Where’s the Discovery Institute when you need a defender of academic freedom?

| 17 Comments

So, after all the kvetching the Discovery Institute did over the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial case, why aren’t they rushing to the defense of one Steve Bitterman, a community college professor at Southwest Community College here in Iowa. The case is still developing, but what is known is that Bitterman was fired last week–apparently for teaching that Genesis isn’t literal. More over at Aetiology

17 Comments

I can relate. I wasn’t fired, but I felt I had to leave my old school where I was teaching high school biology. The director began teaching mandatory classes in Intelligent Design, and my presence was used as a justification, as now we were hearing “both sides”. Students would come into my classroom saying they didn’t know who to believe, me, or the director of the school. He was repeatedly undermining everything I taught, as he went from anti-evolution to ID to YEC, then on to how the sun is powered by gravitational collapse, and a theory in science is just a guess. While there were naturally regularly students and parents who were against the teaching of evolution, the default of the school was to support them, and the false science they wanted. I eventually felt that ethically, I couldn’t remain, as the school board never consulted me, and the ethos of the school was for Literal Creationism. Unfortunately, it was a private school overseas, funded by Republican Senators, so there was little that could be done to change their position. And when John West of the DI heard from another person about my situation, he refused to believe it- that anyone would have to leave their teaching position because the school was teaching something besides ID.

My only problem with what Tara says is that it is nowhere near strong enough.

First, there is no evidence that the professor actually mocked the students. That is apparently a characterization of the student. Perhaps the student felt offended and challenged by what might have been a strong tone by the professor. Professors shouldn’t have to go around tip toeing.

So, my view is that there should have been not even been a discrete talking to by the University administrators with the Professor. The only talking to should have been by the University administrator with the student in telling the student that at a college one is going to have their world view challenged.

Incidentally, the AAUP just recently released a statement opposing the “hostile learning environment” standard of harassment.

Obviously, this professor was not tenured (assuming this community college has a tenure process) and may not even have been tenure track. This just goes to show how little real academic freedom there is in practice unless and until someone is actually tenured.

I hope that we will get more of the facts of this story. Tenured or not, if this professor really was fired only for what he stated, he may have a good legal case. Then again, the college can always claim it was protecting the “learning environment”, that it did not fire him for his views but how they were expressed, or even that he did not have a right to interject an opinion on the curriculum.

Times are indeed very perilous for academic freedom and the courts have been chipping away at it steadily.

>So, after all the kvetching the Discovery Institute did over the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial case, why aren’t they rushing to the defense of one Steve Bitterman, a community college professor at Southwest Community College here in Iowa.

Because if you’d read the pages of comments, http://forums.dmregister.com/viewto[…].php?t=49736, you’d see the students complained not about his Biblical views, but about him repeatedly mocking and laughing at their responses to his questions about their personal beliefs - as he has allegedly done for years.

Are you trying to serve as a springboard for responsible reporting or merely an alarmist who damages the cases true infringements on religious freedom? Believe me, we need all the help we can get without alienating our base on behalf of irresponsible professors waxing controversial.

“more you know,” I don’t see that in the comments there–can you link the specific one? If you’d have gone over to Aetiology to read the rest, you’ll note that I added today’s story in the Register which mentioned some potentially rude comments Bitterman made, and I qualified everything noting that we don’t have the whole story yet. Nevertheless, I can’t think of any cases where a professor was dismissed so quickly and in this manner (over the phone, no chance to even explain, etc.)

The more you know:

I went and read the “pages” of comments. All two of them. I didn’t actually see any comments about professor Bitterman “…repeatedly mocking and laughing at their responses…”. A link to support that contention would be nice, as the link you provided doesn’t seem to do that.

You ended that statement with “as he has allegedly done for years.” Where did you see that? Again, some supporting evidence would be helpful.

If you’re going to take someone to task to be a “springboard for responsible reporting” you could at least try to be a little more responsible yourself.

Professor Bitterman was fired because he challenged someone’s religious belief and they got all upset about it. Tara’s original point still stands. After raising a great deal of fuss over the denial of tenure to Gonzalez (for legitimate, non-religious reasons) as being about freedom of belief, the DI will almost certainly not even squeak about some atheist losing his job for clearly religiously motivated reasons.

. After raising a great deal of fuss over the denial of tenure to Gonzalez (for legitimate, non-religious reasons) as being about freedom of belief, the DI will almost certainly not even squeak about some atheist losing his job for clearly religiously motivated reasons.

nor do they even seem to care when a devout xian loses his job because they speak up for teaching good science:

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/ne[…]_17_2007.asp

The local Daily Journal (September 13, 2007) adds that although Colling and the university administration are trying to reconcile, Colling “is still stinging because, he says, the book was a true and honest expression of faith; and one he felt led by God to write. Moreover, he says there is room with the college’s mission and policies for such an alternative view – and that no real case has been made to date that his views are inconsistent with those or the teachings of the Church of the Nazarene.”

From the link above, ichthyic. Richard Colling has been under the gun for years at Olivet for…teaching evolution in a college level biology class. Looks like he is still there but just barely.

Whatever happens, he is getting off lightly by historical standards. Giordano Bruno was torched at the stake in part for maintaining that the earth orbits the sun, and Galileo was almost torched also. Since then, they have become famous while the Catholic church just looked silly. And the earth orbits the sun.

I’ve said for a while that the fundie version of Xianity will ultimately do the religion some serious damage. Who wants to identify with a religion that engages in witch hunts in the 21st century and teaches voluntary ignorance and lies about the real world as important theological concepts?

I think, for this media cycle, they’re in a twitter over the persecution of the poor Iranian homosexuals under the jack-booted Iranian bad-guys (and Texas Republicans, btw) and don’t have time to worry about this poor, victimized professor as they beat the drum for a new “war of liberation” or whatever they’ll call it this time. I guess they’ll just have to wait until the next media cycle begins and they can jump back onto the “academic freedom” bandwagon.

Has Ben Stein rushed a film crew out to Southwest Community College yet? He hasn’t?? But, I don’t understand…

Because if you’d read the pages of comments, http://forums.dmregister.com/viewto[…].php?t=49736…, you’d see the students complained not about his Biblical views, but about him repeatedly mocking and laughing at their responses to his questions about their personal beliefs - as he has allegedly done for years.

The class is only weeks old. How could he have mocked and laughed at them for years?

From what I can gather, Bitterman was mildly acerbic. It’s not an unknown trait in 60 year old college professors, it’s not a firing offense, and it can be quite pedagogically effective. It’s clear from reading the comments of the students that what they objected to was primarily the content of what he said, and not the tone.

This is an all-too-common scenario; whining from a group of adolescents whose fondest preconceptions had been challenged, combined with an (at best) spineless and possibly also religiously motivated administration.

Has Ben Stein rushed a film crew out to Southwest Community College yet?

Don’t be silly. Ben Stein et al. are working on their next movie. It is called HERETICS!!! BLASHEMY!!! Where are those stakes and piles of firewood?

What is the point of creating a new Dark Age unless you can burn a few heretics and witches every once in a while. Might just as well live in the 21st century otherwise.

People may find the AAUP’s most recent statement on freedom in the classroom to be of interest to this case.

http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/comm/rep/A/class.htm

I still don’t see how he could have been summarily fired unless he was an adjunct or this is one of those weird community colleges that don’t grant tenure.

I still don’t see how he could have been summarily fired unless he was an adjunct or this is one of those weird community colleges that don’t grant tenure.

Chip: it’s alternative 1, I’m afraid, although some community colleges are effectively eliminating tenured/tenure track status by heavily relying on adjuncts.

My advice to anyone considering adjunct teaching at a community college: consider a service job at your local fast food outlet as an alternative; renumeratively, it’s about as good, the stress is lower, and the job satisfaction considerably higher.

Cross posted from Tara’s board. We don’t know the full facts but apparently there was a heated argument between Bitterman and some of his students in class over literally interpreting genesis. Big deal, Southwestern would have fired the Pope for the same thing.

“What is wrong with a heated debate in a humanities class? This is college for Cthulhu’s sake!

At least the students are listening and not bored. If you just want passive sponges, go to Walmart and buy a pack.

One of the purposes of college is to get people to think rationally and critically.

Unless Bitterman has a history of over the top obnoxious behavior, he is probably in the clear. We don’t know what happened except for bits and pieces.

The first thing the college should have done is interview all the students in the class and watch the videotape if there was one. And maybe even interview and review his previous classes wherever they may have been. It could well be that there was a small coterie of late adolescents who for the first time in their life heard something different from their fundie upbringing and panicked or went ballistic. For all we know, the rest of the students thought it was great entertainment and the cultists were being weird and provincial.

As one of the posters above noted, there seems to have been zero due process in investigating and adjudicating Bittermans case. Chances are the dean or VP was a fundie death cultist and took the opportunity to smack down a heathen infidel devil worshipper atheist. Religious discrimination anyone?

IMO, Bitterman needs to file a lawsuit and get the facts presented in court under oath and subpoena the paper trail, assuming there is one. He probably won’t get his job back but if the facts are anywhere near what they appear to be, the school would be well advised to settle quickly and out of court. Time is not on their side and most likely the facts are not either.”

I got curious about SWCC, given Chip’s and Gerald’s comments about adjuncts vs tenure. I went to SWCC’s main website and to RateMyProfessor’s websites and got the following info:

RMP lists 29 profs at SWCC. Steve Bitterman isn’t listed in RMP. I know that isn’t a comprehensive list, but in comparison, Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL, where I work, has 821 profs listed in RMP. We have over 50% tenured or tenure track faculty, large by community college standards.

I couldn’t find out how many students attend SWCC, but again, for comparison, at SFCC we now have around 14,000.

SWCC’s website shows 47 full time faculty (if I counted correctly). There are 6 science faculty and 3 math faculty. Of the science faculty, 3 are bio, 1 is physics, one is chemistry, and one doesn’t have a specialty listed.

In the course listings, there are 6 bio classes that list evolution as one of the topics covered. I noticed that no geology or astronomy classes are listed in their course catalogue.

I’m not sure how to intrepret all this, but it suggests to me that SWCC is a very small community college. If he was fired without justification by creationist (or cowardly) administrators, it’s probably easier in that environment than in a larger college or university. As others have said, though, the full story still needs to come out.

WATS UP DOGGS THIS SITE IS SO DAMN gangsta i love u all !!!!!!!!

WATS UP DOGGS THIS SITE IS SO DAMN gangsta i love u all !!!!!!!!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on September 25, 2007 3:03 PM.

Dinosaurs, Birds, Feathers, and Conodonts (Oh, My!) was the previous entry in this blog.

Scientific Vacuity of ID: Evolution hypothesis requires that the genome be a “multiple independent collection of selectable genes” is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter