Muncie newspaper calls for full disclosure of Hedin investigation

Now, along with the Discovery Institute and the Freedom from Religion Foundation—strange bedfellows indeed—the Muncie Star-Press has called for the Ball State University committee investigating Eric Hedin to disclose their report, or at least a summary of it. Here’s yesterday’s editorial, “Findings in report should be made public“, in full:

Did he or didn’t he? We may never know.

Ball State University officials this week refused to make public the findings of a faculty report delving into whether assistant professor Eric Hedin brought religion into a “Boundaries of Science” course.

Ball State is sticking to a policy against releasing files it deems to be of a private nature. The decision is regrettable because the university’s action does nothing to shed light on the matter or to settle this controversy.

The Indiana Public Access Counselor determined there is nothing on the state’s open records laws that prevents BSU from releasing the findings. The law gives the university discretion over its release.

So the public may never know whether Hedin espoused “intelligent design” in his class, or whether he stuck to straight science, or whether he did something else. And while the public might not get answers, neither will the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which started the whole controversy by sending a threatening letter to the university alleging the honors science course was a gateway by a government-paid employee (Hedin) to show that “science proves the truth of religion.”

As we mentioned in an earlier editorial, Hedin’s career could be at risk because of these allegations. The university might not be doing him any favors by keeping the report under wraps.

Which leads to another issue: Why couldn’t the university release a summary of the report, without releasing the actual documents? Anything to shed some light on the controversy.

It’s rather ironic that concerns made public prompted an investigation, but the findings will remain in the dark, and a shadow of doubt will follow Professor Hedin.

How does this action serve anybody’s best interest?

Well, this sounds good, and I agree that the findings should be released, but the paper’s reasons are misguided.  The university is in fact doing Hedin a big favor by keeping the report under wraps. I’m pretty sure that report will show that Hedin not only proselytized for Christianity in his class, but taught an unbalanced course slanted towards an intelligent-design view of the cosmos.  And I’m just guessing, but I think the syllabus and student evaluations will show the same thing.  But the university won’t fire Hedin: at best they will make him stop teaching that course, and they may not even announce it publicly. (We’ll then have to see if it appears on the syllabus next year.)

What I think Ball State University is doing here is protecting not just Hedin but, more important, themselves.  It will be seen (if the reports of anonymous students are true) that complaints were filed with the administration a while back, but were ignored.  And the panel, if they have any credibility as scientists, will decry Hedin’s teaching of intelligent design as unscientific.  That, too, will look bad in light of the Physics and Astronomy chairman’s defense of his course.

There’s no way this report will make Ball State look good, and that’s why they’re keeping it under wraps.  The only thing that puzzles me is whether they will make some public announcement about the fate of Hedin’s course.

24 Comments

  1. Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    The only thing that puzzles me is whether they will make some public announcement about the fate of Hedin’s course.

    Me, too.

    And the best course of action they have available to themselves is to issue a brief statement that the course will no longer be offered, with no further elaboration. Just silently dropping the class from the catalog would keep the whole thing at a simmer, but publicly (but without fanfare) dropping the course will put a lid on it.

    (They still could have some liability from students who took the class wishing some form of remediation, but there’s nothing that they can do about that at this point. And dropping the class would tend to discourage those students from seeking redress, I would think.)

    b&

    • eric
      Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I think a freshman honors seminars on the boundaries of science is a great idea. It just needs a real teacher and a real curricula which discusses actual boundary issues. (Stuff like: understanding uncertainty – of the statistical variety or otherwise. Measurement and measurement errors. How testability, reproducibility, and double blinding may be limited in some areas. Objective vs. subjective. Etc.)

      • Posted July 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        Those are all important practical scientific matters to understand, but they’re not really an exploration of what I would see as the boundaries of science.

        Leave it up to me, and I’d fill it up with stuff like the search for dark matter, what’s next (if anything?) for physics after the discovery of the Higgs, the retreat from the space race and the resultant creation anew of boundaries we had previously erased, Dr. Venter’s work in creating truly alien life, that sort of thing.

        …and, if I may be so bold…I think that’d be better material for an honors symposium than the nitty-gritty of numerical analysis techniques, as important as such subjects are.

        b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Me three! I think they are stalling because of CMA.

    • poxyhowzes
      Posted July 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      You know, there’s a whole branch of responsible, professional Public Relations practice devoted to “crisis management.” It came to the fore in the Tylenol tampering problem of 25 or 30 years ago and as recently as the oil spill in the Gulf. BP did a pretty good job (imho) of crisis PR messaging, and still, via pop-up ads on JAC’s website, tries daily to convince me that BP is environmentally responsible.

      Ball state should have done – at least – what Ben Goren suggests: Issued a statement forthwith (i.e., as fast as its lawyers and PR staff could scribble.) That statement would have (a0) upheld as a general principle Hedin’s rights under tenure and academic freedom; (a1) reiterated that an important aspect of education is the right of professors to teach, and students to learn, any old things at all.

      The statement would then have suggested that the complaints from FFRF and JAC raised questions as to whether this particular course should have been (b0) eligible for credit towards a degree in science or (b1) offered from the Physics Department.

      The statement would then have closed, firmly, with the announcement that the University would investigate, with en eye to a VERY LIMITED set of remedies: (c0) the course would continue to be taught as long as Professor Hedin wished to teach it, (c1) but it would be offered through the department of Sophisticated Theology (TM) and (c2) that the Department of Physics at Ball State was entirely within reason and rights to require Physics students to have been exposed to at least some “humanities” courses in order to earn a degree in Physics.

      [In fact, I had to meet just such a requirement for my own physics degree.]

      Given such a statement issued virtually immediately by BSU, the matter would have been instantly defused, and the FFRF would have been left with the far more tenuous and obscure question of whether the first and fourteenth amendments apply at the college level, and if so, how.

      – pH

  2. tomh
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Exactly right, they are protecting Hedin and themselves. If Ball St says nothing and then just offers the course again with some slight changes, the FFRF can’t do much (like sue) until there are complaints about the new course. Then we can go through the whole thing again. Maybe the FFRF should have just led by filing suit.

    • Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Not true. I could even sue them if they continue to offer the course; they’re misappropriating my federal tax dollars to establish the religious doctrine of Intelligent Design as an officially-acceptable alternative to scientific empiricism.

      And, I guarantee you, they’ll have no trouble finding at least one student in the entire BSU student body willing to sign up, should such be the most expedient legal strategy.

      b&

      • eric
        Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        You could sue, but you’d probably lose on that line of argument. IANAL but AIUI, under fairly well established precedents, mere taxpaying does not give one standing to sue. Whether you agree with this or not, the courts have not interpreted the use of your tax money for something you disapprove of to be a “harm” in the legal sense.

        But I think you are right in your general response to tomh, in that merely doing nothing does not somehow get BSU off the hook or push some legal reset button. All the current complaints could go forward (win or lose), and nobody would have to wait for a new complaint to occur.

        • tomh
          Posted July 24, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          I didn’t say Ball St would do nothing, I said they could offer it again with slight changes. If Ball St claims the course has changed, and could show differences, in the reading list, for example, it would seem a complaint would have to focus on the new course, not the old.

          • eric
            Posted July 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            In that case, FFRF can always lodge their original complaint and just add a legal argument that the changes made in summer 2013 are superficial, and do not address the unconstitutionality (as they see it) of the course.

            • tomh
              Posted July 24, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              They could claim that, and Ball St could claim the opposite, and the facts would have to be sorted out in court, which is what I think should have happened from the beginning. Including whether Ball St is a public institution or not – I seem to recall you arguing that it wasn’t, which would make the whole subject moot.

              • eric
                Posted July 25, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

                I agree, it would lead to a court case…on the original FFRF complaint. IOW, the case would not have to wait for new complaints about the new course. Or are we quibbling here about whether the original FFRF complaint with an addendum added counts as a ‘new legal complaint?’ If that’s all we’re arguing about, I think its fine by me if you want to call that a new complaint.

                I don’t claim BSU is not public; I claim that merely taking public tax dollars does not necessarily make Hedin’s actions unconstitutional. But we’ve had this argument and I don’t feel like getting into it gain.

              • JOm
                Posted July 25, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                They tried that in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and Intelligent Design lost. Judge saw right through it.

  3. Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    It will take years, if not decades, before BSU will overcome the damage caused by the ever enlarging Hedin case; provided that BSU will take the right measures right now.

    • Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      It like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

      I think the President of the University is one of the 25 highest-paid University Presidents in the country. Not sure where I was going with that, but it seems pretty odd to me.

      I think next, we should be looking for some Youtube clips of David Letterman (alumnus) commenting on this in his monologue. I wonder if he’s following this, and if so, how he feels about having the Communications building named after him now.

  4. ladyatheist
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    That Astronomy-labeled course that is called “The Universe and You” in the catalog but in the syllabus is “The Boundaries of Science” should get the heave-ho!

    That other one seems to be part of a sequence that they’ll have to keep, but they don’t have to have Hedin teaching it. I think it’s just generic “physical sciences” so a chemistry prof could teach it. The course description says it’s supposed to deal with society, which chemistry impacts more than astronomy anyway.

    Even plain old physics — every driver has to make decisions based on the laws of physics many times per day and many of them apparently don’t understand them very well!

    • Posted July 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think anybody should be permitted to operate a motor vehicle unsupervised in public until after they’ve demonstrated a thorough familiarity with the kinetic energy of a car-sized system, especially with respect to stopping time and distance as well as in comparison to other energetic systems such as bullets and dynamite.

      Cheers,

      b&

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    There are two other possible scenarios :
    1. The report shows that Hedlin teaches religion but the administration doesn’t like those results so suppress them.

    2 The committee supports Hedlin.

  6. gbjames
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    sub

  7. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    The Muncie* Star-Press still doesn’t get it:

    As we mentioned in an earlier editorial, Hedin’s career could be at risk because of these allegations.

    No, Hedin’s career could be at risk because of his documented behavior of putting up a religious discussion as a science class.

    *I seem to read that as Munchie every time.

    Nom nom nom.

  8. gg
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    In a different vein:

    “Doubt cast over tiny stem cells.
    Studies refute the existence of very small embryonic-like cells endorsed by the Vatican.”

    http://www.nature.com/news/doubt-cast-over-tiny-stem-cells-1.13435?WT.ec_id=NATURE-20130725

  9. Edward Hessler
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Avoiding reality never works although institution after institution, leaders of all stripes try it. It seems to be the default. While this may not be a crisis crisis (I think it is), I was reminded of the words of Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli: “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.” Wow, are there opportunities here and of all places to lose them, in a university where learning is supposed to be celebrated, value and used. What a saga but one we see again and again.

  10. Diane G.
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I keep wondering if there’s some deep-pockets ID-mole alum behind the Hedin & whozit hirings, greasing the wheels and affecting the uni’s PR machine.

  11. Posted July 25, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    I think the answer(s) could be at the 1:45 mark of this clip. That would be the Uni Prez, one of the most handsomely paid in the country.

    Did I say 25th? I should have said 5th-highest paid PUBLIC COLLEGE prez.

    I think they have their PR down pat, for some strange reason. Looks like they have their bases covered.


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