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.