Well, this is the second Discovery Institute (DI) shenanigan of the day.
Last month I reported that, after Ball State University (BSU) dismantled Eric Hedin’s “science” course for teaching intelligent design and being a cover for Christian apologetics, the DI protested loudly, arguing that other courses also taught atheistic views, something presumably just as impermissible in a state university as pushing Christianity. As I noted, the DI wrote a strong letter to BSU president Jo Ann Gora, demanding that four other courses be investigated, either for containing significant amounts of “nonscientific material” or containing some atheist material, including a book edited by my agent John Brockman. As I wrote,
Now, however, the Discovery Institute (DI) has decided it will not go gentle into that good outcome. They have written President Gora a ten-page letter (link here), demanding an investigation of the Hedin affair as well as some structural changes in the university’s teaching. The letter is signed by John West, vice-president of the DI, as well as by Joshua Youngkin, DI Program Officer in Public Policy and Law, and Donald McLaughlin, described as a “Ball State University Alumnus and Resident of Indiana Regional Representative Discovery Institute” (whatever that means).
But there have been three developments since the DI sent that letter.
First, as reported by the Ball State Daily News (the student newspaper), Ball State is investigating all its honors courses, including the four singled out in the DI letter:
All honors courses will be reviewed for appropriateness of teaching style, teachers’ qualifications and course materials, said a university spokesperson.
Joan Todd, executive director of public relations, said the reviews will occur before the semester the course is taught, and courses for Spring Semester 2014 are already under review. Four faculty subcommittees will conduct the reviews in distinct areas: social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and colloquia.
The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design organization, sent a letter to Ball State officials in mid-September asking for a review of four classes, and the university will be looking at the four in addition to next semester’s courses.
. . . The institute said the class HON 390, “Dangerous Ideas,” by English associate professor Paul Ranieri promoted anti-theistic ideas through the main text of the class, “What is your Dangerous Idea?”
Hedin’s qualifications as an astronomy professor to discuss religious ideas were also examined, so the institute brought up three professors it believes teach areas outside of their field of study. They include English assistant professor Brent Blackwell’s HON 296: “‘Old’ and ‘New’” Science,”associate biology professor Ann Blakey’s HON 297: “The SustainABLES: Air, Biodiversity, Land, Energy, & the Seas [Water]” and assistant biology professor James Olesen’s 298: “The Biology of Life.”
This certainly looks as if BSU has capitulated to the Discovery Institute’s demands, and hidden its investigation of those four courses within a general investigation of all Honors courses, some of which certainly don’t merit that investigation. Even the “Dangerous Ideas” book, which I know well, can hardly constitute Christian proselytizing, for it contains a number of disparate articles about all kinds of stuff, and is part of a course designed to examine various “dangerous” views. Yes, some of those include atheism, but I highly doubt that Dr. Ranieri was proselytizing for atheism in the same way that Hedin was proselytizing for Jesus. After all, Hedin’s syllabus consisted largely of books about how the universe gives evidence for God, and he pushed that view in the classroom.
Second, an article by Seth Slabaugh in the Muncie Star-Press reports President Gora’s response to the DI’s letter, which includes this:
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,” BSU President Jo Ann Gora wrote in a letter on Monday to The Discovery Institute.
“Some were undergoing this process before we received the inquiry regarding Honors 296, and others are being reviewed and updated at the present time,” the letter read. “Our intent is to ensure that their content and pedagogy reflect the highest academic standards.”
But then Gora added this, as Slabaugh reports:
But nothing submitted by the institute “persuades us we should change our position” on intelligent design, Gora wrote in this week’s letter.
Well, that ticked off the DI, and the Star-Press reports that now they’re threating BSU, presumably with a lawsuit:
The Discovery Institute is not satisfied with Gora’s response and continues to threaten to “seek another remedy.”
“We are seriously concerned about whether the subcommittees being established will apply the same standards fairly and equally to all faculty,” West told The Star Press via email on Tuesday. “In particular, we will be looking at the make-up of the various committees to see if they are as ideologically one-sided as the ad hoc committee appointed to investigate Eric Hedin.”
He accused Ball State of continuing to “stonewall by refusing to answer basic questions that have been raised about its potential violations of the law, the federal and Indiana constitutions, and its own guarantees of academic freedom and due process.”
West said, “We gave BSU an opportunity to clarify what it is doing, and to show that it is applying its policies in a fair and legal manner. Because BSU has refused to clarify what it is doing or answer our questions, we will be forced to seek another remedy.”
I’m not too worried about all this, as the DI has always been like a toothless dog that barks incessantly. And they surely don’t want another humiliating defeat like the one they suffered in Dover. But if they want to adjudicate the First Amendment on the college level, bring it on! I’d welcome that, because a public university is still a government institution, and in neither case can you legally proselytize religion in the U.S.