DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART IX by William Bennetta Parts I through VIII of this article ran in

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DEGREES OF FOLLY: PART IX by William Bennetta Parts I through VIII of this article ran in earlier issues of "BASIS", starting in February 1989. Here is a summary: By law, no unaccredited school in California can issue degrees unless the school has been assessed and formally approved by the superintendent of public instruction -- the chief of the State Department of Education. In August l988, 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 pseudoscience called "creation-science." The founder and president of the ICR is Henry Morris, a preacher and former engineer who poses as an expert in geology, biology, paleontology and various other fields in which he has no detectable credentials. The Department's assessment of Morris's school was made by a five- man committee that had been chosen by, 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 Morris, and the committee's report was bogus: It hid the real nature of the ICR, promoted the ICR's scientific pretensions, and said that the superintendent of public instruction, Bill Honig, should approve the ICR as a source of masters' degrees in science and in science education. Two of the committee's legitimate members then sent separate reports to Honig, telling the truth about the ICR. But 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; but in January 1989 the Department drew back from that decision and began to negotiate with the ICR. On 3 March 1989, 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. Despite the agreement, the ICR continued to advertise the ICRGS as a "Graduate School of Creationist Science," devoted to "scientific and Biblical creationism." The new committee visited the ICR in August 1989. Four of the committee's five members are scientists from campuses of the University of California or the California State University. The fifth, evidently selected by the ICR, is from a Bible college in Ohio. The committee is being managed not by Roy Steeves but by Jeanne Bird. Bird joined the PPED in the spring of 1989, as a staff consultant, and became one of the PPED's assistant directors a few months later. Henry Morris and the other ICR men, according to their own statements, expect that the committee will declare the ICRGS unworthy of approval, and that Honig will follow the committee's judgment. On 31 August, in an effort to win sympathy from the press and the public, the ICR men held a "news conference" to denounce Honig and to distribute a fiercely misleading account of their transactions with his Department. They achieved only modest success, however: Most news organizations apparently recognized that the ICR men's only "news" was their own desperation. The committee has not yet given its report to Honig. I recently asked the Department about the status of the committee's work, and I shall tell here what I learned. -- W.B., 14 December 1989 NEW ARRANGEMENTS On 20 November 1989, Jeanne Bird replaced Joseph Barankin as director of the PPED. Bird's title is "acting director"; she presumably will manage the PPED through the end of this year, when it will go out of business. (See sidebar.) According to the Department's public-relations officer, Susie Lange, Barankin now has a special assignment and works for Bill Honig's deputy superintendent for specialized programs, Shirley Thornton. As a part of that assignment, Lange says, Barankin is still handling the ICR case. Responsibility for the case, however, remains with Jeanne Bird in the PPED, even if Barankin no longer works there. WHAT'S TAKING SO LONG? Early on 4 December I telephoned Jeanne Bird to learn how the case was developing. She said that she had to go to a meeting and would return my call in the afternoon. The person who called me in the afternoon, however, was Gregory Roussere, the Department's lawyer who has overseen the ICR case and who accompanied the members of the new committee during their visit to the ICR. According to Roussere, each member of the committee had submitted, in August or in early September, an account of what he had observed during the visit. Jeanne Bird then had directed the synthesis of those accounts into a draft of the committee's report; and copies of the draft had been sent to all the members, in mid-November, so that they could offer comments and corrections that would be reflected in a new draft. Further drafts will be generated until all the members reach a consensus and sign a report that can be delivered to Honig. "We'd like to finish it as soon as we can," Roussere commented, "but as a reality, we probably won't have a final report until the first of the year." Why, I asked, has the writing of the report proceeded so slowly? The chief reason, Roussere said, is that the PPED has been preoccupied with preparations for implementing some new legislation that will take effect on 1 January 1990. That legislation governs the assessment and approval of vocational schools. TOPICAL STUFF The ICR men, meanwhile, have just distributed another batch of religious pamphlets, including the December issues of "Impact" and "Acts & Facts". "Impact" offers an end-of-the-world piece -- "Earthquakes in These Last Days" -- by Steven A. Austin, of the ICR's Geology Department. (For a note about one of Austin's earlier ventures in pseudoscience, see "A Truth Patrolman Tracks Prof. John," in "BASIS" for October.) Austin mentions the California earthquake of 17 October 1989, links some biblical passages to earthquakes, and then tells how recent earthquakes should be interpreted: Jesus Christ spoke of them as "signs" of His coming again to earth. He said, "There will be earthquakes in divers places" (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13: 8), a fact now verified by the global distribution of earthquakes recorded on seismographs. Furthermore, He said this sign is the "beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8). The word translated [as] "sorrows" in many English Bibles is the Greek [word] for "birth pangs." Just as we know that a woman is going to give birth to a child because of birth pangs, Jesus says we know that the intolerable anguish of God's judgment and the return of His Son is [sic] at hand. Austin concludes that "our basis for understanding earthquakes" should be this: They are divine devices for judgment, deliverance and communication. An unsigned article in the December "Acts & Facts" says that the California Republican Assembly (CRA) last October adopted a resolution supporting the ICR' s attempt to get approval from Bill Honig. According to the article, the resolution accused Honig of intending to deny the ICR men's academic and religious freedom; it also called for investigations of Honig's actions by the federal Civil Rights Commission and by the attorney general, among others. I have not yet been able to get the CRA's comment about the "Acts & Facts" piece. SIDEBAR: SB190 IS NOW LAW SB190 -- State Senator Becky Morgan's bill for reforming the regulation of unaccredited schools that operate in California -- was signed into law by Governor George Deukmejian on 1 October. The bill had been approved in the Senate (by a vote of 31 to 1) on 19 June. It then had been amended by the Assembly, which passed the amended version (by a vote of 70 to 5) on 13 September. Two days later, the Senate accepted the amended text (by a vote of 23 to 4); and on 20 September the bill went to the governor. Since 1977 the responsibility for regulating vocational schools and unaccredited, degree-granting organizations has resided, by statute, with the superintendent of public instruction -- the chief of the State Department of Education. Morgan's law will transfer that responsibility to the California Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education, a new agency that will come into existence on 1 January 1991 and will be devoted entirely to overseeing postsecondary schools. Concomitantly, the new law will abolish the Department of Education's Private Postsecondary Education Division (PPED) and the Council for Private Postsecondary Educational Institutions, an agency that was established in 1977 to advise the superintendent of public instruction. It will not, however, affect the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC), an advisory body that serves the governor and the legislature. A committee convened by CPEC will prepare, by 1 October 1990, a forecast of the new council's operating budget, including an estimate of any subsidy that the council may need, from the state's general fund, to supplement the fees that will be paid by regulated schools. The council will have authority to establish "minimum criteria" governing the operation of unaccredited, degree-granting schools and to grant or deny approval to such schools. No unaccredited school will be able to grant degrees, legally, unless it has won approval. The council will begin practical operation on 1 July 199l and will have 15 members: the superintendent of public instruction, the secretary of state, a representative of the California Student Aid Commission, six representatives of schools that fall under the council's jurisdiction, and six people from the general public. (The text of the law adds: "It is the intent of the Legislature that the members of the general public . . . have a strong interest in developing private postsecondary and vocational education, and include representation from businesses that employ persons in positions requiring academic, vocational, or technical education.") Any civil-service employee who may be working for the PPED on 31 December 1990 will become an employee of the new council; and any school that may be holding an approval under current law will have its approval extended "for a period not to exceed four years from the date of the institutions's last approval review." The new law offers a new opportunity and mechanism for policing unaccredited schools and for driving bogus outfits from the state, but it is not as potent a law as it might have been. One glaring weakness lies in the composition of the council: Two-fifths of the council's members will come from unaccredited schools -- that is, two-fifths of the regulators will be regulatees -- but none of its members need come from ACCREDITED ones. Hence there is no clear, mandated link between the council and the mainstream academic community, nor any clear, mandated safeguard against the council's turning into a mutual-certification club. The law's actual effect will depend on the integrity of the council's members and technical staff, their diligence in resisting attempts by diploma mills to vitiate the law, and the willingness of the legislature and the governor to support the council with money. If the council must depend entirely on license fees for its funds, and must see its own budget shrink when it refuses to approve or reapprove a school, then both the intent and the letter of the new law may be compromised. -- W.B.


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