No succor for creationists: Ball State University appoints a scientist as president

Ball State University (BSU) in Muncie, Indiana, was the site of “Hedingate,” the controversy about whether Eric Hedin, a professor of Physics and Astronomy, could proselytize his students for Intelligent Design (ID) and Abrahamic religion in his Honors science class. After a complaint to the President by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, BSU’s president, Jo Ann Gora, convened a panel of academics to study the matter. She wound up making a strong and no-nonsense statement that ID would not be taught in BSU’s science classes.

The Discovery Institute kvetched mightily, and leaned on four Republican Indiana legislators to threaten BSU with loss of funding for their “censorship” of ID.  Those legislators met with Gora a few months ago and, as far as I know, there was no conclusive outcome, as I expected. There was simply no way that the President would make her university the laughingstock of scientists by allowing people like Hedin to teach goddy stuff in science classes.

All this has been documented in detail on this site, for it was a nice victory for real science against the superstitions of ID and their whining flaks.

Last fall, Gora announced that she would resign her presidency at the end of June, which is in one month.  And her replacement has just been announced, a person who will give no succor, I think, to the creationist IDers. For the replacement is a scientist—BSU’s very first president with a background in hard science.

The local paper, the Muncie Star-Press, gives details:

Paul W. Ferguson, who will take over as Ball State’s 15th president this summer, early in his career worked as a pregnancy research specialist at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center; as a research biologist for agricultural chemicals producer Pennwalt Corp., and as a senior toxicologist in the medical and legal departments for Union Oil Company of California, creator of the Union 76 brand.

His research projects have included the effects of pesticides and other chemicals on mice, rats, monkeys and crayfish. . .

Technically, Ferguson will become the second scientist to lead Ball State, Geelhoed noted.

In the month between President Jo Ann Gora’s departure on June 30 and Ferguson’s arrival on Aug. 1, Provost Terry King will serve as interim president. A chemical engineer who once worked as a researcher for ExxonMobil Chemical, King came to Ball State after serving nine years as dean of the College of Engineering at Kansas State University.

. . . Ferguson, a former professor, is currently president of the University of Maine and formerly spent five years as provost at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

Well, some people will object that working for Big Oil and Big Agro tarnishes one’s credentials as a scientist, but I’ll take what I can get. And such a background makes it less likely that he’ll cater to or cower before the Discovery Institute or other creationists.

Cue the kvetching over at Evolution News and Views.

h/t: Amy


  1. Pete Moulton
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Well, his big business background notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to reading all the whining that’s sure to emanate from the Disco ‘Tute.

  2. John Deer
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Some good evolution/education related news from the Jewish State (don’t think evolution denial is for evangelistic christian alone. Orthodox jews are just as capable denying facts):

    The sad thing is that apparently evolution was _not_ thought to generations of Israelis. I wonder whether there are more creationists in the US or in Israel.

  3. GBJames
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink


    • francis
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink


      • Diane G.
        Posted June 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Permalink


  4. moarscienceplz
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Since I believe in the scientific method, I will try mightily not to prejudge Mr. Ferguson. But there has been so much obfuscation, bullshit, and outright lies foisted on the people of the world by corporate “scientists” that I am going to have suspicions for quite some time to come.

    • eric
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      He’s been in leadership roles at several Universities prior, and as far as I can tell there’s been no issue. His last job was President of the University of Maine, since 2011.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 2, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      At least his background in those fields prepares him for any BS the DI will throw at him; he’s worked with tougher cookies.

      • eric
        Posted June 2, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        To be honest I doubt the whole Hedin issue was much of a factor in hiring this guy. My guess is that if you had to list the top five concerns Ball State had when picking a president, they would be Fund Raising Ability, Fund Raising Ability, Fund Raising Ability, Fund Raising Ability, and then maybe ability to handle creationist scandals.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted June 2, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Or sports-team-sexual-abuse scandals, more likely. Experience as a Catholic Bishop would be an advantage.

        • Posted June 2, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Oh, yes, I agree that HedinGate had virtually nothing to do with it. For college presidents, the ability to raise money is paramount, and if you read the article, you’ll see that that’s what everybody is lauding him for!

          • Posted June 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            Personally, I’m still dreaming of the day, as the bumper sticker says, when it’s the schools that have more money than they know what to do with and the it’s the Navy that has to hold a bake sale to buy another aircraft carrier.


  5. ladyatheist
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    He certainly would have known about Hedingate when he applied for the job. His time on the coasts makes me think he could be counted on to be on the side of science if the DI rears its ugly head again.

  6. Leigh Jackson
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Ferguson’s toxicological studies using animal models relies on the genetic relationship between species; including, of course, us. Other species would be entirely useless as human models if they had entirely distinct biochemical bases. All species would be truly alien to one another with very mysterious origins.

    Evolution makes perfect sense of the genetic continuity between species which was predicted by Darwin to exist.

    Now the IDiots claim that there are disjunctions between species such that they are effectively independent creations. Thus they ought to oppose the use of animal models as having no scientific foundation. If they were correct in believing that species are distinct creations, one would predict animal models to be as useless as if they were biochemically truly alien.

    And yet this is not so. The closer animals are to us genetically, the more useful they are as human medical models. Ferguson’s scientific background thus sets him at odds with the IDiots.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 3, 2014 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      Are you sure, Leigh? We might have expected that pioneering work in xenotransplantation would be guided by the theory of common descent, but would have been wrong in that case. It’s pure chance that Paul Simon didn’t sing about the baby with the squid heart (except it wouldn’t scan).

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what his views on climate change are.

  8. glenn2point0
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Ah, as it should be: separation of church and state. Science over pseudoscience. Reality over fantasy.

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