In June, Ball State University (BSU) hired a new part-time astronomy professor, and this decision has raised a few eyebrows. The controversy surrounding Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez has little to do with his skills as a professor or an astronomer. Instead, his critics focus on his scholarly discussion of Intelligent Design, particularly in his book The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Some point to Iowa State University (ISU) denying Dr. Gonzalez tenure in 2008 as evidence that Dr. Gonzalez is not qualified to teach at BSU, but Dr. Gonzalez's supporters say ISU specifically targeted Dr. Gonzalez because of his views on Intelligent Design.
BSU is no stranger to the Intelligent Design controversy. In May, the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote to BSU, complaining specifically about a class that's aim is to " investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life." When a class's entire goal is to investigate the interaction of intelligent design and science, students shouldn't be too surprised when a professor discusses God in the classroom. Some students still complained.
While there can always be debate about the qualifications of a professor to teach particular classes (for example, it would have been unwise of BSU to hire someone who has only ever studied literature to teach their astronomy class) it is chilling to see how some are willing to obliterate academic freedom based on different views. When discussing the situation, Dr. Jerry Coyne from the University of Chicago said, "I don’t believe in academic freedom for anyone who teaches religiously based woo as science."
Bravo to BSU for focusing on a professors' credentials, instead of blacklisting them for their views, especially views supported by some in the scientific community. When asked about the hiring of Dr. Gonzalez, Joan Todd, the college's spokesperson, responded: "This is our response. His qualifications are in his [curriculum vitae]."
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