ID advocate Eric Hedin gets tenure at Ball State

May 12, 2016 • 9:15 am

You may remember Eric Hedin, the Ball State University physics professor who, as I discovered in 2013, was teaching Intelligent Design (ID) in a student seminar. Since Ball State is a state university, that was a violation of the First Amendment, which, as the Supreme Court has ruled, prohibits teaching creationism in public (government) schools, an action violating the “Lemon test.” (ID was also ruled out of bounds in the Dover case.)

Ball State subsequently investigated the course; its then president Jo Ann Gora said that Ball State would not countenance the teaching of ID; and Hedin was prohibited from teaching his religion-laden “science” course. You can see all the posts about this here. For our victory I was proud to receive the Discovery Institute’s “Censor of the Year” award for 2014. Boy, did my head swell!

Since then, Hedin has apparently stopped teaching ID, as he was told to, and has taught straight physics courses as well as doing real physics research. The curriculum vitae on Hedin’s university website mentions no ID papers, but a respectable number of genuine physics publications—certainly a good record for someone at a teaching-oriented school.  His teaching reviews, at least by students, are ok as well. Thus, when Colleen Flaherty, a reporter for Inside Higher Ed, told me that Hedin had just gotten tenure, and interviewed me about it, I couldn’t find any reason that he shouldn’t have been promoted, and said so:

Coyne said he didn’t think Hedin’s past should preclude him for getting the promotion he otherwise earned, and that getting “called out on the national stage at [sic; should be “and”] told to stop” in 2013 was probably punishment enough. Hedin’s research portfolio doesn’t appear to involve any publications on creationism, Coyne added. And “if he does [intelligent design] in his spare time, he has the right to do that — he just can’t do it in the classroom.”

Coyne also said he agreed with Laats that there should be a high bar for university investigations into professors’ classroom practices. But he rejected the notion that his criticisms of Hedin and others threatened academic freedom.

“I agree there has to be a damn good reason to investigate but it seems to me like a violation of the Constitution is a perfectly valid one,” Coyne said. “Teaching creationism in public schools is a violation of the First Amendment.”

That’s the way I feel: Hedin’s been called out enough, the ID problem is solved at Ball State, and you shouldn’t wreck a guy’s career if he makes one misstep.  Several readers have emailed me that they think his tenure is a travesty, but I can’t agree. He seems to be doing pretty well in his field of scholarship: the physics of molecules; so why consign him to perdition forever for one error. Only God does stuff like that!

It still mystifies me, though, why Ball State hired two ID advocates in Physics and Astronomy: not only Hedin, but Guillermo Gonzalez, still a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. Coincidence? Gonzalez was denied tenure Iowa State University, not for ID-related stuff but for nonperformance. The Discovery Institute, of course, cried “persecution,” but an appeal sustained the university’s decision, affirming that Gonzalez’s tenure denial was due to a lack of research performance and funding. Ball State then hired him.

Gonzalez’s teaching evaluations at Ball State are mediocre. We’ll see what happens to him at Ball State.

Don’t read the comments on the Inside Higher Ed post; they’re festering with creationists. Unwisely, I have engaged with a few of them.

37 thoughts on “ID advocate Eric Hedin gets tenure at Ball State

    1. Absolutely. People shouldn’t be condemned in perpetuity for one mistake. That way lies the raging self-righteousness of the offence-mongers.

    1. Yes, and I went ahead and clicked on the bait.

      If Dr. Coyne engaged with a few of them I couldn’t spot any sign of that engagement in the comment section of that site. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something here.

        1. I also felt compelled to click on the bait, and ended up making quite a long comment though I don’t know if it’s made it past moderation.

          Your three comments are there Jerry. One person replied with something like, “If this really is Jerry Coyne, I really liked WEIT. Thank you for writing it.”

          1. Oh, and I’m also in the camp of those who say he should get tenure if he’s no longer teaching ID.

  1. “Hedin’s past should [not] preclude him for getting the promotion”. This is well said. He appears to have changed his ways, and Americans would do well to learn the lesson that people can do better.

    “Teaching creationism in public schools is a violation of the First Amendment.” That’s an understatement. It is abuse of the highest order: lying to people about the nature of existence. Whether it be about which friends they should make, what clothes they must wear or the origin of the cosmos or life. The antithesis of science, reason, and morality.

  2. I personally know more than physicist of internarional repuation who believes in ID. My suspicion is that its what Wolpert says–science is wildy counter-intuitive, it takes years to overcome commonsense which is worse than useless) and once you do you have a scientific intuition you can rely on (a bit). But its highly restricted in scope and if you think your gut reaction carries into other fields of science you can make egregious errors

    1. I think Michael Shermer said that physicists were the easiest to fool because they don’t encounter lies in their field.

    1. blueollie – generally true, but there is some variability among institutions; scholarship for sure, but academic service is usually also a component for granting tenure, ad if you are at a primarily a teaching institution, you had better be a pretty good teacher! 🙂

      1. Oh yes, I meant to put “teaching” in that list as I too was thinking about “non-research intensive schools”.

        Thanks for the correction. 🙂

  3. “if he does [intelligent design] in his spare time, he has the right to do that”
    I’d rather stick needles in my eye, but what the hell. To each his own.

  4. For our victory I was proud to receive the Discovery Institute’s “Censor of the Year” award for 2014. Boy, did my head swell!


    Did you put that on your CV under Awards and Honors?

  5. That is a fair assessment of him. Still it would be wise to keep a eye on what he is teaching. I look up his course description, It seems like, general physics and astronomy.

    1. Here’s my thought on that: tenure is great job protection but you can still be fired for cause. Since Hedin has a very big, public reprimand on his record with the president of his University telling him “stop doing this,” if he teaches creationism* the Uni should have no problem firing him for cause.

      (*In a class where that isn’t the subject.)

  6. As having taught at the university level, I have to say, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on reviews with regard to teaching quality. The best ratings tend to come from easy teachers (not quality or based on how much is learned) and “hotness.”

    There are a number of studies on this; here’s the first one I found in a quick search:

    1. In Hedin’s case, three students commented on his prosletyzing in the classroom, so it was good corroboration.

  7. This is a good development, as it shows the system can work the way it is intended. It also helps illustrate the lie that Gonzalez did not get tenure b/c of his advocacy of pseudoscience.

  8. See how stopping teaching religious things in the classroom frees one up to concentrate on other things and leads to promotion! Well done Eric Hedin!

  9. My only concern is that now that he has tenure he might feel free to go back to teaching creationism. Judging by the comments, indeed, it seems that some other academics are doing that (although they might be from religious schools).

  10. Teaching evaluations are, demonstrably, garbage metrics. Rate My Professor comments are even less useful. (I say that as someone who gets pretty good evals in both cases; it ain’t sour grapes.)

    Teaching evaluations absolutely should NOT be used as evidence in tenure or promotion decisions.

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