What the Hell is Happening at Ball State?

For those readers who don’t live in Indiana, Ball State University is one of the state’s public universities–and lately, the source of some disquieting events.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I only know what I read in the media, and I do understand how easy it is to get a distorted picture from what the media chooses to highlight. Still, there are some very troubling signs coming from Muncie, Indiana.

First, there was the Professor who reportedly championed creationism in a science class.  The course itself was unobjectionable, once you got beyond the incredibly turgid description; “a seminar investigating physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.” However, there were reports that the instructor was actively proselytizing and endorsing a Christian viewpoint rather than discussing scientific inquiries. Since Ball State is a public university, such endorsement–if verified– would violate the Establishment Clause.

The controversy made the news again when the professor was awarded tenure.

Eric Hedin, the associate professor of astronomy and physics at Ball State University who was investigated in 2014 for allegedly teaching intelligent design, has earned tenure. That’s despite claims that he was proselytizing in a science class and the university’s strong affirmation of the scientific consensus around evolution in light of the allegations.

Despite the concerns–and negative publicity– raised by the allegations, the university subsequently hired Guillermo Gonzalez,  who had written a book in support of intelligent design, to teach astronomy and physics classes.

Intelligent design is religious doctrine; it is not science. Hiring two advocates of a doctrine overwhelmingly rejected by science to teach science is, at best, worrisome.

Then in January of this year, the Muncie Star-Press announced the sudden resignation of the University’s President.

 Ball State University’s board of trustees accepted the mysterious, sudden and unexpected resignation of President Paul Ferguson during a special meeting at the university’s Indianapolis Center on Monday.

The suddenness of the resignation–and the Board’s unwillingness to offer any explanation for it–generated a number of damaging rumors, including rumors of University financial problems. To date–unless Google and I missed it–there has still been no explanation.

Now, we have news of a major grant to the University by the Koch Brothers and Papa John Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza notoriety.  In March, they donated $3.25 million to Ball State to create the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise.

A student group concerned that the grant will purchase influence over curriculum and the Presidential search issued the following statement:

We have reason to believe this will lead to the appointment of a Koch-connected official, as the situation at our university is frighteningly similar to what happened at FSU (Florida State University) where there was an open (presidential) search the same time they were setting up a Koch institute in their department of economics.

The students charge that the Kochs spend millions promoting discredited anti-environmental positions under the aegis of a free-market agenda in order to protect their vast interests in fossil fuels.

George Mason University, Florida State University, Troy University, all of these have been infiltrated by the Kochs. George Mason is now the number one climate-denying institution.

I work at a university, and I know how attractive big grants can be, even when there is no fiscal crisis. Most grants come with no strings attached, and support important research–my own university, like many others, has policies against taking funds unless the accompanying documentation protects academic independence. The stories from Ball State thus far, however, do not describe any conditions that Ball State has attached to its acceptance of the grant.

One would hope that establishment of an Institute on free enterprise would not operate to distort or even affect the teaching of science, including climate science, on the same campus.

Of course, a science department willing to hire creationists may be willing to “adjust”…..


  1. I am astonished at how often people choose to conflate creationism with intelligent design. Creationism is based primarily on the Bible, whereas intelligent design is science because it is takes empirical observation of the states of nature in both the non-living and living realms. From there deductions are made to the best theory of origin. One does not have to be a Christian or adhere to any religion in order to scribe to intelligent design.

  2. Darrell–intelligent design is creationism pretending to be science. Empirical observations on population, structural and molecular levels all favor evolution as the mechanism of diversity. As for the deductions made by ID proponents, all have been refuted.

  3. Hi Karen,

    If you’re being so clear, why is it that 48 hours later people are still asking exactly what you’re getting at? I see repeated defenses by you here, but not much clarity or actual information. THAT is what people concerned with this situation want- both in this comment thread, and in the larger discussion at hand.

    In terms of your response about excluding “conservative” viewpoints, where did you glean that from my post? My concern is the continued secrecy and the masking of the real issues at hand. I didn’t mention a word about political motivations of the various parties involved here. It appears you are conflating my comments with those of some other posters in your response to me.

    I certainly disagree with the personal barbs being directed at you (by a few) because of the nature of your academic position. I am a two-time SoM graduate and feel it’s very important to have representatives from the arts & humanities involved in university leadership. I don’t agree with the tenor of these particular comments at all.

    I work in Muncie two days a week. In light of your willingness to engage on these issues, I’m going to reach out and see if you’d like to meet in person. I am certain there is a level of nuance here that would be better addressed if we take this conversation offline. I get the sense a lot is being lost in translation here. I’ll follow up via email.


  4. Chris; my grandson starts his senior year at BSU in about three weeks, I had him read Sheila’s post. He was, of course, aware of the resignation of the president with no reason given and hopes there will be answers after the start of this school year. He is also upset about the “shady” situations referred to. Does’t give students a feeling of security or trust regarding their educators for an education they will be indebted for for many years in their future.

  5. I am retired from a SC university that has taken Koch money in the economics program within the School of Business. It has many strings attached to it.

    The Speaker Series is one way the Kochs brainwash the students. Professors get grant money to publish papers that would make Ayn Rand proud. It’s disgusting and disturbing to see this development at my alma mater.

  6. How can intelligent design be called religious? I accept that some creationist subscribers have highlighted ID as a ‘You see?’ example, but ID is based on scientific evidence and is supported by a growing number of secular (i.e. non-religious) scientific entities.

    I suggest that the ardent evolutionist might be seriously worried about the implications of intelligent design. It is therefore easier (and somewhat lazy) to attempt to discredit ID with anti-creationist arguments.

  7. Tim T
    The judges decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is one of the few that I have read completely. I found it to be a devastating indictment of Intelligent Design. I have read so-called ID scientific arguments and seen one or two papers. As a scientist trained by some of the leading scientists in America, I was unimpressed. The legitimacy of ID as science seems to exist solely in the view of those who already accept it as legitimate. My read of the ID argument is “wow, this is too complex for me – there must be a creator”. Sorry, but better minds usually find a better explanation. When a scientist things something is “too complex”, they move on to something they thing is resolvable in their lifetime — also more fundable to be honest.

    For my doctorate, I had to create two proposals for research projects, one real and one for fun. After presenting my “fun” proposal, one of the professors asked the last question: How long do you think this will take you to finish. After thinking about it, I said 20-30 years. That was complex. Needless to say, my other proposal was the basis of my dissertation, and being “less complex”, was finished in a couple of years.

  8. Hello there. My name is Morgan Aprill and I am the secretary of the student group, Progressive Student Alliance, brought up in this article which is questioning the Koch/Schnatter contract. We have had the information up on our Facebook page and distributed handouts on our specific issues with the contract since May. Seeing that this message has not gotten out though, we responded to Sheila’s article on our official page with links to the full contract and the original handout.

    Please look at our information posted here: https://www.facebook.com/PSABallState/posts/1643301782654430

    We post regularly about the Koch brothers’ attack on public education and promotion of cherrypicked science on our Facebook page as well as our Twitter which is PSA_BallState.

    Please contact us through these outlets or at our email, progressive.student.alliance.bsu@gmail.com, if you have any more questions or concerns or would like to help us out in our fight to maintain the intellectual integrity of the university.

  9. I realize this is an opinion blog, but as a trained journalist I find the following unsubstantiated drivel.” However, there were reports that the instructor was actively proselytizing and endorsing a Christian viewpoint rather than discussing scientific inquiries. Since Ball State is a public university, such endorsement–if verified– would violate the Establishment Clause.” What reports? Anti-Christian zealots? Aliens? The Establishment Clause says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” People conveniently leave out the latter part of this amendment. I’m no fan of a lot of what passes for Christianity today, but I am also not a fan of fascism in the guise of progressivism. I worked at Ball State. Anecdotally, I heard this professor had a lot of support from his colleagues, but they had to keep it under wraps for fear of reprisal. There’s a hell of a lot going on at Ball State, good and bad, and I agree with some of the fears presented here, but as a university teacher I fear unsubstantiated slaps at academic freedom.

  10. Mr. Timothy Fowler,

    While I won’t take issue with your journalistic critique, as an attorney I can assure you Sheila is correct on the current status of Establishment clause jurisprudence. In your private life, you can say and do what you will; as a representative of the State of Indiana (which professors of public universities are), espousing a religious doctrine in a science class (which is what ID has been found to be) is very likely to get one’s school in trouble.

  11. Len,
    For someone who holds a doctorate, you should be used to reviewing your writings before submission to avoid grammar and spelling errors.

  12. ID may not be religion, but it certainly isn’t science.
    Any scientist who accepts ID should have to go back to school.

  13. Now hang on a second. Let’s apply a little critical thinking here. The root subject here is science and all possibilities must be considered in real science. In this case intelligent design as a possibility must be included. Standing back and trying to view this and other issues it seems that many “progressive/liberal” thinkers pronounce that science is settled before all sides are heard from. True scientific questioning is never settled by a vote. Take global warming/climate change for example. There can be no consensus to determine whether or not a theory like climate change is true or not. Facts are required in science and absent that, it really doesn’t matter if 9,999 “think it is occurring” and 1 does not. Again facts are required in science, yet over 10 years ago non-scientists like VP Al Gore decided that the subject was closed and to him and other “scientists” the matter was settled science. This in spite of the East Anglia email scandal that showed manipulation of data (Google it). One can’t just decide if they are on one team or the other. Use your brains students. Learn when your thinking is being held back. At least wonder why the term global warming (something that can be measured) by the term “climate change” (which can not be measured). Maybe ol’ “mother nature” was not cooperating on the thermometer and spoiling “settled science”. So how much has the globe warmed? No one knows yet billions of dollars are being wasted that could be used on medical research or feeding the starving masses.

    Think, kids. College is supposed to be the place where all opinions should be considered. Don’t be bullied. Do your own research on important issues no matter that you are being told to just accept other people’s truths.

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