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Indiana Legislators, Disturbed by Ball State's Ban on Intelligent Design, Can Bring Influence to Bear

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Our inaugural Censor of the Year, Jerry Coyne, is all bluff and bluster. He says that although four state legislators have written to the president of Ball State University gravely requesting clarification of BSU's ban on intelligent design, nothing will come of it:

The DI is going to lose on this one, and if the legislators try to pass some "equal time" law for ID in Indiana Universities, they'll just look ridiculous. The Discovery Institute is simply unable to accept that they can't push creationism in a public university, and are trying to make trouble.

That paragraph just by itself is ridiculous. No one wants some enforced policy of "equal time" for ID, merely freedom for scientists and scholars to teach and research about the evidence for design in nature if they wish to do so. That's a very different thing from "creationism," and even more different from "pushing creationism."

Coyne, who played a key role in walking Ball State down this particular plank, is uneducable. Even so I think he may be in for a surprise. He promises to make available the letter from the lawmakers, but we've already done so -- here it is. It's also addressed to Ball State's Board of Trustees. Read it and you'll see that these legislators mean business.

They articulate several matters about which they are rightly "disturbed," including one very practical and troubling question: "Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either their support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?" They direct BSU's President Jo Ann Gora to provide a written response by Monday, March 24, and promise more questions to come. They conclude by saying that they wish to "underscore the seriousness with which we view the concerns that have been raised."

So Coyne doesn't think that Senator Dennis Kruse, Senator Travis Holdman, Senator Greg Walker and Representative Jeffrey Thompson pull any weight with President Gora? I think they do. Senator Kruse is only the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. In 2012 Ball State received $143.5 million of its $352 million budget from the state of Indiana. That is 41 percent. That suggests some influence these lawmakers can bring to bear.

What's more -- more anxiety-making if you are an administrator at Ball State -- is that the percentage of state funding has been falling precipitously already for decades, as is true across the country in higher ed. According to the Muncie Star Press, at BSU it's down from 65 percent in 1987. Still, as of 2012, Ball State was considerably more dependent on public money than some other state universities in Indiana. Purdue University gets only 24 percent, while Indiana University gets 22 percent.

The combination of dependence and shrinking support is an uncomfortable one. Analyzing data from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Seth Slabaugh of the Star Press reports:

"That means that the students' share of the total expenses has necessarily increased," Ball State treasurer Randy Howard said of the trend. "It likely will continue to put more pressure on tuition, efficiencies and other revenue streams, for example, philanthropy."

More:

The reasons for the shift include anti-tax conservatives succeeding in capping government spending; Medicaid consuming a larger share of state budgets; increased spending by colleges on administrative costs and athletics; and lack of taxpayer support.

So Coyne wants us to think that, under these circumstances, when four legislators tell President Gora they have "serious questions" about her management of a public university, that's a light thing, easily brushed off?

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

Photo: Indiana Statehouse/Wikipedia.