Georgia Southern University responds to FFRF/Dawkins complaint

A few days ago I reported that the Dawkins Foundation and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint with Georgia Southern University (a state school) about the religious proselytizing of Associate Professor Emerson T. McMullen. I contributed a bit to the complaint by showing how McMullen’s claims about evolution were dead wrong, and how he was promoting creationism in his classes. (He teaches history, but also the history of science as well as  courses called “Science and Religion” and “Dinosaurs and Extinction.”

There’s no doubt from the complaint (see pdf here) that McMullen and his school are violating the First Amendment by sneaking religiously-based creationism into the classroom as science.

Georgia Southern has in fact just responded to the complaint, and in a pretty good way, promising an investigation of the matter and avowing this:

“As a public university, Georgia Southern is well aware of its great responsibility to abide by all provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America, including the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.  The institution strives to investigate allegations of Constitutional violations promptly and to take appropriate corrective action based on the results of the investigation.  The institution appreciates your communication of a potential violation and will proceed with a thorough investigation of the allegations….”

Here’s the response of their legal office:

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.16.14 PMOf course there’s no guarantee that McMullen’s tendency to shove Jesus down the throats of his students will be stopped, but I have a good feeling about this. And I can’t believe that the large biology faculty of Georgia Southern would disagree with our analysis of McMullen’s ridiculous claims about evolution.

40 Comments

  1. Amy
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Cool! 🙂

    • Filippo
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Not merely “cool,” but “groovy”!

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Result!? (And if I’d memorised enough Unicode, I should be able to add a partial differential squiggle too.)

    • rickflick
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I think we can accept that as a noble intention.

    • Les
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Testing

      • Les
        Posted October 31, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        ∂∂∂∂∂∂∂∂

        • Posted November 1, 2014 at 2:16 am | Permalink

          ∂∂∂ — the partial derivative of the Beast!

          /@

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted November 1, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

            😀

          • Posted November 3, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

            Finally! A new “… of the beast” remark!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted November 3, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        I was sure there would be one.
        𝛛 & # 120539(base10) ; … U+1D6DB 𝛛 MATHEMATICAL BOLD PARTIAL DIFFERENTIAL
        ≈ ∂ & # 8706 ; 2202 ∂ partial differential
        Buried in pages of serif and sans and bold and regular forms. Someone, somewhere is maybe going a little overboard on this stuff. By committee, probably. More elephant, anybody?

  3. John Harshman
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    So why is a course called “Dinosaurs and Extinction” being taught in the History Department? Didn’t that cause anyone to wonder what was going on? Are all the faculty and administrators asleep?

    • Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      I’d imagine that it’s not in the History department here. I think the course is part of our FYE (First Year Experience) courses, which are designed to give freshmen basic research skills and the like while relating to any number of topics they can choose from. Mine, (I’m a student at Southern) was “Finding Happiness in a Consumer Oriented Society.” I have had a few obviously religious professors, but none whose beliefs ever seemed to interfere with their teaching here. I hope the school can fix this issue. Our biology program is actually quite good, by my reckoning.

      • John Harshman
        Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re wrong. It’s listed as a history department course: HIST 4534. And it’s taught by a professor in the history department. I’m suspecting that “Finding Happiness in a Consumer Oriented Society” wasn’t offered by the physics department.

        Now, it’s just possible, given that Prof. McMullen lists one of his specialities as history of science, that this is intended as a course on the history of ideas about dinosaurs and extinction. I can’t find a syllabus or other information anywhere. But I shudder to imagine what the course content might be, given McMullen’s web site.

      • Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Oh, and my main question remains: Are all the faculty and administrators asleep?

        • ladyatheist
          Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

          It’s hard to believe they were unaware of this until now. Ditto with Hedin – people knew and ignored it until FFRF & Jerry took it on.

          • rickflick
            Posted October 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

            I see in these conciliatory emails from Georgia Southern the pathetic blush of someone with the a hand in the cookie jar.

        • Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

          You’re right, John. Just checked. The course titles just read like FYE courses. Though mine was actually taught by a business professor. And I guess not enough students complained about him on their end-of-semester evaluations for the school to realize. I hope he gets a stern talking to if the allegations are true. I think he’s been here a long time. Most folks I know who have taken him said he’s quite capable, aside from the whole religiosity thing., which is a shame to hear.

    • Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I’d imagine that it’s not in the History department here. I think the course is part of our FYE (First Year Experience) courses, which are designed to give freshmen basic research skills and the like while relating to any number of topics they can choose from. Mine, (I’m a student at Southern) was “Finding Happiness in a Consumer Oriented Society.” I have had a few obviously religious professors, but none whose beliefs ever seemed to interfere with their teaching here. I hope the school can fix this issue. Our biology program is actually quite good, by my reckoning.

      • Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I just looked at the first post. It IS listed as a HIST course. Distressing.

    • Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Because One Million Years B.C.!

      /@

    • Posted October 31, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      This continues to interest me. Here’s the catalog description:

      HIST 4534

      Dinosaurs and Extinctions: 3-0-3
      The history of (1) the meaning of fossils, meteorites, comets, and asteroids; (2) the discovery of dinosaurs and other extinct animals; and (3) the various extinction theories.

      OK, the second word is “history”. But I still have to wonder what it’s doing there. And I sure would like to see a syllabus.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 31, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Long ago, people on dry land at higher-than-sea-level elevations must have been puzzled by fossils of sea critters. Likewise, a comet’s sudden appearance to people who regularly studied the sky might have caused them to come up with strange ideas. What those things meant to historical people would be interesting, and a good history topic.

        …unless you’re afraid that the Bible being wrong about those things might mean that it’s wrong about other things, in which case it’s not interesting but terrifying!

  4. Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    dixi.

  5. Denis Westphalen
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I think they could show some courtesy and use proper titles. MISTER Richard Dawkins … seriously?

  6. Grania Spingies
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    So they have opted for the “We are shocked. Shocked!” tactic.

    Still, that is infinitely preferable to their trying to brazen it out. Well done to the FFRF and team.

    • compuholio
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see it that way. It is very much possible that the president really does not have a handle on what is being taught in the different departments.

      It is kind of disappointing that the QA department did not pick up the issue on their own. But then I wonder whether the QA department at my university would have noticed this either.

      They do collect mewtrics such as grades and student ratings to build statistics. But I don’t think that they are going through the trouble of reading the comments. I think they are just being scanned and forwarded to the lecturers without another person ever looking through them.

  7. frankschmidtmissouri
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Alas, there are trained biologists, including faculty, who reject evolution. We had one who claimed it was incompatible with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. After hearing his seminar, I realized he didn’t understand the First Law, either.

    • Posted October 31, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I missed something here — how did the biology faculty disagree with Jerry & Richard Dawkins? (I couldn’t find a reference in the previous post, either – but maybe I’m just too tired)

      • Posted October 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

        I was indeed tired. I mistook Jerry’s sentence: “And I can’t believe that the large biology faculty of Georgia Southern would disagree with our analysis…” to mean that the biology faculty indeed disagreed with the analysis. Mystery solved by a half-night’s sleep.

  8. Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Let’s hope this is as good as it seems. There should be no religious myths taught as fact in any reputable school. Religious Studies is fine – theology is not. Further, teaching at this level should be more about how to think, not what to think.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      …so you’d think.

  9. Robert Vander Velde
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    It sounds that they want to deal with this and that the only difficulty will be the school worrying about pissing off some people (creationists and maybe Christian groups).

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 31, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      And donors…

  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Remember this is Georgia folks. I believe this is the state with a guy in the Congress of the United States who is head of the committee on Science and so forth. He is also a full blown creationist. I could be pointing at the wrong southern state but I don’t think so.

  11. Randy Schenck
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I checked the Georgia Congressman further and yes, Paul Brown MD, is the gentleman serving his state and is chairman of the oversight subcommittee for Science, Space and Technology. So, there may be hope for correction at Georgia Southern but not for Georgia or science in higher spaces.

    • colnago80
      Posted November 1, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      It’s Paul Broun

  12. Erp
    Posted October 31, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    History of ideas including scientific ideas does fall within history so a course about

    The history of (1) the meaning of fossils, meteorites, comets, and asteroids; (2) the discovery of dinosaurs and other extinct animals; and (3) the various extinction theories.

    could be quite interesting and accurate if done properly. Emerson T. McMullen does have a PhD in History of Science from Indiana University done under a respected historian of science. So a surface look wouldn’t raise red flags. One should look to the history department (not the biology department) for why they approved the course(s) that aren’t teaching good history. I note the department’s highest degree is masters. McMullen is the only professor specializing in History of Science (he also does military history) and the department does not list History of Science as an area where it is strong so people might not have felt qualified to check. He is also probably about 70 (B.S. in 1964 though PhD in 1989) so if he recently went evangelical in class, they may just be hoping to wait it out until he retires.

  13. Posted November 1, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “…abide by all provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America, including the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.”

    Or this could mean that they won’t do anything because (they will claim) that would violate Prof. McMullen’s freedoms of religion and expression.

  14. Posted November 4, 2014 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    I wanted to thank you for taking up this issue. I had professor McMullen as an undergraduate in ’08 or ’09 for the history of flight. His religious teachings aren’t even the worst of the story. He also teaches that Bill Clinton intentionally asked Osama bin Ladin to bomb the WTC after the elections proved we would have a republican president. I was unable to get anyone to hear me when I complained to the head of the department.

    As to how this can go on, the history faculty at GSU is small and fairly concentrated on women’s history and America or Europe, so I doubt if anyone felt they had the expertise to check on him.

    In history it’s pretty impossible to teach a class and not have the students know your left/right and even religious bias, but McMullen was particularly bad. He starts each lesson out with a joke or a story, which are a way to hand out religious and political proselytization for Christian and right wing conspiracy theories.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 4, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      Egad!


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