost?

Academic freedom has only ever meant the "freedom" to teach error. Academic freedom has been a powerful tool in propagating the lie in lieu of the truth. Why would anyone have expectations that those already given over the the worst of what we find in Romans 1 to tolerate anything that even allows for the possibility of the truth?

The mantra of academic freedom has always just been a ruse to lull the gullible into thinking that teaching error is not dangerous. Anyone wanting to teach truth under the guise of academic freedom is still buying into that lie.

It works the same in the churches. Allowing toleration for ministers with exceptions to the standards leads wide spread unbelief. Today even in the "conservative" side line Presbyterian churches there is no expectation that any minister would actually hold to everything in the confession and catechisms. In fact, the fewer exceptions a minister has to the standards the more he is looked down on.

Dear Andrew,

Thanks for your comment. Would you say the same thing about freedom of religion?

Wondering I is.

Love,

I am at a loss to argue with Andrew, as his experience largely (and regrettably) parallels mine, but I must comment that academic freedom is supposed to protect the ability to address an unpopular hypothesis, not just protect error in thinking. Maybe if we returned to the habit of teaching students Logic they would be more able to see the difference.

I also agree with some of your points, Andrew, but I am not as cynical.  Academic freedom is valuable, which is why these incidents are so atrocious.  It is essential that academics are allowed to teach a minority view in the face of a majority view, but "academic freedom" is so often used as a cliché to squelch true academic freedom.

It is also important to note that there are legitimate abuses of academic freedom.  Academic freedom does not mean that I can teach anything I want, any time I want.  It is not within my academic freedom to teach a lecture on theology during my course on organic chemistry. On the other hand, expressing how my theology impacts my understanding of organic chemistry, in ways directly relevant to the course, is within my freedom as an instructor.

 

Tim,

I would answer your question this way. Christians have freedom of religion, everyone else is in bondage to sin. Freedom is being able to and then doing the will of God. What most people call freedom is actually licentiousness. All people have the right to believe all that Christ has commanded, anything less (or else) is to be in bondage to sin. The serpent is the source of the idea we should know good and evil for ourselves. He was arguing for both religious freedom and academic (or more properly philosophical) freedom. When Christians believe less than Christ has commanded we are necessarily behaving like the children of Israel in the desert, seeking a return to Egypt.

We should remember his threat, from Psalm 95: "It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest."

In other words with respect to freedom of religion, Prov 8:35,36 sums it up: "For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death."

All they that hate me love death.

Dear Andrew,

Agreed. The question is whether a Christian as prof should ever appeal to academic freedom or a citizen to the First Amendment as the Apostle Paul appealed to Rome?

Love,

Along the lines of "keep the loudest constituents happy, freedoms and rights be damned": this week Brendan Eich, newly minted CEO of Mozilla, was persecuted out of his job for a paltry $1000 campaign contribution that he made in support of California's Prop 8 six years ago. Never mind that 52% of California voters also supported Prop 8...

http://www.mercurynews.com/60-second-business-break/ci_25486642/biz-brea...

Tim,

Now we are venturing into application vs theory. I think the First Amendment is a statement that legitimate criticism of the government is not a crime (and from a Christian standpoint) not a violation of the 5th commandment. (Regarding speech)

Academic Freedom within a school and the First Amendment within the USA operate on different principles. The relationship between a school and its teachers is a voluntary one. One's relationship to the government of a country as resident / citizen / stranger is bound by the law of the land and so is one of compulsion. Schools are founded to teach specific curricula Academic Freedom has only been used to subvert and to teach contrary to that curricula, not to expand it. If a teacher doesn't like what a school teaches or wants to teach contrary, he should find or found a new school.

There is more to be said on "the free exercise" clause, but I'm not sure it's really going to provide any sort of real protection for Christians in the USA, regardless of how the Hobby Lobby case works out. You can appeal, but you won't win. However, and perhaps more concretely, the US constitution is inherently flawed because it doesn't ground itself in recognizing itself as a minster of God, per Romans 13, nor recognizing the Crown rights of Christ per Psalm 2.

Paul's appeal is something altogether different. He is appealing to Caesar rather than submitting to be judged by the Jews. His appeal was regarding a matter of authority to judge the case. He is not appealing for religious freedom, but that his case be judged by the legal authority. Either way, Paul was still executed, he only bought the time that God in his providence was to use for the spread of the Gospel.

Dear Andrew,

I think the First Amendment has much relevance here as a protection of the Free Exercise of Religion and Freedom of Speech (and protection from the establishment of atheism). These are freedoms recognized in our country's organic law that Christians can and should appeal to when the State represses the Truth and conscience. Ball State University is an instrument of the State of Indiana supported with tax dollars paid by citizens of the State of Indiana. It is not a private association.

Ball State University was created by the State of Indiana. (Ind. Code 21-19-2-1.) It receives tax dollars from the Indiana legislature. (Ind. Code 21-7-13-32.) Lots of state tax dollars. Tens and tens and tens of millions of state tax dollars. (House Enrolled Act 1001-2013.) These amounts do not include funding that Ball State University takes in the form of grants from the federal government or indirectly from students who receive state or federal aid or federally subsidized loans.

Ball State University receives state tax dollars from Hoosier men and women that pay state income and sales taxes and an assortment of other taxes. According to a Pew Forum's 2008 survey, 80% of Hoosiers identified themselves as Christians. (Page 100.) Over one-third identified as Evangelicals. So a belief held by at least one-third of the taxpayers in the State of Indiana (and probably more) has been expelled from a state instrumentality funded by those same taxpayers. Now, of course, it doesn't matter whether a majority or a minority believe the Truth. It just makes it more perverse that a state university would trample upon the beliefs of her patrons as she takes money from those patrons hand over fist.

Sincerely,

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