DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART VII by William Bennetta The first six parts of this article ran in

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DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART VII by William Bennetta The first six parts of this article ran in earlier issues of "BASIS", starting in February. Here is a summary: By law, no unaccredited postsecondary school in California can issue degrees unless the school has been approved by the superintendent of public instruction -- the chief of the State Department of Education. In August 1988, the Department's Private Postsecondary Education Division (PPED) staged an "assessment" of the ICR Graduate School (ICRGS). The ICRGS is an arm of the Institute for Creation Research, a fundamentalist ministry that promotes the religious pseudoscience called "creation-science." The assessment was made by a five-man committee that had been chosen, and was managed, by a PPED officer named Roy W. Steeves. The committee included two ringers who had been linked closely to the ICR or to the ICR's president, Henry Morris. The committee produced a false, misleading report that hid the real nature of the ICR, promoted the ICR's scientific pretensions, and said that Bill Honig, the superintendent of public instruction, should approve the ICR as a source of masters' degrees in biology, geology, "astro/geophysics" and science education. But two of the committee's legitimate members then sent separate reports to Honig, telling the truth about the ICR. Roy Steeves, in memoranda to the PPED's director, Joseph P. Barankin, endorsed the ICR and urged that it should be approved. Honig, in statements that he gave to the press in December 1988, refused the approval. In January, however, the Department drew back from that decision and began to negotiate with the ICR. On 3 March, Joseph Barankin and the ICR reached an agreement. The ICR would revise its curriculum, purging "ICRGS's interpretations" from courses that would count toward degrees. To learn whether the ICR had made the revisions, the Department would send a new examining committee; one member would be selected by the ICR. The new committee visited the ICR in the second week of August 1989 and now is writing its report. Four of its five members are scientists from campuses of the University of California or the California State University. The fifth, evidently the one chosen by the ICR, is from an Ohio Bible college. The committee is being managed not by Roy Steeves but by another PPED officer, Jeanne Bird. The ICR men, as I now shall tell, have publicly predicted that the committee's report will be damning and that Honig again will deny approval. In writing here, I assume that my readers have seen the earlier parts of this article. -- W.B., 13 September A LETTER FROM PROF. JOHN The new committee's visit consternated the ICR men, for the Department had taken important steps to ensure that the new examination of the ICRGS would be legitimate. The ICR's sweet- heart, Roy Steeves, was no longer in the picture; the new committee was dominated by respectable, perceptive scientists; and the committee would have abundant time for writing a respectable, perceptive report. All this was different from the cozy proceeding that Steeves had conducted a year earlier, and it left the ICR men dismayed. They foresaw that the committee would report that their school was defective and unworthy of approval, and that Bill Honig would follow the committee's judgment. With this vision of doom before them, they began an effort to win the sympathy of the press and the public, presumably in the hope that a rash of newspaper articles and letters would sway the committee or Honig. Late in August, news organizations in southern California got a notice of an ICR "news conference" that would be held on the 31st. The ICR, said the notice, would "respond to the imminent State decision to shut down ICR's graduate school of science." The notice was accompanied by two other items: a letter from John Morris, the ICR's administrative vice-president and "full professor of geology"; and a handout, headlined "Basic Freedoms Under Attack at ICR," that offered a fiercely misleading account of the ICR case. These items merit attention, for they seem to foretell the tactics that the ICR will use if Honig does indeed deny approval, and if the ICR appeals his decision. The heart of John Morris's letter was in three paragraphs. Here they are; the superscript numerals refer to my comments, which will follow: Enclosed is evidence(1) of improper action of a particularly disturbing sort, that of an adversarial attitude on the part of the State toward an approved(2) school in good standing, which has led to the threat of immediate closure, all the while ignoring our fully qualified faculty,(3) the excellent records or our graduates and our large and concerned constituency.(4) The underlying reason for the action is that our small graduate school in the sciences(5) holds a perspective on science(6) different from that of Honig. He claims that allowing our perspective to exist in California is tantamount to state agreement with our position.(7) However, censoring minority opinions(8) violates academic(9) and religious freedoms,(10) and in effect establishes a state religion, with no dissenting voice allowed. If Honig is allowed to silence our minority views on controversial scientific concepts,(11) what is to keep him from decreeing that only certain political views can be taught in California or a certain philosophy of economics, or religion, or psychology, or journalism? Will accounts of historical events be revised next? Remember, this is America, a pluralistic society, . . . I comment on Prof. John's text: (1). The enclosed item was not evidence at all; it was merely the "Basic Freedoms" handout. (2). In calling the ICRGS "approved," Prof. John begs the question: Whether the ICRGS should be approved is the very thing that the Department is investigating. Prof. John also omits that the proceeding by which the ICRGS first got its "approved" status, in 1981, was a sham. (3). I'll be surprised if the committee's report ignores the ICRGS's faculty or fails to tell how qualified they are. (4). The law governing approvals does not tell the Department to assess the size or emotional state of a school's "constituency." (5). This is more question-begging: Whether the ICRGS is really a "graduate school in the sciences" is one of the things that the Department must judge. (6). This would have meaning if it were illustrated by some examples of the ICR's "perspective" -- a Noah's-ark story, for instance, or some proprietary raving about organic evolution, Marxism and satanism. (7). Whether the ICR's "perspective" should exist is not in question. The only issue is whether the ICR should pass out degrees in science and in education. And if the Department were to say YES, the Department surely WOULD be lending the state's imprimatur to the ICR's pseudoscientific rubbish. (8). The proceeding at hand has nothing to do with censorship. It is concerned only with academic quality and with the legitimacy of degrees. Honig has said often that the ICR can run its programs, teach its beliefs and issue degrees, as long as it does not mislabel them as scientific. (9). What can "academic freedom" possibly mean to men who each year, lest they be sacked, must swear their overriding devotion to Bible stories and their concomitant rejection of basic principles of modern science? (10). "Religious" freedoms? Prof. John forgets that the ICR claims to be teaching science, denies that it is teaching religion, and refuses to be certified as a religious school. (11). Again, examples would help. Reporters surely would enjoy learning about such "scientific concepts" as imaginary fossils on Mt. Ararat, or visions of dinosaurs roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam. A CONSPICUOUS HEDGE The other document that the ICR distributed to news organizations - - the "Basic Freedoms" handout -- was comparable to Prof. John's letter in both falsity and hysteria. Its most significant paragraph was its last: Does the state have the power to tell a private Christian school such as the ICR (which has never accepted a penny of state or federal money)* that it cannot teach as its conscience dictates? Is this the beginning of the end of our cherished American freedoms? Will all Christian education soon come under similar attack if this precedent is allowed? Maybe so, but please be aware that ICR will not accept these rulings without exhausting every reasonable and feasible avenue of appeal. We hope concerned individuals everywhere will realize the serious implications of this precedent. . . . The signal phrase here is "every REASONABLE AND FEASIBLE avenue of appeal." If Honig denies approval, the ICR presumably will invoke the administrative appeal processes provided by law. (The first would be a plea to the state's Council on Private Postsecondary Educational Institutions, which has no power over approvals and can merely advise Honig.) But what if the administrative appeals were to be unsuccessful? Would the ICR men take Honig and his Department to court? I do not think so. I think that they recognize that a lawsuit, too, would fail and would also engender a new, ruinous expose of creationism and "creation-science." And I think that this recognition is reflected in their hedge about "reasonable and feasible" avenues. The ICR's effort to gain attention from news organizations achieved only modest success -- perhaps because the ICR men's only "news" was their desperation. The "San Diego Union" for 31 August offered a report by Michael Scott-Blair, who had skipped the "news conference" but had conducted interviews on the preceding day. He recounted various statements by John Morris and the corresponding comments by Bill Honig. For example: John D. Morris . . . yesterday accused state Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig of intervening in one evaluation [of the ICRGS] and of "stifling academic freedom." Morris said the state had used "dirty tricks" in an attempt to force the institute out of business. "Nonsense," said Honig, reached by phone at his Sacramento office yesterday. "I gave them a full year to prove they are offering acceptable quality science courses toward their master's degree. But a preliminary indication from a team of scientists that visited the campus earlier this month suggests the institute comes up short by a long way." . . . . Honig said he has no wish to close the institute, but disagrees with "teaching creationism and calling it a science degree. . . ." Similar stories ran on 1 September in "The Tribune" (another San Diego paper) and in the San Diego edition of the "Los Angeles Times". Several papers (e.g., the "San Jose Mercury News" for 1 September) ran foolish puff-pieces that simply promoted the ICR's views. They were based on an Associated Press story that evidently had consisted wholly of assertions by the ICR men, with nothing from anyone else. On 8 and 11 September I called David Sedeno, the correspondent in charge of the AP's San Diego bureau, to ask about the defective dispatch. He said that he would review his files and then call me, but I heard no more from him. ---------- *The ICR advertises that its students can get educational benefits from the Veterans Administration. But the matter of government money is really irrelevant: The law governing approvals applies equally to schools that get such money and schools that do not.


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