The FFRF gains another victory against Christian prosyletizing in the college classroom

The first thing I want to say is that I had nothing to do with this episode, so don’t start calling me the Religion Police. It’s simply one of the many admirable actions of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in its incessant battle to keep religion out of the public-school classroom. And that includes college classrooms.

In May of last year, a professor at Erie Community College in Williamsville, New York did a bit of proselytizing toward two of her students.  This led to a letter of complaint to the College’s president from attorney Rebecca Markert at the FFRF. To quote the letter (names redacted by request):

It is our information that [name redacted], [subject redacted] professor at Erie Community College’s South Campus, approached a student with a manila envelope during her May 8, 2012 [subject redacted] final, and gave it to him with instructions to open it when he was alone We are informed she did the same to at least one other student in the class.  The package contained a bible, which was addressed directly to this student and contained a personalized message on the inside cover and select passages underlines for him to focus on. Please find enclosed pictures of this bible.

[JAC: here are the offending items; I love the fact that the FFRF doesn’t capitalize “bible”!]:

Bible[JAC: I have left the names off the note; the last sentence is “I would love to hear from you.”]


The FFRF’s letter continues:

This student, who practices a different, minority religion, was offended by this offering. He stated that “it made me feel extremely uncomfortable, particularly the wording of her message to me, which I felt was bizarre and unstettling. We are also informed that Professor [name redacted] bans “using the Lord’s name in vain” in her clasroom. Please find enclosed a scanned copy of the flier outlining this rule. [JAC: I’ve left off the professor’s name.]:

Teaching guidelinesThe letter continues:

This “gift” from Professor [name redacted] constitutes an official endorsement and advancement of religion over nonreligion, and specifically Christianity over all other faiths, within a public school classroom. Her actions, egregious in their own right, are inevitable are [sic] imputed to Erie Community College. Therefore, the College must take the necessary and appropriate steps to avoid Establishment Clause violations as well as undue pressure on students, who may be non-Christian or nonreligious. Regardless of religious orientation, students have signed up for a math class, not for proselytizing.

The FFRF then goes on to cite case law against professors producing unwarranted religious expression in the classroom, including Piggee v. Carl Sandberg College (“holding that a community college had a right to insist that a part-time cosmetology instruction [sic] refrain from engaging in speech related to her religious beliefs while serving as an instructor”), and Bishop v. Aronov, a case we’ve read about in the Ball State case. In the Piggee case, the court held that the professor’s “passing comments to his class about Jesus Christ, even with his personal disclaimer, constitutes an Establishment Claus concern for the University.”  As the FFRF letter notes:

The university directed the professor to discontinue “1) the interjection of religious beliefs and/or preferences during instructional time periods and 2) the optional classes where a ‘Christian perspective’ of an academic topic is delivered.” Id. The court found this decision was valid because “without unnecessarily restricting the academic freedom of a faculty members [sic], the University endeavored to avoid both Establishment Clause violations and undue pressure upon students.” Id. Therefore, to avoid these concerns the court concluded “the University as an employer and educator can direct [the professor] to refrain from expression of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings.”

Note again that this is not high school, but a public college, and some of the classes that were found unacceptable were optional. I have still not heard a good argument from readers (or from Larry Moran, who’s getting increasingly exercised on this issue, to the point of arguing that it’s okay for a professor to teach alchemy in a college chemistry class) why, in a country where the separation of Church and state is mandated (we’re not in Canada, Larry!), it’s not okay for high school teachers to inject religion into their classes but it’s okay for professors at state universities to do so. There is no relevant difference here: in both cases it’s government entanglement with religion. There is no Constitutional provision for “academic freedom,” but there is for separating religion from government activities, which include teaching in public schools. Do remember that teachers and professors at public schools are government employees.

At any rate, the Erie case didn’t have to be litigated, for on May 13 the Legal Affairs department at Erie Community College ordered the offending professor “to refrain from communication with students that would conflict with [her] duty to show complete neutrality toward religion or would otherwise promote religion.” They also warned her that if she didn’t follow this directive she’d face “serious disciplinary consequences.” I understand the professor agreed with this sanction.

To my mind, this is a lesser offense than Eric Hedin actually teaching religiously inspired “science”, like intelligent design” in a science class at Ball State University. But in both cases the professor was proselytizing for Christianity in the classroom. Both activities are unconstitutional, and at Erie Community College they realized it.  Let’s hope the officials at Ball State University do the same.

This is indeed a slippery slope, and without a watchdog to prevent even the merest proselytizing for faith in public school classes, we’d be on the downhill slide toward a theocracy. Thank Ceiling Cat that the FFRF acts as this watchd-g.

Do consider joining the FFRF (you can do so here).  Unlike other secular organizations, they don’t engage in drama—they go about their job quietly, and effectively.  To my mind it is the most admirable of the antireligious organizations. And kudos to their team of watchd-g lawyers!


  1. Dave
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I have regularly supported the FFRF financially for a few years now and will continue to do as long they continue their fine work. What colleges (or college employees) seem to forget is that those students are their CUSTOMERS(!) and, as such, have a right to expect delivery of what they signed up for and not to enter yet another arena where they are assaulted by religion.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Religion aside. If you sign up for a course in astronomy, you don’t expect to be taught organic chemistry.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted May 19, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

        You might not expect to, but…

        • BillyJoe
          Posted May 20, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink


      • Dave
        Posted May 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Or only such organic chemistry as might be relevant. (See above. Organic molecules(!) from stars – who’d have thought?) I was thinking more along the astronomy/astrology dichotomy. Other than a (hopefully unnecessary) statement distinguishing the two, I would not expect much time to be spent on the latter.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted May 20, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

          I did say religion aside (;

  2. Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    I wonder how christians would feel if moslems or raelians (or whatever faith) would try to sneak their beliefs into school and college curricula. I think they would be outrageous, that ###damned hypocrites…

  3. Marella
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Why were some students singled out for this honour and not others? The whole thing is just creepy.

    • Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      She is into controlling behaviour in others via psychological manipulation–love bombing often takes the form of singling out individuals, making them feel special. She somehow ‘read’ that her targets would be receptive. It so backfired here! 🙂 Christianity: the religion of/for ‘love’ junkies.

      Goodness, note what a litany of prohibitions she posts for her class!

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        This student, who practices a different, minority religion…

        She singled this one because she felt a need to save a soul for JESUS!!

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I guess she’d be offended if some student raised his hand, and when called on stated, “Fuck all the goddamned theocrats!”

    • Matt Bowman
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Right! There must have been a lot of classroom discussion where individual classmates shared their religious/non-religious views, and that allowed the professor to zero in on the non-Christians.

    • Jon
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      It could be genuine concern for these particular students. If you believe that they are going to hell because they don’t share your belief and you really care about them it is perfectly reasonable and rational to want to help them go to heaven. That doesn’t make it right, but it is understandable.

  4. Tulse
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    I am not a lawyer, but both Piggee v. Carl Sandberg College and Bishop v. Aronov appears to be about the rights of the university (or community college) to set the curriculum that an employee teaches. Neither case established that what these employees were teaching was unconstitutional.

    In other words, the cases establish that Ball State could legally discipline/fire Eric Hedin if they wanted, but not that what Hedin is doing is actually unconstitutional.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      I hope Ball State reins in Hedin based just on the letter, but it would make for a very interesting case if it did go to trial.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        I agree. I think that thought might well concentrate the minds of Ball State. Do they really intend to make this a constitutional court case? Where on earth is the percentage in that? The course clearly shouldn’t be part of a science degree. I predict it won’t be for much longer.

      • Jeff D
        Posted May 19, 2013 at 3:12 am | Permalink

        I am a lawyer, and what the professor at Erie Community College did was harassment (relgiously-flavored harassment) and quite probably a civil rights violation with respect to the student who was an adherent of a “minority” religion.

        However, despite the effective puffery in FFRF’s letter, the professor’s misbehavior was not necessarily a violation of the Establishment Clause. The professor’s misbehavior was inconsistent with the college’s policy; the college moved to stop it once the complaints culminated in FFRF’s letter, albeit after almost a year.

        For more than one reason, it’s not O.K. for a teacher (either in a public school, in an elective college course, or in a graduate-level or in an “honors” course) to insert alchemy material in with the chemistry, to insert astrology material in with the astronomy, or to include religious proselytizing or apologetics in any sort of science course. From the presence of relgious ideas and the expenditure of public funds, it does not follow that the “wrongness” of such a practice is a violation of the Establishment Clause. Other elements would need to be proven, but even if there is no Establishment Clause violation, colleges, universities, and students still have effective remedies. Lawyers for students who are the victims (not too strong a word) are going to use the most effective legal theories and strategies when they sue. When students sue public colleges or universities, “Establishment Clause violation” is frequently not going to be the most effective theory.

      • Mark Sebree
        Posted May 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        I would like to add another perspective to the Ball State case (BSU). Ball State is a teaching college. It is best known for educating teachers at all levels and subjects through high school. What makes this class so dangerous is that the most likely students are future science, and especially biology, teachers. And these teachers become less likely to accurately teach about evolution in their classes, and more likely to muddy the waters with creationism/”intelligent” design/whatever, which would be an extreme disservice to future students.

        I see this as another underhanded attempt by the extreme religious right to further their ambitions and further degrade the science education in the USA.

        I am an Indiana native, and I have friends who when to Ball State.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 20, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Good point! I hated the idea of educating people with wrong ideas that they would in turn propagate in the world but this is even more pernicious if those students become teachers who teach that nonsense!

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    That whole bible and note thing is just creepy. If I had been so chosen, I would have received a terrible mark from this professor, especially when I gave her some nice atheist literature to read in return.

    This whole thing about being able to teach whatever you want is getting right crazy…and Laurence A. Moran should also recall that this would not be tolerated in Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, besides including freedom of religion (interpreted to include freedom from religion) also includes special protection of minorities. Non believers and non Christians could protest on those grounds.

    • Matt Bowman
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      Just imagine what would happen in states like Texas if community colleges could hide behind academic freedom when proselytizing in the classroom. It doesn’t take much creativity to envision a community college where every class had some Christian spin. And a governor like Rick Perry would fully support a community college that centered it’s entire philosophy around Christian principles.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I don’t understand Larry’s point of view at all. Why should professors be allowed to teach whatever they like – including what is factually incorrect! Teaching the controversy is fine – as long as there is an actual controversy.

      But, reading his blog, it sounds like he is making a slippery slope argument. Silence the flat earthers and you’ll end up silencing those who disagree on the minutiae of evolutionary theory for example. Bad argument.

  6. Druie Cavender
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I have been a member and supporter of FFRF for many years and consider it to be an investment in our country’s future. I invite all readers of my comment to, non-prayerfully, do the same!

  7. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    No hats? This professor is a monster!

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      student write answers on the bills of baseball caps 😉

  8. sheridan Jones
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    I love FFRF! I became a life-time member a few years ago and recently contributed to their building fund as they are expanding their facilities.

    Their staff, lawyers, etc., are all excellent and are results oriented. For a small organization, they have accomplished a lot.

  9. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    To my mind, this is a lesser offense than Eric Hedin actually teaching religiously inspired “science”, like intelligent design” in a science class at Ball State University.

    Yes and no. In this case, the professor did not mix the religious content into the course material. On the other hand the professor singled out particular students, which makes it more creepy.

  10. Marcoli
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I sometimes have to deal with a reversal of situations like this. Every couple years I am approached by one or more Christian students who want to give me ‘the talk’ about their religion, ID, etc. I have been prayed for numerous times, and once I was told that I was possessed by demons. One year there was a group of students that handed out religious fliers in my classroom after my evolution lectures. It is tough out there sometimes.

  11. Marta
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The professor’s proselytizing notwithstanding, I’d have been stopped at the door immediately by her ridiculous class rules.

    I haven’t taught at the post secondary level, but surely it’s not entirely necessary to treat college students like they’re still in middle school?

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      She comes on pretty strong there, but those address a problem that is annoying. Some text in the lecture room, surf YouTube, and some just get up and leave and come back with a soda. There is more of this in large lecture halls than in smaller rooms.

      • RFW
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        The question should be, however, do these activities impede the other students’ absorption of the lecture? If so, yes, insist the connectivity assholes stop right now or get the hell out of the lecture room.

        If, otoh, a student is simply not paying attention to the lecture while they silently text or surf, karma will bite them when they fail the final exam.

        • Filippo
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          “If, otoh, a student is simply not paying attention to the lecture while they silently text or surf, karma will bite them when they fail the final exam.”

          Are we approaching at the university level, what is rapidly obtaining, or in some locales has already obtain, at the K-12 level, a situation where the prof is somehow accountable and responsible for a student not paying attention and for not – what’s the word? – “engaging” the bored, ennui-ridden, prone-to-complain, post-adolescent, non-internally motivated student?

          I once saw a complaint from a former student in the comments section of some website, where the former student said that his teacher(s) should have “made” him do his work. Why didn’t he freakin’ motivate himself and get off his gluteals and do the work? As the Master Chief Hull Technician exclaimed to us sluggard greenhorn Navy Officer Candidates in the Damage Control Simulator, “Get your thumb out of your ass!”

      • Marcoli
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        The above mentioned issues with students not paying attention used to really bother me, mainly b/c I wanted them to pay attention and be there to learn. I would wonder why they bothered to come, etc. Based on conversations with colleagues in different parts of the country it is clear that this is a typical problem now. I have become quite used to it. Otoh when I was a student I would doodle and daydream in class if my rapt attention did not seem necessary. This was of course pre-internet. So perhaps texting and surfing just seems more obvious.
        I do of course put a stop to definite disruptive behavior such as students talking to each other. It is odd but in some classes I have no problems and in other classes or semesters I have to repeatedly stop lecture and tell the kids to be quiet.

      • ploubere
        Posted May 19, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        I saw a recent study, I wish I could remember where, that showed that students sitting in the vicinity of another student with a laptop who was engaged in unrelated activities had lower retention of the lecture material themselves. Students not paying attention can set the tone for the entire class and bring it down.

    • Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      It would depend on the school in question.

      Many community colleges have a significant number of students who go there right out of high school because it’s expected of them to go to college but their grades weren’t good enough to get them into a university. And those generally aren’t the best and brightest and most disciplined students.

      Don’t get me worng — I’m a firm believer in community colleges, and I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think that even those students there are hopeless lost causes. I’ve taught at the community college level and had many wonderful students eager to learn everything I could teach them and then some. That’s especially true of the older students and those in night classes — those in school because they want to be there, not because mommy and daddy told them they have to go.

      But the mandatory freshman-level classes have disproportionate numbers of those “problem children,” as one might describe them.

      Still, the answer isn’t to treat them as children, as Professor Proselytizer does, and it’s especially not to treat the entire class that way. It’s to set the expectation that this is a professional environment where people will enjoy themselves, yes, but by pushing themselves and each other to overcome challenges, not by goofing off.



      • Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        …and sub. Sigh.


      • Filippo
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        While teaching, did you expect them to more so than not look at you (as opposed to being preoccupied with their laptops, phones, etc.) so that you had some reasonable indication that they were paying attention? Did you find it necessary to (repeatedly) vocalize this expectation to them?

        I subjectively perceive that high schoolers are bringing their increasingly juvenilized ways to the college classroom, and that the accountability for student learning increasingly imposed by omniscient and bloviating education critics on K-12 teachers is being similarly imposed on college profs. Teachers and Profs have a duty of accountability which they have always felt, but one rarely hears from these critics a similar emphasis on student personal accountability and responsibility.

        (I need to observe some college classrooms in action to confirm this. I have substitute taught in K-12 settings for the last nine years, and some days I wear myself out dealing with student behavior. It has been enough to keep me from becoming fully certified to teach. At least as a sub I can get away from a behaviorally-toxic class after a day or a few days. In my own K-12 student experience, I don’t remember my teachers wearing themselves out having to spend so much time and energy on behavior correction/classroom management. Nor, from my own perhaps narrow and provincial and sheltered student experience, did we ever give a substitute teacher grief.)

        A generation or two ago a university prof would never have to announce such “Classroom (Behavior) Management” rules to a class of presumably responsible and mature young adults. In my own undergraduate university experience (1973-77), I recall only one incident, a freshmen chemistry prof having to ask two frat guys to stop talking to each other during his lecture. Were they then – and are students now – that clueless? Or that “entitled”?

        • Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          Well, first, this was a decade ago so no MyTwitSpaceBook to distract students in that particular way. But it was also all computer classes, especially including an “Introduction to the Internet” class, so it was all set in a computer lab with a pretty even mix between me talking and the students typing.

          I don’t recall any real problems with interruptions. My biggest challenges…well, I’m a big fan of Socratism but it’s pretty apparent not many others are. It was a lot of work drawing students out, especially in cases where they hadn’t done any of the preliminary reading. It usually didn’t take too long, though, to get them asking, “Woah — how’d you do that?” types of questions, and then, the gods permitting, we were off to the races.

          And, again — I mostly had the older / night class students, and they weren’t the problem.

          In one of the daytime freshman classes I had…well, one lecture was on Excel. And I demonstrated, in class, how to create a simple student scorecard for recording grades and doing a weighted average for a final grade. I hinted at them in no uncertain terms that they would want to follow along, and I quite literally did the assignment, Socratic-style, for them right there in class, with them at their computers, answering questions as we went along and stopping frequently to make sure that everybody was on the same page and had everything working. Literally all the students had to do was type what they saw me type on the screen, then type their name at the top, save it to disk, and hand it to me and they’d get a perfect score for the assignment.

          I got more complaints about that assignment than anything else I ever taught because it was “too hard.”

          <sigh /gt;

          (The complaints, of course, came from those who either weren’t paying attention and didn’t follow along in class — this after some very not-subtle suggestions from me in class that they really might wish to do so — and from those who not only didn’t go to class but didn’t come to my office hours in the lab where I re-did the whole exercise for more than a few students. The attentive students who actually followed along and offered suggestions to how to solve a step and ask questions about why we did it that way — they all got perfect scores, as one would expect.)


    • Diane G.
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Oh yes, it is! My daughter routinely received such handouts from her profs throughout college (she graduated this year); and despite them came home with many tales of jaw-droppingly disrespectful behavior.

      Added to the increasing number of “adjunct” professors (= “no benefits for you!”) and I’m amazed than anyone wants to teach anymore.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        I gave up on my Ph.D. because of the infestation of postmodernists in my field and the poor preparation of students who expect to be praised for poor work because everyone’s a winner.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          I’m so sorry to hear that, but I do believe I understand. I’d been hoping the worst of po-mo had passed by the time my daughter matriculated, but noooooo. Some of her lib arts courses were particularly difficult for her (vs. other students), as she’s matured into a freethinker with a well-tuned bullshit meter.

          It’s almost too depressing to think about how much of a role timing plays in one’s life.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          My friend’s husband is a Math professor and some of the stories are shocking – students actually throwing tantrums over their marks. Very odd. I have such hope for the younger generation so I do hope they unlearn the everyone’s a winner stuff pretty fast (I think they will).

          • pulseteresa
            Posted May 19, 2013 at 12:24 am | Permalink

            I think they will have to. Given the lack of employment prospects and the fact that most people don’t do jobs in which they used their degree, they are soon going to facing a harsh reality and finding that they need to seriously lower their expectations. The problem is that they are not in any way prepared for that and that’s not their fault. It’s because of the culture they were raised in, the way they were parented and taught K-12. They’re really in a sad situation. And that’s without even mentioning the student loans they’ll never be able to pay off because they’re unlikely to get a job that pays enough for them to do so.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I’m tempted to join FFRF, and I’m not even a US citizen! They do good work, and they aren’t creepy like the crypto- (or not) theological NCSE.

    Btw, the laptop ban makes no sense, most people use them for notes, references and what not, and schedules if the phone is not handy.


    I love this. Wonder what you get if you cross a watchd-g with a lolcat? A ceiling cat?

    • Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      We ban open laptops, too. I once came into class when my co-teacher was lecturing, and, unknown to the students, looked at their open laptops. Virtually ALL of them were on Facebook, checking email, or playing games. I didn’t see anyone taking notes.

      • Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        At what point, though, does one stop trying to teach the students how to study (and prevent them from screwing up) and simply flunk their sorry asses because they weren’t paying attention?

        So long as the students are only wasting their own time and nobody else’s, I’d be tempted to let them fall down go boom and learn the lesson that way. I might be tempted to sneak in some ways to push them, like casually dropping vital bits of meaningless information they’d need for a test, but I don’t think I’d make them close their laptops.

        I know the classes I’ve sat in recently I’ve appreciated having an Internet connection so I could, for example, email myself a Wikipedia link to a species the instructor mentioned that I wanted to follow up on in more depth.

        It probably goes back to my response to Marta…are the students there because they want to learn? Then trust them to devote their energies in the classroom to learning. Are they there just to get a piece of paper to make somebody else happy? If so, does it matter to anybody but them if they make it that much harder to get it?


        • Diane G.
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          1. It can BP-raising distracting to sit beside or behind someone immersed in FB or surfing.

          2. RE emailing yourself–a simple note with that archaic instrument the pen, would serve as well for a reminder.

        • Marta
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          “At what point, though, does one stop trying to teach the students how to study (and prevent them from screwing up) and simply flunk their sorry asses because they weren’t paying attention?”


          When I went to Very Large State University, the professors lectured, gave assignments and exams. You don’t come to class? Fine with the Prof. You don’t take notes? Fine, fail the exam. You don’t turn the assignment in and on time? Take an “F”. Fail the course? Tell it to your mom and dad–professor Behave badly? Humiliation is swift and brutal, AND professor drops you from the class.

          • Filippo
            Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            That was my experience, and I had no problem with it. It seemed reasonable to me. Either I was interested in the field of study at hand, or I was not. I would either get off my gluteus maximus or I would not. I would be embarrassed and ashamed for anyone to think that I should expect profs to wait on me hand-and-foot in somehow finding what it takes to “engage” and motivate me. If human beings are not expected to take personal responsibility for academic performance at the university level, just when ought they be expected to so take responsibility?

            There’s an article in the current “The New Atlantic” on the pervasive student narcissism on university campuses. Hope I can get to read it. Can’t get to read everything I’d like to read.

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink


            Of course in this day and age, you don’t have to worry about facing your parents. Privacy doctrine prevents the university or the student from having to tell them anything without explicit permission from the student.

            It’s still all right for parents to pay the bills, though.

            • pulseteresa
              Posted May 19, 2013 at 12:30 am | Permalink

              But how many students actually have their parents paying their way through college? How many parents can afford to? Most college students end up saddled with student loans they will likely never be able to pay off because they won’t be able to get a job that pays them enough to do so. The future is dim for most current college students through no fault of their own.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

            Thinking back (a long way) to when I was a student, we could tell which lecturers were interested in their subject and trying to explain it to us – and which ones were just there to collect their paycheck. The worst few would just write equations from the textbook up on the board for us to copy down without explanation – we weren’t very kind to them. The good lecturers didn’t have to ‘keep order’, anyone persistently disrupting the class would get ignored or told to shut up by the other students.

            Admittedly everyone taking the course wanted to be there, which helped.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          I appreciate this comment, as well as the responses to it.

          Since I teach developmental math, my students are highly motivated (if not by me, then by the university; they only get two tries to pass the class, and are expelled from the university if they don’t. Furthermore, we don’t sugarcoat in the program; the overall passing percentage is about 80%, and I’m more or less in line with that).

          From my syllabus:

          This is college, which means that if you are here, it is because you want to be here. It is therefore expected that each student will comport him or herself as an adult. Specifically, that means that I expect respect to be shown to the other students, to the professor and the tutors, and to the educational process. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

          • No cell phones going off in class (unless you are a doctor on call, or have a child in the hospital). This will adversely affect your grade for groupwork; it will also most likely result is a “phone quiz”, that is, a pop quiz resulting from a cell phone going off in class.

          Interestingly, I have not had a problem in two years of teaching.

          Finally, I’m going to add this superb cartoon to the syllabus this semester; I found it recently at

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted May 19, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        When I was in ground school for my pilots license a kid put up his hand in the first class and asked what mark he needed to pass the test. Then he looked dumbfounded when he got a huge laugh.
        The instructor patiently explained that the test wasn’t at the end of the course. The test would appear spontaneously when he was flying a plane and trying not to die and take his passengers with him.

  13. michieux
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Bravo for the enlightened watchdogs throughout the U.S.!

    It’s sites like yours, Dr. Coyne, and so many others, that serve to call attention to this misuse of authority. The battle will eventually be won, I hope, but that is in a distant future, I think.

    Meanwhile, we should not let down our guard — the forces of bullshit beliefs are determined and won’t give up easily. Stupidity, like misery, loves company. Let us continue to provide salving company that doesn’t exact the price of belief in crap.

    Long live the FFRF!

  14. zoolady
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Love, it…LOVE IT!

  15. ploubere
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    There is also Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Where I teach at a public university in Tennessee, this situation is not uncommon, as one would expect. I had a colleague several years ago who would regularly profess his christian beliefs in class and even had students do projects, as part of the curriculum, for the benefit of a christian organization. Since the vast majority of students here are christian, and the few who aren’t are too intimidated to speak up, no complaints were made. Fortunately he no longer works here, but he was never disciplined for that behavior.

  16. John Perkins
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Dr.Coyne: I am Canadian – I’m wondering what you meant by your parenthetical comment “we’re not in Canada, Larry”. I should point out that in Canada we have no need for an organisation like the FFRF,admirable though that organisation may be – we have our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so well interpreted by Diane McPherson above @ comment #5.

    • Posted May 18, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      This was of course not a slur on Canada, a country I’m very fond of. I was simply referring to what Larry said on his site:

      “Let’s be clear about one thing. I’m not an American so I’m not terribly concerned about the American Constitution. If Eric Hedin were teaching in Canada, the legal issue would never come up.”

      In other words, he implied that Hedin would have been able to teach what he wanted in Canada. That sort of contradicts what you said about not needing an FFRF in Canada.

      • John Perkins
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Dr.Coyne – Thanks for the clarification. Of course Larry is quite wrong – the courts have experienced their fair share of what are known as Charter Challenges pretty well all of which have failed for one reason or another – some had to do with teachers/ academic freedom, some had to do with free speech issues; but our Charter remains intact, despite the fact that our present federal very conservative
        government would like nothing better than to abolish it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        I disagree with Larry – he’s sounding typically Canadian (and I can say that as a Canadian with family in the US)in that Canadians tend to see themselves as superior in matters like these (but they ain’t as superior as they’d like to think they are) so I’m glad Jerry mentioned Larry’s odd perspective. I firmly believe if a Hedin case happened in Canada it *would* be an issue and you *would* see claims made under the Charter esp in protecting minority rights. AND I’d hope there would be someone like Jerry to highlight it!

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…”

      Intelligent Design recognizes the supremacy of God. But science is inherently a-theistic: “God-did-it” is a science stopper.

      Does that mean the right to teach ID is protected in Canadian law?

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Teach ID in science class, I mean.

        • John Perkins
          Posted May 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          I really don’t know the answer to your question but I’ll find out. I imagine that if anyone tried to teach ID in a science class, it would end up in the courts as a Charter Challenge. I know that it has become an issue in the UK;so far I have not heard of any controversy around ID in Canada.

  17. eric
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    First – its great that the FFRF did this. I’m glad they succeeded in putting the kibosh on the religious proselytization activities.

    Second – having multiple family members in the education business, I’m very sympathetic to the problems professors and HS teachers face when it comes to modern technology and cheating – and even just plain classroom management. So a lot of the measures she implemented, I’m okay with.

    Third – that letter screams crank. The font changes, use of caps, pictures, and so on. Its not how you’d expect a mature adult to communicate. “I have a no cell phone policy; the first time I see it I’ll warn you, the second time, I’ll ask you to leave” is how an adult communicates. “NO CELLPHONES [pic] [different font]” is not. Even if she wasn’t promoting Christianity, based on that letter I’d be happy knowing her school was looking in to her behavior.

    Lastly – there are two relevant differences Jerry, multiple posters have brought them up over and over again, and you’ve provided no real argument as to why they don’t legally matter. They are (1) the university environment is not as coercive/captive as the HS environment. And (2) state university professors are not in fact or in perception viewed as agents of the state, speakers for the state, etc. HS teachers are. Now, I think you’d like it if these two differences didn’t legally matter. I think you think that they ought not legally matter. But right now, the courts think they do matter. So in terms of arguing about how first amendment law is actually prosecuted in the U.S. today, your position is wrong. (All IMO.)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Re the third point – YES! That letter struck me exactly the same way. A messy mixture of fonts, bold and italics. Exactly the sort of thing you get in letters to the editor from persons with, shall we say, an alternative grasp of reality 😉 Just as well she didn’t have a colour printer. Is this supposed to have been written by an educated person?

      It’s also plain stupid – it’s worded in such a petty, dictatorial way, the epiphet ‘little Hitler’ springs to mind. Every (possibly reasonable) request is turned into an order. I don’t know what age the target audience is, but from my (long-ago) student days, I’d say that flier would be utterly counter-productive, a prof. who issued it would lose any respect and sympathy from the class. If someone passed it to me I’d initially suspect it was a student playing a prank, it’s that bad.

      Oh, and of course, dishing out a bible to individual students – that is just soooo wrong in so many ways. How did this person ever get to make it to ‘professor’?

  18. Karen
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I finished my MS a couple of years ago at a California State University campus in my area. Because my studies were not in my original field, I had to take a lot of upper-division undergraduate courses. Perhaps it was the upper-division nature of the classes, but I found my classmates to be, on the whole, quite well-behaved. There were always a few folks who sat in the back of the room and surfed the web, but that activity was reflected in their grades; their problem. A ringing cell phone produced a red face in the owner, followed by a rush for him/her to leave the room. But the few people who left their cell phones on for class were getting calls from their children’s daycare and such.

    Perhaps, attending a commuter school where most people were a little older (and even a few who were ancient, like me!) reduced the ill behavior the professor’s draconian requirements were designed to address. But my professors would have laughed at her rules.

    More importantly, they (and the department head) would have censured her immediately for her proselytizing behavior.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      I was conversing with an elderly gentleman recently who turned out to be a retired TAFE (technical and further education) teacher. He hated his job intensely because of the uncontrollable bad behaviour of the students and the lack of support from management – until he retired.

      Then, for financial reasons he had to continue teaching part time. However, the only job he could get was teaching mature aged students. And they turned out to be an absolute delight to teach. And the students he teaches are becoming qualified trades people. He now plans to go on teaching until he dies, financial or no financial imperative.

  19. poxyhowzes
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    First, the note is truly creepy: from a female prof to a selected male student:

    “I certainly have been blessed having you in class for 3 semesters! You are a delight!

    [Exclamation points in original]

    “May God truly bless your future endeavors & please keep in touch…” [unreadable more]

    It sounds more like a mash note to me, with the “gift” of the bible as the equivalent of a posy.

    But I do wander what would happen if God “falsely” blessed the student’s endeavors.

    Also, if the student was really there for 3 semesters, the student couldn’t possibly have been oblivious to the Prof’s evangelizing (?)


  20. poxyhowzes
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    With LOTS of benefit of the doubt:

    1) Student is in Prof’s class for three different courses in three different semesters.

    2) Student and/or Prof start thinking “Mmmm… (s)he’s a hotty/hunk! If we weren’t Prof and student, I’d like to date her/him.

    3) At last! the last class of the third semester is over and love/lust may now take its true course.

    4) But not, of course, (from the Prof’s point of view) unless the hunk is a Christomaton.

    4a) So she gives the Hunk a ‘personal’ present: a bible and a mash note to see whether the hunk is interested and/or to initiate love/lust. She does it at the end of the term, that is at the Final Exam.

    4b) Of course, Prof won’t let love/lust influence her final grades, because she’s a true Christian.

    All of it plausible.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Yeah BUT –

      First, proselytising directed at the class as a whole is much easier for a student to ignore than something addressed personally to them

      And second, the timing is shocking – what student wouldn’t feel intimidated / threatened by such a missive if their grades were coming up? The prof should absolutely know better.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Of course, if lust were the intent, and the prof was a fox…. nah, it would still be a bad idea, Mrs Robinson. ; :

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 19, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      I think you should retract your comment.
      Otherwise I think Jerry should delete them.

      This is how rumours get started and often people with good though misguided intentions become victims, resulting in innocent victims within that person’s family.

      If you have no evidence for the motives you impugn to her, please consider asking Jerry to delete your speculations.

  21. zoiesincharge
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Am I correct in understanding that this supposed bible was just the “New Testament”? I have searched Amazon and noticed that there are some half bibles on there.

    Why would anyone print half their sacred text?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 18, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      (a) Saves a lot on printing costs

      (b) Leaves out all the unbelievable OT stuff ( Adam Eve Noah yadda yadda ) and the more bloodthirsty bits of Yahweh-inspired genocide and a lot of boring begats

      (c) Probably leaves out a lot of the acid-trip New Testament as well (Revelations?)

  22. Jim Thomerson
    Posted May 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I read in a book, “How to Grade Your Professors” the argument that we should teach about things. I could see alchemy being taught about in a chemistry course, discussing how alchemy morphed into chemistry. Van Helmont, the ‘father of biochemistry’ had a lot of alchemical ideas which influenced his understanding of experiments, for example.

    I have taught evolution courses a number of times, and I have included a lecture or two about creationism. I did so because I thought the students, particularly those destined to teach biology in high school, should know something about creationism. Otherwise their first exposure might be an incoherent lecture from an angry fundamentalist.

  23. Me
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I simply do NOT get why religious ppl NEED to push this. I mean really, go do it in a church where ppl are there to maybe find out but AT WORK , At a public university! I find this constant barrage of religious garbage to be so incredibly offensive.

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