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Free Speech at Ball State: Let's Have It in Writing, Please

FreedomUnderFire.jpgSince atheist activists in Wisconsin and Illinois got the ball rolling at Indiana's Ball State University, with a complaint about physicist Eric Hedin and his "Boundaries of Science" course, administrators have been anything but upfront and transparent. Even the local newspaper, the Muncie Star Press, recognizes Ball State's evasiveness on the Eric Hedin affair. Now it looks like they are intent once again on dodging the responsibility of answering reasonable questions about their actions.

Ball State president Jo Ann Gora has neatly sidestepped a request for clarification by four Indiana lawmakers, including Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis Kruse. The legislators had posed a tough query to her about the speech code directed against scientists favorable to intelligent design, requiring a written reply from Gora by close of business yesterday. Instead, she proposed a visit to the campus and an in-person meeting.

According to the Star Press, they accepted the proposal. We have a copy of Dr. Gora's letter of invitation. There's one apparent reason for preferring to answer lawmakers' questions in a private, off-the-record setting instead of in writing: because Gora and Ball State want their responses to be private, off-the-record and thus inaccessible to concerned parties who won't be in the room that day.

A private meeting with Gora and her spokesman Tony Proudfoot, who grossly misrepresented the content of another course at BSU when called on it by a reporter, is likely to be worthless, if the goal is to get candid public answers and to secure freedom of speech for Ball State professors Eric Hedin and Guillermo Gonzalez and for students interested in investigating the scientific evidence of design in nature. An off-the-record response from Gora will be useless to scientists or anyone else at Ball State. Protection, which is what Dr. Hedin and Dr. Gonzalez urgently need, must be in writing.

Dr. Gora adds in her letter to Senator Kruse and his colleagues:

In addition to the meeting, I would hope you could stay for lunch and a tour of the campus. Our campus is a wonderful place and we'd love to share some of the good things that are taking place.

Oh, how nice! Lunch and a tour, perhaps a briefing on how the student athletic teams are doing this season. Go Cardinals! But why stop there? The visiting lawmakers might enjoy a relaxing dip in the Olympic-size swimming pool followed by a massage and a basket of fresh fruit and complimentary beverages.

Let's be honest. Clearly, the intention here is to brush off the four legislators. What else could it be?

This is not good. BSU's speech ban should be of concern far beyond the borders of Indiana. It's a test case for science and for freedom of speech: whether a code of silence on a controversial scientific theory will be allowed to stand, enforced on the campus of a large state university in the United States.

Yet the Ball State speech code is even more relevant to taxpayers in Indiana, who pay the salaries at BSU. Ball State is trying to roll these lawmakers and the state residents that they represent. Let's hope that Kruse and his colleagues go into the meeting with a healthy skepticism, and that they insist on public answers to their questions.

I'm now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.