Universities Ban Discussion of Creation by Speakers, Students
by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.
Much is in the news lately about the University of California at Berkeley, where riots have prevented planned guest speakers from appearing.[i] The university claimed in an email about their decision to cancel a talk by Ann Coulter that they uphold the First Amendment, but canceled her talk out of “safety concerns”. As evidence, they referred to the recent riots at colleges over conservative speakers, such as a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos that was canceled in February. Coulter is a strong supporter of creation as documented in her book, Godless. [ii]
In another case, when Ben Shapiro was scheduled to speak at several colleges, demonstrations rose up to stop him. Benjamin Aaron Shapiro (born January 15, 1984) comes from a Jewish family, partially from Russia. He is a conservative Republican, and a creationist.[iii] And yet the absurd reason they gave for preventing him from speaking is the claim that “Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro Is A ‘White Supremacist’” and a “Fascist”. It’s becoming increasingly common for protestors to use ad hominem tactics to block a variety of guests from speaking at college campuses, especially creationists. [iv]
To stop the censorship, an Academic Freedom bill of Rights has been proposed in various American states and in several other countries, in order to rectify the loss of freedom in many colleges and universities. Most young people today look forward to attending college. Few, though, are aware of the trends at universities that have resulted from the “political correctness” movement. Since I have been a professor at various colleges and universities for over forty years now, I am very attuned to issues related to censorship in the academic environment.
Abridgement of speech—as part of the political correctness movement—is now epidemic at universities. Historical attempts by universities to block the freedom of speech of professors have been well documented, but never before have they been so blatant as recently. Colleges have even established what are called “free speech zones,” and only in these places is freedom of speech allowed!
A classic example, becoming all too typical, was the case of University of New Hampshire sophomore Timothy Garneau. On September 3, 2000, 17 years ago, Garneau posted flyers in the elevator of Stoke Hall Dormitory making light of common frustrations that students experience in riding elevators. The elevators tend to be overcrowded because, instead of taking the stairs, many students take the elevator to go up only one or two floors.
In a hastily produced flyer, corrected here for grammar, he said, “nine out of ten freshmen girls gain ten to fifteen pounds. But there is something you can do about it. If you live below the sixth floor, take the stairs. Not only will you feel better, but you will also be saving time and will look better.” This comment was deemed by some to be both “sexist” and “discriminatory” toward obese people (one of the latest of many “victim” groups in our society that the government has ruled deserving of special rights.)
Garneau was confronted about his message. He become fearful that he would be punished for his expression of free speech. His fear turned out to be valid. At first, he tried to deny his involvement, but was eventually forced to admit his “mistake” of having expressed a politically incorrect opinion. Charged with violation of “affirmative action” policies, harassment, and “conduct which (sic) is disorderly and lewd,” Garneau was expelled from student housing, given extended disciplinary probation, required to meet with a psychologist to discuss “his problem,” write a three-thousand-word reflection paper, and to publish an apology in the newspaper. Forced out of student housing, he was then compelled to live in his 1994 Ford Contour for three weeks.
Garneau appealed his punishment within the university, but lost. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took his case, claiming that the university violated his constitutionally protected free speech rights. FIRE attorneys argued that the university had no business investigating constitutionally protected free speech in the first place. Thanks to FIRE and their aggressive stand against the university (and FIRE’s long record for winning scores of similar cases when universities attempt to deny free speech as they often do nowadays), Garneau was eventually allowed to move back into a dormitory – but a different one, because it was deemed that someone so insensitive to the “rights of minorities” must be relocated.
Ironically, many universities tend to ignore behavior that many of us common folk regard as inappropriate—such as foul language or sexual immorality, and focus instead on what most people regard as trivial. My guess is, after this experience, Mr. Garneau will be afraid to say almost anything to anybody around the university.
The problem is so great that the President of the Study of Popular Culture, David Horowitz, has drafted a bill titled “Academic Bill of Rights” to defend the basic constitutional rights of students and faculty. While not a perfect bill, it will go a long way to ensure that the freedom most Americans take for granted in our daily life will also exist in our colleges. Unfortunately, since this 17-year-old case, things have only gotten worse, much worse, in America today.
Dr. Jim Nelson Black, in his 2012 book Freefall of the American University: How Our Colleges are Corrupting the Minds and Morals of the Next Generation, says that a major problem now is that “faculty members take great pains to exclude not just conservative ideas but also religion” from the college environment.[v] The substance of his concern is that students are not allowed to “articulate a point of view that might be considered by another party as exclusivist.” Black argues that the liberal view concludes that “we have no grounds for determining what is true; therefore, any claim to truth must be discounted and disavowed. This means, of course, that religious beliefs which rely on revelation and absolute standards of truth, have no home in the academy.”
Expressing hesitation about Darwin is considered irretrievable intellectual suicide, the unthinkable doubt, the unpardonable sin of academia. —Richard Halvorsen
In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Richard Halvorson expressed the same concern, namely that “bias against conservative religious beliefs on campus, and particularly the bias against any view that does not support the reigning Darwinian orthodoxy” is a major problem.[vi] In his critique, Halvorson said, “intellectual honesty requires rationally examining our fundamental premises—yet expressing hesitation about Darwin is considered irretrievable intellectual suicide, the unthinkable doubt, the unpardonable sin of academia.”[vii]
He went on to conclude that, “Although the postmodern era questions everything else—the possibility of knowledge, basic morality, and reality itself—critical discussion of Darwin is taboo … the basic premise of evolution remains a scientific Holy of Holies, despite our absurd skepticism in other areas.” The university, which has made a fetish of skewering sacred cows, is now in the position of giving what Black calls “an unproven theory of origins by uncertain nineteenth-century students of natural history the status of Holy Writ. The modern university has no religion but Darwinism.” Halvorson concluded that, “We must reject intellectual excommunication as a valid form of dealing with criticism: the most important question for any society to ask is the one that is forbidden.” That’s exactly what liberals used to believe 50 years ago.
In a study done before the 2016 elections, five people were interviewed. One,
Kaylee, a structural biologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, stays quiet when her colleagues talk about politics and religion. As a Catholic with conservative tendencies, she feels that her beliefs are unwelcome in academic institutions, where liberal views often prevail. The strain is particularly acute this year: Kaylee favors Donald Trump for US president.[viii]
The problem Kaylee feared (with good reason, it turns out) is that “supporting Trump could harm her job prospects.” For this reason, Kaylee—a postdoc—asked Nature to refer to her by a pseudonym. Her fears do not surprise Colby College (Waterville, Maine) sociologist Neil Gross, because surveys have documented
that conservative faculty members are a minority in US universities, although the proportion varies by field. “My sense is that the candidacy of Donald Trump has really intensified disputes that were there already in academic life,” Gross says. “If Republicans in academia and science felt uncomfortable before, I think the candidacy of Mr. Trump has made them all the more uncomfortable.”[ix]
Another scientist agrees. “‘The current status quo seems like it’s not working for a lot of Americans,’ says one Trump-supporting chemist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who asked for anonymity. ‘I’m hopeful for a modest improvement, and that’s about as much as I can hope.’”[x] In short, as the November 8th, 2016 election drew near, some “scientists who support Trump worry that political discussions in the lab will not only harm their careers in the long term, but also hinder current collaborations with colleagues, and waste time.”[xi]
The basic premise of evolution remains a scientific Holy of Holies, despite our absurd skepticism in other areas…. The modern university has no religion but Darwinism. —Halvorsen
[i] Holly Epstein Ojalvo. Do controversial figures have a right to speak at public universities? 2017. USA Today College Edition.
[iii] Behold the mental gymnastics: Ben Shapiro On the Creation Story Vs The Big Bang Theory. Reddit.com https://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/54ffzh/behold_the_mental_gymnastics_ben_shapiro_on_the/
[iv]Berkeley Agitators Say Orthodox Jew Ben Shapiro Is A ‘White Supremacist’. The Daily Caller, 9/10/17. http://dailycaller.com/2017/09/10/berkeley-agitators-say-orthodox-jew-ben-shapiro-is-a-white-supremacist/
[v] Dr. Jim Nelson Black, Freefall of the American University: How Our Colleges are Corrupting the Minds and Morals of the Next Generation (2012), p. 230.
[vi] Halvorson, Richard. 2003. “Confessions of a Skeptic.” The Harvard Crimson, April 7, 2003, p. 4.
[vii] Halvorson, p. 4.
[viii] Sara Reardon. 2016. The scientists who support Donald Trump Science policy fades into background for many who back Republican candidate in US presidential race. Nature. 298(538):298-299, 2016, p. 298.
[ix] Reardon, 2016, p. 298
[x] Reardon, 2016, p. 299.
[xi] Reardon, 2016, p. 299.
Dr Jerry Bergman, professor, author and speaker, is a frequent contributor to Creation-Evolution Headlines. See his Author Profile for his CV and previous articles.