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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
(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
(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
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
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
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.