I’m sticking by my guns, though. Stenger thinks that Eric Hedin, a professor at Ball State, should
be fired have his classes cancelled for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense. I don’t.
While agreeing that the course is "bad science" and its material of "abysmal quality," in his April 25 Pharyngula popular blogger and biologist PZ Myers defended Hedin’s right to teach what he wants, citing academic freedom.
Laurence A. Moran, professor of biochemistry at the University of Toronto agreed with Myers in his blog Sandwalk appearing the same day. Moran said, "I defend the right of a tenured professor to teach whatever he/she believes to be true no matter how stupid it seems to the rest of us."
Well, Moran and Myers are wrong. Academic freedom does not imply that an instructor is free to teach material that is demonstrably false. Most campuses provide a "free-speech area" for that purpose.
I think treading on the content of a university-level course sets a dangerous precedent. If we’re going to start firing professors who teach things that are wrong, we’re all going to be vulnerable; there are things I taught 10 years ago that have since been found to be in error. Shall we encourage the right-wingers to start accumulating lecture notes and using every error and revised datum to instigate legal proceedings against professors they don’t like? Shall we inhibit discussion of material that’s controversial or on the very edge of science in our upper-level courses?
I should think we atheist professors should be on our guard against this. I don’t promote atheism in the classroom, but I do present a strictly natural/materialist understanding of biological processes; I advocate for a well-established scientific theory called evolution that a frighteningly large fraction of the general public have judged to be wrong. Do we seriously want our courses subject to review by some podunk Republican lawyer in our towns? Do we really want to open the door to having to think about our course material from the perspective of whether it’s considered actionable by the local priesthood?
Going after a course for its ideology is a terrible mistake. Bringing in outside lawyers to shape the curriculum of a discipline is a disaster.
Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague. He is not contributing to the education of the students in his class; if we had someone like that at my university, he’d be considered a massive problem who was disrupting the progression of our student’s education. And if the university refuses to deal with it, if the rot spreads, it should be publicized so that prospective students know they won’t get adequate instruction, and it should also be brought to the attention of accreditation agencies.
I want the evaluation of university faculty to be in the hands of our peers, not the local tea party chapter, the local council of churches, or for that matter, the local Democrats or atheist meetup. I’m really surprised that any professor would want their work opened up to criticism by a public that isn’t equipped to understand the topics, and welcomes circumventing peer review.
Scratch my opening comment: he doesn’t want him fired, just to have his class cancelled. That’s less disastrous, but again, that’s also still taking to legal measures to interfere with what should be an internal matter. I’m also not clear on what standing anyone other than a student in the class has to take legal action.
Let me repeat, too, that I’m not saying what Hedin is doing is OK: it’s godawful incompetent teaching and bad science. My concern is with how we take action against it.