Creationist University Stifles Academic Freedom

Not long ago we wrote about a university affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists that was firing biology professors for teaching evolution (see La Sierra Professor & Board Members Expelled. For all their professed concern about “bullying” and “academic freedom,” we didn’t hear a peep out of the Discovery Institute.

Now we’ve got another one. Shorter University, according to Wikipedia, is “a private, coeducational, liberal arts university located in Rome, Georgia, United States. Founded in 1873, it is a Christian university historically affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.” They’ve been making news lately.

The website of the Associated Baptist Press reports Shorter limiting academic freedom. Gotta love their headline! Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

One of the dozens of faculty leaving Shorter University over the Baptist-affiliated school’s controversial new “lifestyle statement,” that includes rejecting homosexuality, blamed his departure in part on demands that he teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in science classes.

Wow — dozens of faculty are leaving. This is a purge. The story continues:

Richard Pirkle, assistant professor of biology at the private Christian school in Rome, Ga., for six years, said in a May 22 resignation letter posted on a Save Our Shorter website that as a Pentecostal Christian he objected to being asked to sign someone else’s statement of faith and was offended by public suggestions that anyone reluctant to do so must not be a Christian.

Here’s a link to his Letter of Resignation. It says, in part:

Though I have enjoyed my time here at Shorter and I feel as though both I and the students have benefited from me being here, the current changes in the administration and the policies that have been enacted has made it to where I can no longer work at Shorter. My concerns stem from two major implications of the policy changes. First, I disagree with being forced to be “in agreement” with the school’s statement of faith instead of submitting our own. Though I am Pentacostal and most assuredly a Christian, the public statements about this situation implies that I am not a Christian simply because I am unwilling to sign someone else’s statement of faith.


Secondly, and more specifically to my discipline, I disagree with the undue influence that the Board of Trustees, Nelson Price, and Dr. Dowless have exerted on my ability to teach the best science available to the students of Shorter University. Specifically I am disappointed with being forced to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design (both of which are philosophical and religious beliefs) in addition to being forced to teach evolution as “just a theory” (which ignores the scientific definition of “theory” as a widely accepted and highly supported way of looking at multiple fields and levels of scientific evidence).

A man of principle! Okay, back to the Associated Baptist Press story:

Pirkle, who resigns Aug. 1 to move to a new position at Tennessee Tech, said that in multiple job interviews other schools asked about his reasons for leaving and voiced concern about “how science was to be taught at an institution that uses semantics and non-scientific explanations to explain how biology works.”

That’s a polite way to say it. Pirkle is a gentleman. Let’s read on:

A once-prestigious School of the Arts has been decimated, losing 13 faculty members. Just two faculty members remain at a much-heralded School of Nursing, which opened in the 2010-2011 academic year.

Four chemistry professors and five biology professors are gone, including a dean with more than 40 years of service and a tenured professor of 30-plus years. Other professors teaching foreign languages, mathematics, accounting, education and history are gone. So are three librarians, a museum director, three coaches and an assistant professor of sports management.

It must be deeply satisfying to those who run that institution to know that at last they’re weeding out the “Darwinists.” We continue:

Shorter President Don Dowless said in a statement quoted in media that he and the university board recognized there are “strong feelings on both sides” about the new employment rules, but the board decided to “reclaim our Christian roots” even if the consequence was a loss of faculty and staff. “Our university was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only,” he said.

Here’s one more excerpt:

Shorter’s website explains the new policy [see Clearing up confusion about faculty and staff employment policies] as part of “defining what it means to be a Christ-centered institution.”

“In an age of increasing postmodern relativism, it becomes necessary to explicitly articulate our core values,” the statement says.

This looks like a great subject for the Discoveroids, who are oh-so-sensitive to issues of academic freedom. No doubt we’ll be hearing from then any day now. Well, let’s get serious. All we expect from the Discoveroids is silent approval. What’s happening at Shorter is exactly what they’d like to see happen at every university. And in the public schools too.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Creationist University Stifles Academic Freedom

  1. retiredsciguy

    Shorter President Don Dowless said, “Our university was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only.”

    He certainly has a different idea of what it means to be a “good Christian”.

  2. It’s essential, in opposing “academic freedom” bills, to emphasize that academic freedom does not entail instructional freedom. Science professors, even if tenured, are not free to teach whatever they choose. An accredited biology program will not keep its accreditation for long if it allows “maverick” professors to “teach the controversy” to undergraduates. Hewing to standards promulgated by communities of scholars is part and parcel of quality education. A question to put to state legislators (with more elaboration than I’ll provide here) is why high-school science teachers should have latitude that full professors in accredited science programs do not.

    Shorter University can define its own standards. The real story will come when its students are denied admission to med school, and someone cries that Christians are being persecuted. (By the way, I got a fine introduction to evolutionary biology at a Baptist institution which, back in the godless Seventies, was ranked among the top-ten small schools for premed studies.)

    Almost six years ago, I took a stand for Bob Marks’ academic freedom when Baylor booted his “Evolutionary Informatics Lab” website from one of the school’s servers. (Somehow that part of the story didn’t make its way into Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. But I plan on telling it to Oklahoma legislators at some point.) A few months ago, I saw a video of Marks giving a bait-and-switch “Information: What is It?” lecture to freshmen in “Introduction to Engineering.” The way such courses work is that guest lecturers introduce key topics in engineering, perhaps spicing things up by talking a bit about their own work. Marks moved quickly to an assertion that information is created by intelligence, and then interpreted Genesis 1 as a story of creation of information. He gave a minimal introduction to classical information theory by way of introducing the actual topic, “active information” in computational search. Not only did he claim authoritatively that his research showed that evolutionary simulations work only because intelligence has added information, but he mocked Kitzmiller testimony regarding Avida. In short, the hypocritical jerk indoctrinated while pretending to educate. And I do not hesitate to say that he stepped way out of bounds in doing so.

    Can we pull together on this? Academic freedom does not entail instructional freedom.

  3. What a rant. I can’t believe I wrote “it’s” for “its.”

  4. NeonNoodle

    God created crickets – who will now read a statement of reaction from the Discovery Institute…

  5. NeonNoodle

    There must be something in the air. I can’t believe I wrote “Discover” for “Discovery.”

  6. docbill1351

    They’re not getting rid of Darwinists, they’re getting rid of Christians who not quite Christian enough, that is, there Kind of Kristian: intolerant, homophobic, buckle-hatted Calvinists. (Note the prohibition on drinking, sex, and the mandate forcing all members to join and be active in a local church.) They should change the name from Shorter to Sphincter.

  7. Tom English says:

    I can’t believe I wrote “it’s” for “its.”

    Fixed, in two different places. But I’m leaving your confession for all to see.

  8. NeonNoodle says:

    I can’t believe I wrote “Discover” for “Discovery.”

    It never happened.

  9. docbill1351

    I don’t have any sympathy nor respect for Marks who, in my opinion, is a typical dishonest creationist hack. How he got a “chair” at Baylor says more about how pitiful Baylor is than how wonderful Marks is. The fool, Marks, left his own website totally open and it was discovered that his very own department chair was none too pleased with Marks bringing Dembski on campus, starting an unauthorized creationist website on university infrastructure or teaching creationism in his engineering class. He was told to shape up or ship out. I guess his paycheck was more important than his principles since he dumped Dembski, moved the “lab” to his own servers and apparently retired Jesus from holding up bridges. Academic freedom is alive and well at Baylor as they continue to let Marks do his own creationist thing and sit in his own urine. Rock on, Garth!

  10. They can’t run a viable School of Nursing with only 2 faculty members left, so this much-heralded, less than 2-year old, assuredly expensive program is dead for all intents and purposes. Something smells rotten, again, in Georgia – the state reputed to be most corrupt in the country with regard to education (albeit that info refers to primary and secondary school).

    Without your hilarious “sphincter” comment, I hadn’t really focused, as it were, on the name “Shorter”, which seems apt in the circumstances – and I’m not talking about height. Maybe the school is just trying to compensate…

  11. @Tom English
    “Can we pull together on this? Academic freedom does not entail instructional freedom.”
    Yes, I think you bring up a very good point.

    I also used a version of your argument about teachers’ latitudes between high school college science classes in my very first run-in with a creationist. My relative began our argument by bemoaning the dumbing down taking place in schools and I countered with my opinion that high school science should take the example of colleges where time and resources are not wasted teaching peripheral nonsense. However, I realized that the reason why she became offended when I implied that high schools should model themselves along the lines of colleges, had more to do with her not completing her education than anything else- an egotistical factor that cannot be underestimated when dealing with many religious neocons (especially Southern ones, who already have persecution complexes). They’re actually resentful of educated “elitist” people, and are therefore spiteful and self-righteous in defense.

    The fact that these creationism supporters aren’t satisfied with teaching their personal religious values to their own children at home or through church, but prefer the most public of forums, reveals their agenda to indoctrinate all children. And wouldn’t that be a payback! I believe that creationists are willing to sacrifice the futures of children, as well as the good of our country, for their idealogical ends as well as their egos – both one and the same.

  12. Shorter University, according to Wikipedia, is “a private, coeducational, liberal arts university …, it is a Christian university …”

    One of my latest pet peeves is how fundamentalist organizations like to refer to themselves as simply “Christian,” as if their radical brand is the only “kind.” Whenever non-fundamentalists, Christians or otherwise, refer to those groups, they need to use the more accurate word “fundamentalist,” and not assist them with that charade. There’s no need to denigrate or ridicule “fundamentalism” either. Let them do the dirty work.

  13. Donna, you’re touching on some of what I said I was omitting. In particular, the notion that there’s spare time in science classes really bothers me.

    The defense I see most often among simpler-minded conservatives is that higher education robs people of their common sense.

  14. Tom English: “The defense I see most often among simpler-minded conservatives is that higher education robs people of their common sense.”

    Another pet peeve related to the one I mention above, is how people who tend to go out of their way to label themselves “conservative” are actually authoritarian. And that group overlaps considerably with the Fundamentalists who like to refer to themselves merely as “Christians.” Teaching only what has earned the right to be taught as science is the truly conservative thing to do.

    Speaking of people who know they have something to hide, the DI’s (totally expected) silence is mind-bogglingly ironic in several ways. First it shows that they do not support “academic freedom” by any sane definition. Second (and third), they often protest that they don’t advocate teaching creationism or ID, and do advocate teaching evolution (plus misrepresentation of course, with all refutations of those misrepresentations censored).

  15. docbill1351

    Second (and third), they often protest that they don’t advocate teaching creationism or ID …

    The Disco Tute is sneakier on this point. People say, “The DI advocates the teaching of ID in schools!” The DI then addresses a different charge by saying, “The Disco Tute has always opposed mandating the teaching of ID in public schools.”

    See the difference? By all means the DI certainly does advocate teaching ID. They even wrote a teacher’s aid on how to teach ID while avoiding Constitutional entanglements. But, they avoid the question by correctly stating that they oppose mandating the teaching of ID.

    It’s a clear misrepresentation of their goals to deny their goals, but that’s why the DI do that voodoo that they do.

    By the way, I oppose myself for having written this comment.

  16. @Frank J
    So true. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

    I’m sure that the “intellects” at the DI are contemptuous of the rabble that they work to incite and try to distance themselves as much as possible, even though they are at the center of the storm. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in, but that’s what happens when you sell out.
    That said, I’m not surprised that the DI group has not commented on this issue since Shorter is embracing full blown religiosity, instead of taking the “academic freedom” tack favored at the DI, a necessary cover in order to subvert law. I believe DI would prefer to publicly denounce this move, although that could upset their base which consists of ignorant pawns who wouldn’t understand the nuanced disengenuity and might feel betrayed. So, in their best interest, I think the DI will stay out of this one. However, we’ll see how it pans out. I like to test my social “theories”.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought colleges and universities were having a hard time of it. However, Shorter University sees fit ,in this economic climate, to undergo a major upheaval requiring hiring at least 13 faculty members within, say, three month’s time.* (And what happens to the students already majoring in areas that are hit hardest both by lack of staff and by change of philosophical position, ie science?) It seems evident that some ultimatums are being meted out and big money poured into those institutions which comply with precepts of “the base”, namely in outlining a far-right religious agenda and thus solidifying “the base”. Therefore, I don’t think Shorter will be a unique case – we might be witnessing a sink or swim event affecting many religious schools – in effect, just a broader aspect of the purge of Shorter’s faculty. Economic hard times create perfect conditions for thumbscrewing if indeed any pressure was brought to bear. Again, the future will tell if my assumptions are correct or not.

    *While we know that quality is no longer an issue when hiring faculty, 3 months scarcely seems enough time to fulfill the quantity side of the equation. This leads me to wonder whether the administration fully anticipated the exodus of teaching staff that occurred – especially in non science-related departments.

  17. @docbill1351
    Hey! It’s TGIF at the Disco Tute. Mankinis and martinis all round!

  18. @Tom English
    “The defense I see most often among simpler-minded conservatives is that higher education robs people of their common sense.”

    Yes, when one proposes that high school science classes be modeled after college science teaching, so that kids are being prepared with correct standards and information, a creationist will invariably retort that not all kids will go to college. He/she will then proceed to soap-box on the dumbing down issue, using the same poor kid-who-can’t-count-out-change-at-the-store anecdote.*
    And this superior attitude emanates from people who don’t know arithmetic from mathematics, who wish that the “three Rs” would be stressed more in school (like in their day).

    I’ve never experienced this myself, in years of shopping, but were it to happen, I like to think that I would attribute it to the fact that there will alwasys be relatively less bright people in society, not that our educational system has failed everyone. I also hope that I would consider that, despite a little goof, the kid has secured a job and is probably trying his/her best at work that I don’t believe I would ever want.

  19. I’ve made some goofs of my own in the above post, but I think it’s readable. However, for clarity’s sake, please imagine an asterisk before the final paragraph. Thanks.

  20. @docbill1351
    “They’re not getting rid of Darwinists, they’re getting rid of Christians who not quite Christian enough, that is, there Kind of Kristian: intolerant, homophobic, buckle-hatted Calvinists.”

    The buckle-hatted bit reminded me of a wonderful remark I read in response to Michelle Bachmann’s apprisal of last summer’s earthquake and hurricane as God’s wrath at Congress for not balancing the budget. The comment was:
    “Thanks for the insight, Goodie Bachmann.”

  21. This is perfect for the people in the Department of Academic Freedom at the Discovery Institute. They need to jump on this right away! However, what we will likely see is:
    A. No response at all. It never happened.
    B. A tepid “No, no, no. You shouldn’t do that.”
    C. Private religious institutions have the right their religious freedom.
    At any rate, I can’t wait for their spin.

  22. Nothing yet on the DI blogs about this. Presumably, Casey or Chappy has been in touch with the folks at Shorter to hammer out a response. We’ll just have to wait, and watch. But I can’t wait!!

  23. NDaBoonies

    I am still waiting to see how my Shorter graduate friends feel about the quality of their diplomas now.