Ball State University has a crap course on their curriculum: they have a crank professor, Eric Hedin, who is pushing religion and creationism in the guise of an astronomy course. It’s bad science and bad teaching, and I think Coyne has adequately document the abysmal quality of the material. It’s all religious apologetics and intelligent design creationism. I’m not going to disagree with that at all, and Ball State ought to be acutely embarrassed.
Unfortunately, this part of Coyne’s disagreement is invalid.
This has to stop, for Hedin’s course, and the University’s defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“freedom of religion”) and which has been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal. I have tried approaching the University administration, and have been rebuffed.
This will now go to the lawyers.
No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective. The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’s at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.
This kind of thing happens. I’ve known of a couple of cases where faculty go ’round the bend and start flaking out in the classroom, and there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.
Another option is to take this history into consideration in tenure decisions. Hedin is an assistant professor, and so is probably untenured — the department may be avoiding confrontation until it gets dealt with decisively in Hedin’s tenure year.
If you’ve got a tenured professor who has gone weird on you, it’s a bigger problem…then you’ve got damage that needs to be routed around. Check out Michael Behe’s class schedule at Lehigh, for instance. It looks to me like they’ve carefully placed him only in courses where his ignorance about evolution won’t hurt too much. Are we going to sue Lehigh to get him fired? That won’t work, and is also an insult to a department that is doing their best with a bit of deadwood.
I think it’s very unwise for an atheist professor to pursue legal action against another professor for their religious views. That’s a two-edged sword, and if a university were to cave to public pressure to fire a professor for unpopular views, you know who’d be next.
Now it is possible that the whole physics department at Ball State is full of credulous nitwits who are trying to build a theological perspective into their curriculum. That will be corrected in two ways: they’re going to have a more difficult time hiring good faculty, and as the reputation of their department spreads, they’re going to have a more difficult time recruiting good students. Rot expands, you know. It’s not a good thing to encourage.
But it’s probably premature to threaten a department with legal action for having one dingbat assistant professor.
(via Larry Moran)