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Ball State won't release review of divisive course

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 8:17 am

MUNCIE — Ball State University has refused to release a faculty review of a professor's honors course on the origins of the universe that an atheist organization says is actually an attempt to portray the Bible as science.

"We define student evaluations and other teaching evaluations, such as the review panel's report, as part of a personnel file. It is not our practice to release such materials. We have a consistent history of protecting the privacy of personnel records and do not believe that Dr. Hedin should be treated differently, "Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd said Tuesday.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage told The Star Press in an email that he believed the university had the right to deny open records requests for the review panel's report. But Ball State could release the report if it wanted to, he said.

"The law gives discretion to the university to determine whether the records should be disclosed in response to a request. There is a difference between confidential and discretionary," Hoage said in the email.

The review panel was formed after the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a formal objection with Ball State in March arguing that Eric Hedin's "Boundaries of Science" class violated separation of church and state by promoting religious belief at the public university.

The syllabus says the course explores arguments for "hidden wisdom within this reality" and to give students "food for thought."

The Foundation maintained that Hedin's class was really an attempt to "proselytize" students, and said some students had complained about his preaching in class.

The Discovery Institute, which also filed a public records request, argued that "academic freedom means nothing if it does not protect professors from all sides of the intellectual and ideological spectrum" and the case against Hedin is "based on falsehoods" because he does not teach creationism, but intelligent design, which is different.

Supporters of intelligent design say it is based on scientific evidence suggesting that the universe and evolution could not have developed by chance, while creationists teach that the Old Testament story that the world was created in seven days is literally true.

However, the Institute's website says the group's is "dedicated to the reinvigoration of traditional Western principles and institutions and the worldview from which they issued," as conceived by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Christians.

"There is no difference between those two," Freedom from Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel told The Associated Press Tuesday. "Intelligent design is just creationism rebranded."

"It's like teaching alchemy alongside chemistry," he said.

In 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania found that intelligent design and creationism are the same thing.

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Judge John Jones wrote in a lengthy opinion.

Teaching intelligent design in public schools sent a "strong message of religious endorsement," Jones said.

Earlier this month, Ball State stirred more contention for hiring astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who authored a book arguing that the conditions that produced life on Earth suggest an intelligent design.