My friend and biology professor at VCU got fired
THIS IS A SUMMARY:
The following is an account of my recent personal experience that includes some details omitted from the press reports:
Is there a creationist influence at Virginia Commonwealth University?
At least three faculty members who asked to remain anonymous have raised the issue with the administration. One faculty member was threatened that they would "never receive tenure at VCU" if they succeeded with a plan to teach a new 300 level undergraduate course in Evolution. Currently VCU only offers a 500 level course in evolution. The concerns of each faculty member were effectively dismissed by the administration. At least one student has complained to the administration about misleading information being taught in class. Another student, perhaps the same one, voiced a similar concern in an online forum: http://www.iidb.org/vbb/archive/index.php/t-113882.html
As a Bio 101 instructor I found the recently adopted text book "Essentials of Biology" objectionable due primarily to its lack of scientific information regarding the origins of life and and secondarily to a summary inclusion of an oblique and misleading reference to the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) as representative of an alternative "intelligent design theory". The ICR, in fact, represents strictly biblical creationism. Incidentally, the text also contains other right wing political bias, including references to abstinence as contraception. The textbook was also adopted by Oral Roberts University and several other lesser bible colleges. I was further alarmed when I discovered that textbook selection committee member Dr. Sharon Bullock is a member of the fanatical ICR: http://www.zoominfo.com/directory/Bullock_Sharon_96783926.htm
It is the express mission of the ICR to undermine science in favor of a literal interpretation of biblical scripture, "We believe God has raised up ICR to spearhead Biblical Christianity's defense against the godless and compromising dogma of evolutionary humanism". ( http://www.icr.org/ ). Since Dr. Bullock had been recently accused of undermining scientific content in her Biology 101 course and the text we adopted was arranged to avoid scientific discussion of life's origins, I felt that this combination of events represented a significant threat to the integrity of VCU's non-majors Biology 101 curriculum. I expressed my concerns to my fellow Bio 101 faculty and then ultimately to the chairman of the department, Dr. Leonard Smock.
I was shocked when both my mentor and then Dr. Smock scoffed at my concerns. I was told by other faculty colleagues who were sympathetic to my concern that, based on their personal experience with the creationist issue, the administration would do nothing. In fact Dr. Smock stated specifically that he would not act proactively when I tried to stress the urgency of this matter to him personally. I felt that a student complaint was likely to be stifled by apprehension, especially since the previous student complaint had apparently gone unheeded.
Furthermore, I surmised that the other Bio 101 faculty could no longer render objective judgement since everyone present at the textbook selection committee had agreed to accept inflated cash honorariums from the publisher in exchange for their considered review of this first edition text. The honorarium offered was touted by Jill Reid as being two to three times greater than the standard amount offered by other publishers of first edition texts. It is my perception that this monetary inducement contributed strongly to the Bio 101 faculty's decision to accept the "Essentials of Biology" textbook.
It became apparent that no one inside VCU was going to take this matter seriously. Creationism had become a taboo topic. I decided to take the issue to the press in order to provoke a much needed discussion.
A textbook case: Style Weekly magazine
Textbook sparks debate: Richmond Times Dispatch
This action cost me the renewal of my teaching contract despite a previous verbal agreement owing to my exhibition of "...unprofessional conduct which lacked collegiality" according to Dr. Smock, who relayed that statement on behalf of a closed faculty meeting concerning the controversy. The faculty then supported the adoption of the poorly constructed Bio 101 text despite its creationist leanings. Perhaps the faculty took these actions due to the influence of the Dean of Humanities and Sciences, Robert Holsworth. Dr. Holsworth reportedly suggested that to repudiate the text would somehow jeopardise NSF funding at VCU. Officially the faculty intimated that they did not observe any problem with the language, content, or lack thereof conveyed by the textbook "Essentials of Biology". Only one faculty member of the four who initially supported my observations had the courage to express dissent at this time.
VCU ditches professor who questioned text: Style Weekly
VCU Professor will not return: Richmond Times Dispatch
As a result VCU now has a clear mandate to be very careful about what is being taught, or in this case not taught, in its non-majors Biology classrooms. The faculty has finally had an opportunity to openly discuss Dr. Bullock's standing with the ICR. Dr. Bullock has had to re-evaluate her relationship with ICR. The publisher has told Dr. Smock that they would expunge any reference to the ICR in their current pressing of the textbook and "possibly" add Miller and Urey in the future. What effect this will have in the classroom remains to be seen but students, faculty and the public now know for certain that a creationist influence has been recognized at VCU. It is unfortunate that VCU has decided to take actions that suggest it is continuing to repress this concern, but it will be unlikely that the university can claim ignorance if the issue arises in the future. Therefore, VCU will be especially alert, as it should have been all along.
Although I lost my job, more progress was made in two weeks following this controversy than occurred in two years of the administration being aware of this problem.
Do I have any regrets? I wish I had put more effort into pressuring the university from within before I went to the press. However based on Dr. Holsworth's public statement that my concerns were "Absurd", I feel I would have gone to the press anyway.
And... I wish my jacket collar had been turned down in those photos!