DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART V
by William Bennetta
The first four parts of this article ran in "BASIS" in February,
March, April and May. They told how the Private Postsecondary
Education Division (PPED) of the California State Department of
Education, in August 1988, staged an "assessment" of the ICR
Graduate School (ICRGS). The school is an arm of the Institute for
Creation Research, a fundamentalist organization that disseminates
the pseudoscience called "creation-science."
The assessment was made by a five-man committee, chosen and managed
by a PPED officer named Roy Steeves, that included two ringers --
two men who had had close associations with the ICR or with the
ICR's president, Henry Morris. The committee wrote a false,
misleading report saying that the Department's chief, Bill Honig,
should approve the ICR as a source of masters' degrees in science
and in science education.
Later, however, two of the committee's legitimate members told the
truth about the lCR; and Honig -- at least in statements that he
gave to the newspapers last December -- refused the approval. But
in January the Department drew back from that decision and began
to negotiate with the ICR.
I shall describe here the results of those negotiations, after I
make some final comments about the antics of Roy Steeves. I assume
that my readers have seen all the earlier parts of this article.
-- W.B., 11 June
MORE ABOUT MILLER
In Part IV, I told a little about G. Edwin Miller, one of the
ringers whom Roy Steeves had named to the committee; and I wondered
whether Miller had been recommended by the ICR. Here is why this
seemed important: The Department already had admitted that the
other ringer, George Howe, was "ICR's nomination"; but the
Department also had said that its "standard policy" allowed only
"one" such nomination by a school undergoing assessment.
I now know that Miller, too, was an ICR "nomination." Like Howe,
he was one the people whom Morris had recommended in a letter sent
to the Department on 7 June 1988.
PROMO BY MEMO
I saw Morris's letter a few days ago, when I went to Sacramento and
examined the PPED's whole file on the ICR case. It had many
engaging documents, but none more engaging than the memoranda in
which Steeves -- writing to the PPED's director, Joseph Barankin -
- seemed to promote the ICR, the ICR's positions, and the ICR's
pseudoscience. For example:
- On 23 May 1988, before he began to recruit the committee, Steeves
sent a memo in which he summarily declared that "they [the ICR men]
ARE scientists" and then said: "this group believes that the
universe is decaying from an original creating event. That
cosmology is remarkably similar to what they are saying at Cal
Tech. In the Biology program the underlying religious belief is
that mutation is occurring away from an original creation. At the
same time evolutionary theory is generally accepted in the
biological sciences, so is devolutionary [sic] theory accepted and
particularly in the study of mutations, which seems to be one of
their [WHOSE?] specialties."
- On 8 August, three days after the committee had written its
report, Steeves sent a memo that urged approval. Two days later,
he sent another. The second memo warned Barankin that Stuart
Hurlbert would be submitting "a letter which in his opinion is a
minority and dissenting opinion to the visit report."
- On 29 August he wrote: "There is nothing in Dr. Hurlbert's report
that I can see that was not discussed at one time or another during
the course of the Committee meetings at the school site." (He did
not suggest why so great a mass of material, if it had been
"discussed" by the committee, was not acknowledged in the
committee's own report.) Then he accused Hurlbert of "creating a
series of straw men."
- On 1 September he wrote that he was "appalled" by a comment in
which (he inferred) Hurlbert had questioned the motives of G. Edwin
Miller. Then he said: "Dr. Miller was not there as an expert on
science curriculum. He was there as an expert on school finance."
(Steeves did not tell that Miller, whatever the reason for his
presence on the committee, had VOTED on the ICR's "science"
Later Steeves announced that "These [ICR men] are quite capable of
teaching science and they do so." (He did not disclose how he had
learned that.) Finally he declared: "This thing is a dispute
between theists and atheists. . . ."
So there it was: the ICR's "two- model" stuff, neat and pure.
People who saw the ICR's charlatanry for what it was, and who
objected to the state's certifying it as science, were
Did Steeves really believe what he wrote? Did he really think that
Caltech professors were teaching a cosmology in which modern
physics was summarily rejected and in which the universe was only
6,000 years old? Did he really think that modern biology had a
"devolutionary theory" that figured in "the study of mutations"?
I do not know.
STILL AT IT
Roy Steeves is still on the Department's payroll, and -- as I told
in Part IV -- the Department has undertaken a cover-up that
includes an effort to justify Steeves's conduct. Right now, the
chief element of the cover-up seems to be a plain refusal to answer
mail. During the past two months, several people who are following
the ICR case have sent inquiries to Bill Honig, including inquiries
about the matter of G. Edwin Miller, but to no avail. One such
letter was dispatched on 6 April and still has not been
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
After the Department, in January, abandoned its announced decision
to deny approval, Joseph Barankin made a kind of agreement with the
ICR's lawyer, Wendell Bird. I say "kind of" because the agreement
is so burdened by undefined terms, unspecified conditions and
unanswered questions that it does not seem to be a respectable
effort. It is embodied in two letters -- one sent to the Department
by Bird on 10 January, the other sent by Barankin to Bird on 3
In April, after studying the letters, I sent to Barankin some
questions about their content. He has not replied. Here is my own,
unaided reading of the major points in his deal with the ICR:
- The ICR says that it will revise its "science courses" and
"science curriculum," conforming them to science courses and
curricula at accredited schools. During this effort, "ICRGS's
interpretations" will be removed from all courses that will carry
credit toward science degrees. "Interpretations" will be confined
to courses or activities that will not count toward degrees.
Barankin, then, has accepted two bizarre propositions. One is that
natural sciences, and science courses at accredited schools, exist
as mere piles of information, unsullied by interpretation or
thought. The other is that the ICRGS, which is explicitly a
creationist "ministry," really intends to excise creationist
"interpretations" from its degree programs and intends to relegate
creationism to some peripheral diversions.
- To learn whether the ICR has made the contemplated revisions, the
Department will dispatch a new committee. One member will be
selected (not merely suggested or recommended) by the ICR. The
total number of members is not specified.
- The new committee will examine the ICR's programs in biology,
geology and "astro/geophysics," but not the program in science
education. That program evidently will get another free ride, like
the one that was awarded to it, last August, by Roy Steeves.
In my April query to Barankin, I asked whether, in making the
agreement, he had had advice from anyone who knew about science.
I also asked: If the Department were to approve the ICRGS's
interpretation-less courses, how much would the Department have to
spend annually to monitor the courses and to ensure that no
"interpretations" were creeping in? I am sorry that Barankin
refused to answer.
The ICR has asked the Department to conduct the new examination by
early August. I do not know whether the Department has yet picked
a date or has chosen any members for the new committee.
SIDEBAR: CATHY AND JOEY AND S.B. 190
S.B. 190, State Senator Becky Morgan's bill that would reform the
regulation of unaccredited schools operating in California, has
been endorsed by both the Senate Education Committee and the Senate
Appropriations Committee. The bill would create a new agency for
controlling unaccredited colleges and vocational schools, would
remove that function from the Department of Education, and would
abolish the PPED.
The Education Committee approved S.B. 190 on 3 May, by a vote of
9 to 0, after a brief hearing. A report of the committee's
proceeding, written by Diane Curtis, ran in the "San Francisco
Chronicle" on 4 May, under the headline "`Diploma Mill' Bill
Advances." Here is an excerpt:
Catherine Sizemore, lobbyist for the California
Association of Private Postsecondary Schools, led the
opposition, which was joined by 17 leaders of
Sizemore said her organization shared Morgan's concerns,
but disagreed that the best way to achieve reform was to
take authority away from the present regulator, the
[PPED], and create a new state agency.
Sizemore, who has made no secret of her live-in
relationship with [the PPED's] director, Joseph Barankin,
said the regulators have been hamstrung by lack of staff
and money to oversee the schools. Rather than create a
new agency, she said, [the PPED] should be given a chance
to implement reforms approved by the Legislature in the
past five years.
I find irony in Sizemore's effort, for I think that she herself -
- through her relationship with Barankin, and its insistent
suggestion of a conflict of interest -- has done much to promote
the legislation in question. Bill Honig has known for months about
Barankin's affair with Sizemore, who represents many schools that
the PPED presumably oversees; and by tolerating the appearance of
ethical conflict, Honig seems to have said that the Department of
Education has no interest in straightening the PPED out. I
speculate, then, that some senators will see S.B. 190 as the only
practical way to achieve reforms.
A representative of the Department observed the Education
Committee's hearing but did not testify. Later in May, the
Department began active opposition to the bill.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved S.B. 190 on 12 June,
by consent -- that is, without a debate or a vote. (This was
possible because the bill, if enacted into law, would have no
significant effect on the state's general fund.) S.B. 190 now will
be considered by the full Senate. -- W.B.