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Group: Ball State professor is 'being railroaded'

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A national group that supports the belief that a higher power had a hand in the rise of life on Earth is questioning the fairness of a Ball State University panel reviewing allegations that an honors course is religion disguised as science.

The Discovery Institute contends that three of the four panelists are linked to groups opposed to intelligent design— the belief that a higher power must have played a role in life's origins and that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

John West, vice president of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, said the panelists' affiliations raise "huge red flags" and it appears that course instructor Eric Hedin is "being railroaded by the university through a process not applied before."

"In fairness to the panel, people are sometimes able to go against their ideology and prejudices," West told The Star Press. "Maybe the panel is willing to do that."

Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, teaches an honors class called "Boundaries of Science," which explores the nature of the universe.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, filed a formal objection with Ball State officials in May, contending that Hedin's course is "a one-sided monologue by a government-paid employee whose agenda is to show that science proves the truth of religion — in this case one particular religion, Christianity."

That complaint prompted Ball State Provost Terry King to name a faculty review panel to evaluate the allegations. Its members include Catherine Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University and past president of the American Astronomical Society, or AAS.

The three other panelists are Ball State faculty members Gary Dodson, a professor of biology; Juli Thorson Eflin, a professor of philosophy; and Richard Fluegeman Jr., a professor of geological sciences.

West said Pilachowski was on the governing council of AAS when it issued a declaration denouncing intelligent design in 2005 and stating that it should not be taught in science classes.

He also said Dodson signed an anti-creationism petition circulated by the lobbying group the National Center for Science Education and that in 2009, Dodson was a presenter and discussion leader for a Darwin Day conference organized by the Ball State Freethought Alliance.

Fluegeman delivered the opening lecture at the same Darwin Day conference.

Pilachowski and Dodson declined to comment, referring questions to Ball State's office of marketing and communications. Fluegeman could not be reached for comment.

King told The Star Press he selected the panel to help determine the validity of the complaint against Hedin's course. Michael Maggiotto, dean of the college of sciences and humanities and professor of political science, helped choose the panel.

"Each is an expert in his or her field," King said in a prepared statement. "Faculty always have the best understanding of what is essential in a field and what represents the best academic standards. That is why I have asked these scholars to review this matter."

King emphasized that the panel is not a disciplinary one and that based on its input he will "determine if any additional action is required."

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  • Philosophy is Good, Fraud is Bad
    No one, not even Jerry Coyne, has any problem with a course that discusses FAIRLY the dispute between science, atheism (not the same thing as science) and conservative Christianity. Hedin's course, based on its own syllabus, does NOT present all sides. It presents only one side. Worse, it is designated as a "science" course, instead of a philosophy or theology course. Fairly descibe the course, put it under the philosophy or theology departments, and no one will care.
  • Why anti-Christian?
    Greg, social Darwinism is only anti-Christian because Christians have chosen to be threatened by it. It abrogates all religious creation stories equally, but it is not a de facto attack on Christianity.
  • BSU Honors Alumna & former staff
    Like Greg, I believe the Honors College is excellent at offering a wide variety of perspectives. An honors education is more exploratory by nature, so courses offer a big picture questions rather than multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank ones. These are classes where the students engage in meaningful discourse- the kind of conversations where facts are central, but interpretations are incredibly varied. Mr. West overstates his case that Hedin is "being railroaded by the university through a process not applied before." Like any responsible organization, BSU investigates community complaints. This review panel may be slightly different, but it only reflects the unique nature of the course and the complaint. While Mr. West likes to describe the panel as hostile, I know some of the members and they are teachers deeply dedicated to education and its multiplicity of opinions. I even came to know one of the panelists through church, so this is hardly the stacked deck that the Discovery Institute is arguing.
  • BSU Alumni
    I am an alumni of the BSU Honor's College, and I can attest that all of the classes did an excellent job of demonstrating a variety of philosophies and pushing the limits on the way we think. I don't see how this is any different. Hopefully the committee will continue to support diverse points of view, and not just anti-Christian ones.

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