The resulting publicity was very bad for Ball State University. Fortunately for the university, the president, Jo Ann Gora, was able to diffuse the situation. A few days ago, she sent a newsletter to all faculty members in which she explained what they can and cannot teach in class. Her letter (see below) is a remarkable example of political skill and obfuscation. She says all of the "correct" things about evolution and intelligent design and does a fine job of stating the accommodationist position on the demarcation problem. She even tosses out a bone on separation of church and state and another on academic freedom. That will certainly please a lot of people, including FFRF. (Her task was greatly helped by the Discovery Institute and its IDiot friends who condemned the letter and complained of censorship. This will be a big help in avoiding a lawsuit and more bad publicity.)
President Gora wanted to make this problem go away and, judging by the response from Jerry Coyne and others, she was remarkably successful [BSU spokeswoman hints at what will happen to Hedin’s class] [Ball State University president unequivocally rejects intelligent design; not good news for Eric Hedin or the Discovery Institute]. I congratulate her on her extraordinary political skills. Ball State University should be proud of this president.
On the other hand, President Gora's political skills come at a price. Academic freedom in American Universities has taken a hit. Surprisingly, this seems to be a price that most American academics are willing to pay. Support for her letter has been overwhelmingly positive. There are no American academics who are willing to stand up and fight for academic freedom in a case like this. It proves that there's a difference between academic freedom in the USA and Canada—something that I didn't think was true a few months ago.
How would this play out in Canada? The president of the University of Toronto would never send a letter like this to me and my colleagues. We take a very dim view of administrators who tell us what we can and cannot say in class. Limits on academic freedom cannot be unilaterally mandated by an administrator—even the most senior administrator in the university. That's a well-established principle in Canadian universities. Faculty must be consulted and they must agree to any restrictions on what they can and cannot say.
Most Canadian universities have strong faculty associations and many of them are unions. They have the resources to defend any attacks on academic freedom. They have the power to demand that faculty have a voice. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there's a difference between the USA and Canada?
Canadian university professors are not forbidden to teach religion. Many Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, have religious colleges where students are trained to become priests and ministers. It would be ridiculous for a Canadian university President to say that faculty members have to avoid showing preference for one religious view over another.
Canadian academics are also concerned about using "best standards" as a way of shutting down dissent. We recently had a bit of a kerfluffle over this issue when the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) issued a statement on academic freedom. AUCC is an organization composed of Presidents of Canadian Colleges and Universities. It has no business issuing statements on academic freedom and that's partly why the statement was criticized by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), who represent faculty.
Here's a piece of a report by Peter van Beek on an academic freedom conference he just attended [The Limits of Academic Freedom]. It illustrates the problem ...
The AUCC statement also emphasizes institutional autonomy and institutional academic freedom, as opposed to academic freedom being a right of an individual faculty member. It also emphasizes the role of professional norms in academic freedom (i.e., academic freedom more narrowly defined as belonging in one's area of expertise and where the discipline sets the standard of inquiry). While professional norms might be a way of shutting up those anthropogenic climate change deniers that I find so annoying, professional norms can also be used to snuff out dissent. Academia is replete with orthodoxy and fundamentalism, and those who own the podium are often reluctant to share the power or to allow critical voices. Several panelists at the conference referred to an excellent speech by Harry Arthurs on why it does not make sense only to allow professors to speak on their "areas of expertise".I'm pleased that the President of the University of Toronto, David Naylor, resigned from AUCC because of their statement, which he did not support.
That's enough for now. It seems clear that the American view of academic freedom is very different from the Canadian view. Here's the text of Jo Ann Gora's message to the faculty at Ball State University.
Dear Faculty and Staff,
This summer, the university has received significant media attention over the issue of teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. As we turn our attention to final preparations for a new academic year, I want to be clear about the university's position on the questions these stories have raised. Let me emphasize that my comments are focused on what is appropriate in a public university classroom, not on the personal beliefs of faculty members.
Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies' independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. The list includes societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, theAmerican Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society.
Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses. However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others. The American Academy of Religion draws this distinction most clearly:
Creation science and intelligent design represent worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation regarding the origins of life represent another important and relevant form of human inquiry that is appropriately studied in literature and social science courses. Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.
Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate. Each professor has the responsibility to assign course materials and teach content in a manner consistent with the course description, curriculum, and relevant discipline. We are compelled to do so not only by the ethics of academic integrity but also by the best standards of our disciplines.
As this coverage has unfolded, some have asked if teaching intelligent design in a science course is a matter of academic freedom. On this point, I want to be very clear. Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom - it is an issue of academic integrity. As I noted, the scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected intelligent design as a scientific theory. Therefore, it does not represent the best standards of the discipline as determined by the scholars of those disciplines. Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.
Courts that have considered intelligent design have concurred with the scientific community that it is a religious belief and not a scientific theory. As a public university, we have a constitutional obligation to maintain a clear separation between church and state. It is imperative that even when religious ideas are appropriately taught in humanities and social science courses, they must be discussed in comparison to each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.
These are extremely important issues. The trust and confidence of our students, the public, and the broader academic community are at stake. Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering. As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom. The best academic standards of the discipline must dictate course content.