The Edmond Sun


February 15, 2006

Legislature threatens academic freedom

On Monday the Oklahoma House of Representatives Common Education Committee took direct aim at the integrity of science education in Oklahoma’s public schools, and thereby threatened the economic prosperity that Oklahoma so desperately needs.

Economic prosperity depends more than ever before on an educated workforce. Oklahoma seeks to develop industries built around medicine and today that means a substantial investment in research and development at the cellular and molecular level. Genetics is “where it’s at” in modern medicine, and genetics is a theoretical science.

The Common Education Committee attacked Oklahoma’s chances for developing an infrastructure and workforce in such areas through passing a cleverly named bill out of committee, a bill designed to inflict harm to science education in Oklahoma. The bill passed out of committee by a 8-5 vote, with seven Republicans and a Democrat voting for it, and five Democrats voting against it. House Bill 2107 was introduced by Republican Rep. Sally Kern; it is misleadingly titled The Academic Freedom Act. This bill is one of a spate of both House and Senate Bills intended to promote religion as an alternative to science in the public schools around the state. It sounds innocent enough to anyone not initiated to the ploys used by creationists to get their pseudoscience taught.

What the bill would provide if enacted would be for public school science teachers who teach that intelligent design and other creationists claims are legitimate science would be allowed to do so within the Oklahoma science curricula at all levels, without any disciplinary action or threat of loss of job. Thus, it purports to protect teachers who present what they claim to be a scientific alternative to evolution.

Academic freedom is a cherished, indeed essential, feature of schools, colleges and universities as workplaces. It is so important that colleges and universities award professors extraordinary job protection compared to what exists in other lines of work in order to make sure that faculty members are able, without threat of job loss, to investigate and teach freely. An important accompaniment of academic freedom, which is simply the freedom to investigate and teach, but is not the freedom to misrepresent, is academic responsibility. Academic responsibility is so important in the college and university that faculty colleagues and administrators wait six years, during which they subject junior faculty members to intense scrutiny and review, before awarding tenure. Tenure, contrary to popular belief, is not a guarantee of a job for life, but simply means that dismissal requires demonstrable cause.

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If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
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