What's Happening Over at the Battle of Ball State? Well ...
The Muncie Star Press reports that Ball State University president Jo Ann Gora plans to meet with four Indiana legislators to discuss Ball State's speech-ban policy on discussion of intelligent design in science courses. The four had previously sent a letter inquiring about the policy, with a request for a written reply by yesterday:
On Monday, The Star Press obtained a letter written by Gora to the legislators reporting that Ball State's governmental affairs representatives had met with the lawmakers "and you agreed that a discussion ... might be more productive than written responses."
"I have asked our ... representatives to coordinate with each of your offices and find a date that works for the four of you and the university officials I'd like you to meet with," Gora wrote in her letter dated March 18.
Meanwhile, the newspaper has published an unsigned editorial, "Our View: Intelligent design issue still dogs Ball State." Ball State University's hometown paper starts this way:
Pressure on Ball State administrators is increasing to release a report from last summer about assistant professor Eric Hedin's "Boundaries of Science" honors class.
Yes. That's right. It continues:
If you recall, Hedin allegedly promoted the idea of intelligent design. Ball State investigated after pressure from outside groups, created a report, then, citing the issue as a personnel one, refused to release the report. However, President Jo Ann Gora did say intelligent design is regarded as a religious belief, not a scientific theory.
Matter settled? Nope.
Close. Some details have been left out. BSU's President Gora (now outgoing) didn't just say intelligent design is religion, as if waxing philosophical from the porch. She used the weight of her position to officially ban it from BSU science classes. That's called a speech code. The idea of democracy doesn't fit well with speech codes. Then Hedin lost his class.
The pressure group mentioned above is Freedom From Religion Foundation, or FFRF. We don't have to euphemistically call FFRF a pressure group like they're the Sierra Club or the Center for Auto Safety. They're the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and they do exactly what you think they'd do.
True to the name, FFRF pressures people with threats of lawsuit to purge from public life all vestiges of what it considers "religion." And BSU took the exact steps that FFRF laid out for BSU to take, as if BSU and FFRF are operating from the same playbook. Why didn't the Star Press name the pressure group behind this mess? Could it have something to do with how the paper has gone soft on a group that likely holds the paper's readership in contempt?
Here's more from the editorial:
Now, four Republican lawmakers, including creationist proponent and chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee Dennis Kruse of Auburn, have given Gora until Monday to answer a letter asking, "Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either the support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?"
That deadline is now past. I also don't think Senator Kruse would describe himself as "creationist proponent," as if what you need to know of the man is somehow contained in this odd phrase. Maybe the Star Press will let Senator Kruse describe himself next time.
Let the witch-hunt begin, and woe to those whose answer is not pleasing to the powers who control the purse strings.
Witch-hunt? BSU's unelected administrators targeted Eric Hedin for all sorts of bad stuff. Because they went about this targeting in a secretive way, some elected officials now want to shine a light on what happened, exactly. That's not a witch-hunt. That's checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the other things we like about democracy.
Indiana lawmakers are well within their right to see what goes on at a state-funded campus, such as Ball State. But the line gets blurry when they begin to imply financial penalties over the content of individual classes. Those threats could include cutting funding, to establishing some kind of oversight committee to vet what goes on inside a classroom. Neither is appealing.
True, the letter from Senator Kruse et al. raises the possibility of legislative action but that need not "imply financial penalties," though perhaps an oversight bill may be in order if BSU intends to continue to stonewall everyone. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Intelligent design is an interesting proposition. And it merits discussion -- in a religion or philosophy course. It has no business being taught as valid scientific theory. Science explains the world around us as it is, not the world as others would wish it.
You know who else has no business saying who can teach what, where and how, Star Press? This feels like the longest opinion ever.
In the dichotomy that is Indiana government, Ball State finds itself facing the threat of reduced funding at the hands of a few lawmakers for not teaching religion in science courses. On the other, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is pressuring the university to turn out more graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Wait. What? That happened? Oh, no, that's right. It didn't. No one has threatened to cut off the spigot. And no one has asked for religion in science class. But how about letting lawmakers see that secret report? That shouldn't be a big deal if BSU has clean hands.
Hang in there. Just a few more of these chunks of text to go.
BSU could see state funding drop to $117 million in 2015, from a high of $130 million in 2008-09 from ICHE unless the university steps up the number of degrees it confers, including STEM.
We wonder whether those degrees will have as much value if Kruse and his cohorts have their way.
Is there an app now that tells you what your degree is worth? Finally, we come to it.
Could Ball State have avoided any of this controversy by making last summer's report public? Perhaps. We believe erring on the side of openness and transparency would end the doubt and speculation that is now transpiring.
We hope Gora's response can do just that.
Yes. Next time, find a way to lead with this, Star Press. Last week was sunshine week. The sunshiny thing for BSU -- a state agency run by unelected administrators -- to do would be to open up and let the folks who were democratically elected to handle the peoples' business attend to that business.