Is the Creationist Purge Coming?

You’ve heard the hype: Mainstream colleges are fanatically biased against dissenting academics, especially conservative religious ones. The reality seems to be a little more complicated. News from a few mainstream schools seems to show that many institutions really do protect the academic freedom of conservative dissenters, but there seem to be fuzzy and inexact lines professors aren’t allowed to cross. Is creationism one of them?

If you asked George Yancey or Mary Poplin, you’d hear that mainstream higher education is blinded by “Christianophobia” or “secular privilege.” You’d think that conservative academics, especially religious ones, are common targets of institutional purges.

EPSON DSC picture

First they came for the communists…

Recent reporting from Inside Higher Ed, however, shows a more complicated picture. Virginia Tech is under pressure to fire a teaching assistant who has been accused of harboring white-supremacist feelings. Northwestern, meanwhile (my Evanston alma mater, that is, not the Minnesota fundamentalist redoubt), refuses to fire a professor for denying the Holocaust. In both cases, from what I can tell, the politically abhorrent ideas seem to have nothing to do with the accused academic’s teaching. In other words, neither of the teachers taught anyone white supremacy or Holocaust denial.

If they did, I bet the situation would be different. Consider, for example, the case of Crystal Dixon at the University of Toledo. Dixon argued publicly that discrimination against homosexuals might be acceptable. Toledo said such notions weren’t in line with Dixon’s job as a human-resources administrator. She was out.

As far as your humble editor can discern, the awkward and unclear rule of thumb seems to be that the right of professors, administrators, and students to harbor extremely unpopular ideas will be defended. Unless those ideas interfere with the written job description of the person involved. Or unless the person doesn’t have tenure protection. Or unless the idea is really really unpopular.

Where does that leave academic creationists?

I can see how the average non-creationist might think it would be a no-brainer. It might seem that protecting professors who disagree with central tenets of their own discipline would be absurd. How could a young-earth creationist teach a mainstream geology class? How could someone who disbelieves in “macroevolution” teach a mainstream biology class?

Yet in case after case, dissenting creationist scientists keep their jobs. Consider Eric Hedin at Ball State. He was granted tenure even after being accused of pushing creationism in the classroom. And what about Michael Behe at Lehigh? The prominent intelligent-design proponent has kept his job, even though his colleagues posted a disclaimer against Behe’s work on their website.

For what it’s worth, I think those strategies are correct. Purging professors for their opinions sets a terrible precedent. But I won’t be surprised if the alleged white-supremacist at Virginia Tech loses his job. For one thing, he doesn’t have tenure. For another, white supremacy is such a despised idea that I’d be hard pressed to imagine any administrators fighting too hard to defend it.

So here’s the ILYBYGTH prediction: The Virginia Tech TA will lose his job, in spite of the fact that he should seemingly enjoy the protection of academic freedom. And creationists will continue to wonder if their institutions are scheming to replace them. I don’t blame them. Ask Scott Nearing—all too often, academic freedom is only granted to those with whom we already agree.

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  1. You seem to be saying here that maximum toleration for aberrant, empirically falsified, and racist ideas is desirable — why? “We” should be tolerant (people who reject these ideas, who you assume are the dominant group?) so that “we” and others “we” agree with will be shown the same toleration, if it ever comes to that? If it does come to that, you won’t be treated to toleration by hateful imbeciles — that is a certainty. The idea that there is a “precedent” set by the decisions of employers is simply wrong. These are not court cases. There is no precedent. The employers are as free to terminate employees as their contacts allow. That is why the TA (probably a fire at-will contractor, not even an employee) will be removed.

    You also seem to be saying it’s OK to believe anything you want in academe as long as you don’t “teach” it, if it’s potentially offensive. How liberal-minded is that really?

    How is it even possible to be known as a white supremacist or holocaust denier and not be “teaching” it? Do you think as long as they don’t have courses directly about those subjects, these “opinions” are wholly contained? Once out of the closet, your continued presence in the classroom or on the quad, for whatever reason, is taken as endorsement and promotion.

    Dixon was not even teaching, she wrote an opinion articel for a local newspaper, and as an HR administrator, she did not have academic freedoms a tenured professor might have. She was bad for business, so out she went. Creationists and holocaust deniers who are bad for business and unprotected will be ejected too. TAs and adjuncts, for sure.

    The problem is the tenured or tenurable holders of aberrant, empirically falsified, and racist views. It impacts their department’s standing if they are tolerated, so they should not be.

    Scott Nearing was ousted and much later reinstated in kind of a token way. He lived his life as a radical outside of academe. This is the path radical and extreme minority opinion always has to take. The job of the establishment is to protect the establishment. Not to be so broadminded you never take your own side in an argument. You’re supposed to be a gatekeeper. Be one. Otherwise it appears you believe nothing, or you believe beliefs are so insignificant or relative they are as good as nothing. A lot of what you write in this vein honestly smacks of nihilism. Past the veneer of maximum tolerance there’s no apparent foundation in non-negotiable values.

  2. Questioning the official holocaust story is not by default “denial”. With a lack of forensic evidence and a paucity of documentary evidence, the world believes solely on the basis of “eye witnesses”, many of whom have been exposed as liars.

    Why the censorship last March of books that question the official story on Amazon and other online booksellers? If the story were true, why the hysteria over those who dare to question it?

    • Questioning arithmetic is not math denial; it’s simply stupid.

      The ovens and stacks of bones and bodies, the eyewitness testimony — all faked! You think you’re reasonable, but you’ve crossed into lunacy that most people in a healthy society can see. You have to come up with conspiracy theories to deny facts that are deep, prevalent, easily accessed, widely confirmed, and widespread. Stick with the Christian sex-is-not-scary advice blog Larry.

      • Thanks Dan. I hardly knew where to start in response to this excrement. Alex Jones is probably Larry’s sole source of information

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