Ball State: Wishy-Washy Squishy

You know about the controversy over creationism at Indiana’s Ball State University. If not, see our post from yesterday: Battle of Ball State: Setting the Stage. Now we have a reaction from a faculty member of that institution — one who isn’t involved in the ruckus, and who can therefore be expected to take an objective, disinterested look at the situation.

His opinion appears in the Star Press of Muncie, Indiana, and it’s titled Ball State fumbles handling of Hedin case. Fumbles? Who wrote this thing? At the end of the newspaper article we’re told:

Eric Damian Kelly is a professor of urban planning at Ball State University who has served the university as a college dean, a department chairman and, for two years, as chairman of the university senate, which is the over-arching body in the shared governance system.

Urban planning? Isn’t that some kind of — pardon the expression — intelligent design applied to the growth and development of cities? Urban planners are always battling against natural, free-market growth (that’s “sprawl,” you know) and allowing only their own kind of growth according to their own vision. Well, why not? They’re so much smarter than we are.

The urban planning profession is like applied sociology or something, legalized coercion of city dwellers who are required to live according to the dictates of the planners. Sometimes their plans appear to be lovely (that’s often true of utopias) but if they really are that wonderful, why do their plans have to be enacted into law and enforced with guns? Other than an invading army, nothing could be more deleterious to our liberty than being governed by armed utopian dreamers.

But wait — there’s more. Today’s author has also held various administrative posts at the university, so he’s not only an urban planner, he’s also an academic bureaucrat. We’ve had an occasional run-in with that type. Who hasn’t?

We pause for a moment to address our gasping readers. Well, what did you expect? You knew that when you came here you were going to get a dose of the Curmudgeon’s thinking, and that’s just what you’re getting. Now you know that the author of today’s newspaper article isn’t our kind of guy. Nevertheless, we won’t pre-judge Professor Kelly’s opinion. We’ll wait until we see what he has to say. So let’s get to it. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The scientific community rejects intelligent design. So be it. I accept for the sake of argument our university president’s assertion that nothing but science should be taught in a science course.

But even accepting her assertion, I am convinced that the heavy-handed manner in which the university addressed the recent issue involving Prof. Eric Hedin (whom I do not know) represents a significant threat to academic freedom.

Kelly definitely sounds like a full-blown idiot. He says, right up front, that he doesn’t have a clue as to whether intelligent design is science or not, but even if it isn’t, he thinks Hedin should be free to teach any blithering nonsense he wants in his science class. We’re off to a good start. But it gets even better:

In the “shared governance” system at the university, the faculty, not the administration, is responsible for academic matters, ranging from the content of courses through the requirements to earn a particular degree. The governance and administrative system includes mechanisms to deal with course content.

He then describes a vast, bureaucratic labyrinth of seemingly endless committees and reviews which he says are the appropriate way to handle disputes such as this. And at the end of that mushy process, what happens? Then the university starts to kick butt. Oh yeah, that’s when it really hits the fan. Get this:

If they fail to deal with a real issue, the college dean can and should perhaps intervene.

“Can and should perhaps” — Wowie! Kelly is a no-nonsense, two-fisted disciplinarian. He runs a tight ship. He’s the kind who makes the trains run on time. Let’s read on:

If Hedin was doing something weird in his course, deviating from the approved course description, he should have expected to hear from his department chair, Thomas Jordan. … But to have the two top-ranking officers of the university intervene directly in a review of what he was teaching, with the help of four senior faculty members — two not from his department and one from another university — had to be terrifying to an assistant professor hoping someday to earn tenure.

It had to be terrifying! The urban planner continues:

With the limited knowledge of a non-scientist, I believe that the Big Bang is much closer to reality than any theory of so-called intelligent design.

No one cares what an urban planner thinks about the Big Bang, but here’s more:

I note, however, a couple of factoids: Stephen Hawking in “The University in a Nutshell” (2001) referred to the Big Bang as a “theory,” not a scientific fact; and there is a long history of persecution of astronomers and others in the field for pursuing unusual theories — perhaps beginning with the Catholic Church’s charging Galileo with heresy 500 years ago for asserting that Copernicus was right and that the planets revolve around the sun, not around the earth.

The Big Bang is only a theory? Egad — who knew? But never mind that. What’s coming next will be our last excerpt from Kelly’s article, and it’s a humdinger:

One era’s heresy sometimes becomes another era’s theoretical anchor. Has the administration controlled a loose cannon or repressed a Galileo?

Okay, dear reader. When we began, we told you that were willing to consider what the urban planner had to say, and only then would we judge him. Well, we’ve given his opinion a fair hearing, and now we have made a judgment. You don’t need to ask what it is, do you?

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Ball State: Wishy-Washy Squishy

  1. Wild Juggler

    “Other than an invading army, nothing could be more deleterious to our liberty than being governed by armed utopian dreamers.”
    I agree! Great post.

  2. I believe Hawking’s book is “The Universe in a Nutshell”, not “University”.

  3. No, it seems fairly obvious

  4. gnome de net

    …the faculty, not the administration, is responsible for academic matters, ranging from the content of courses through the requirements to earn a particular degree.[emphasis added]

    Have I overlooked something, or this this just a Humpty Dumpty-ism?

    “When I teach a course,’ Prof Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” [Apologies to Lewis Carroll.]

    An extreme example of this faculty-self-regulated approach to “teaching” would be to have no requirements at all beyond paying the per-credit-hour fees — no class attendance, no passing or even taking exams. IOW, a job with worker-defined job responsibilities.

  5. “Has the administration controlled a loose cannon or repressed a Galileo?”

    Well. Every crank in the world sees himself as the new Galileo, scorned, ridiculed and oppressed in his own time, but gloriously vindicated in the future when his marvellous scientific insights are finally recognized. People will marvel at how far ahead of his time this guy was!

    (Or more likely they won’t, but the crank concerned will be dead anyway and will never have to face the bitter reality that he wasn’t the new Galileo after all.)

    The ID movement is the collective version of this — some of them seriously seem to think that they represent the upcoming paradigm in biology, and dream of the long-announced collapse of “Darwinism”. Ah, imagine the day when all universities teach that we are Intelligently Designed!

    I believe Bertolt Brecht wrote about the Nazi movement: “The old came and called itself the new.” Considering that throughout the Dark Ages, pretty much everyone was a “creationist”, something similar could be said about the ID movement.

  6. Has the administration controlled a loose cannon or repressed a Galileo?

    Ah yes, the Galileo Gambit:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Galileo_gambit

    I liked Carl Sagan’s reply

    But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

  7. I want to apply for a job at BSU to teach Intelligent Falling. ED Kelly certainly will hire me – after all gravity is just a theory, not a scientific fact.

  8. Please help me…. I have creationists quote mining and using Discovery Institute “articles.” If you have the time, knock yourselves out:

    http://withalliamgod.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/nietzsches-rejection-of-darwinian-evolution/

  9. Fauskanger,

    I presume you mean: “The Parade of the Old New.”

    “I stood on the hill, where I saw the Old approaching, but it came as the New. It hobbled on new crutches that no one had ever seen before and stank of the new smell of decay that no one had ever smelled before.”

  10. “Urban planners are always battling against natural, free-market growth (that’s “sprawl,” you know) and allowing only their own kind of growth according to their own vision… if they really are that wonderful, why do their plans have to be enacted into law and enforced with guns? Other than an invading army, nothing could be more deleterious to our liberty than being governed by armed utopian dreamers.”

    Libertarians are true Utopians, it’s just that their Utopia is a Wal-mart built atop a heap of toxic mining waste.

    Property rights are always enforced with guns, and SCOTUS assisted the “genius of the market” to create jobs by seizing a whole village in Connecticut in the hopes of handing the land for free to a helicopter company. Only the genius of the market can create jobs, see. It’s an empty lot now.

    Nothing increases property values like bordering on publicly owned land.

    If you want to see the genius of the market, go to LA and compare a product of urban planning, Third Street Promenade, planned by the city of Santa Monica, against Universal City Walk, its imitation, owned by Universal Studios. City Walk is only for tourists and no local ever lingers there. Third Street is where the locals go and linger.

    People want public spaces owned by the public, not Universal Studios and not corporations, and they increase the property values in every town they grace.

  11. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    hnohf says…

    Well. Every crank in the world sees himself as the new Galileo, scorned, ridiculed and oppressed in his own time, but gloriously vindicated in the future when his marvelous scientific insights are finally recognized. People will marvel at how far ahead of his time this guy was!

    ***scrawls on the back of the envelope***

    #35 + #36 = 40 points + 40 points = 80 points

  12. I loved the comment of a Ball state alum:

    “I note, however, a couple of factoids: Stephen Hawking in “The University[sic] in a Nutshell” (2001) referred to the Big Bang as a “theory,” not a scientific fact;”

    That my friends, is why we shouldn’t let Urban Planning professors teach science courses.

  13. Diogenes — yes, “The Parade of the Old New” is probably the Brecht quote referred to (I only had it from a secondary source). And I’m impressed you remember my name even though half the time I am only credited as “hnohf” (urgh — an old username) instead of “H. K. Fauskanger” (even though I changed absolutely nothing in the setup — a minor mystery of computer whims!)