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“Baylor Forces Professor to Shut Down Site”

Here’s the Syracuse University student paper weighing in on the Baylor Academic Freedom Crisis — one wonders when the Baylor student paper, The Lariat, is going to have something to say about this.

Baylor forces professor to shut down site
By: Nicole Loring | Posted: 9/10/07
Source: The Daily Orange (Syracuse University Student Paper)

Just before the 2007-2008 academic year began, Baylor University shut down a personal Web site, dedicated to the theory of intelligent design, of distinguished professor Robert J. Marks II.

A Baptist university in Texas, Baylor is now entrenched in a legal battle with the electrical and chemical engineering professor, who claims his academic freedom was violated when his Web site was shut down without his knowledge.

The site in question, Evolutionary Informatics, cites its mission as “investigating how information makes evolution possible.” The site featured links to Marks’ personal publications and presentations on intelligent design.

Attorney John Gilmore, who is representing Marks, said it all began when the professor gave a podcast interview with the Discovery Institute, a renowned pro-intelligent design organization that often attracts attention for its stance on evolution.

“As a result of this interview, people called and complained. A week later, it was removed,” Gilmore said of the Web site.

Intelligent design is a controversial theory of evolution. Answers.com defines the belief as “the assertion or belief that physical and biological systems observed in the universe result from purposeful design by an intelligent being rather than from chance or undirected natural processes.”

Marks and Gilmore met with the Baylor administration on Aug. 9 to discuss the removal of the Web site.

“The agreement made at this meeting was that if we added a disclaimer, we could put it back up,” Gilmore said. The disclaimer was going to state that the site is unaffiliated with Baylor.

However, Gilmore said soon after the meeting, the administration changed its stance.

“After we had reached an agreement, there were requests, requirements and demands made that were never made in the meeting,” Gilmore said. The administration “wanted to control the content on the Web site.”

Gilmore theorized that there was continued pressure on the Baylor administration from outside sources who wanted the Web site closed down due to its controversial content.

“I think somebody didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Gilmore said.

Lori Scott Fogleman, director of media relations at Baylor, said the decision to close the Web site was based on procedure.

“It’s not about the content of the Web site. The issue here is related to process. Baylor has policies and procedures, like all universities, about how one goes about establishing a Web site, and about how one can use the university’s name in affiliation,” she said. “We jealously protect the university’s name.”

Gilmore disagrees.

“All of these requests and demands being made after the meeting. … We are forced to conclude that this is about the content on the Web site, not about a disclaimer.” Gilmore said. “(Marks) wasn’t teaching this in class. This is his own personal Web site. It was singled out because of its content.”

“What has happened to professor Marks is censorship pure and simple,” said Cary Luskin, of the Discovery Institute, in a news release published by the organization on Sept. 6. “Baylor University has proven yet again that academic freedom has been thrown off campus and academic persecution is now the norm.”

Baylor has had a history of trouble surrounding the idea of intelligent design. In April 2006, Baylor’s student-run newspaper, The Lariat, ran a story about the controversy surrounding the denial of tenure to Francis Beckwith, and whether the decision was based on Beckwith’s association with the Discovery Institute.

Six years earlier, The Lariat reported on the Faculty Senate’s request for the Baylor administration to shut down the new Michael Polanyi Center, labeling the studies conducted by Director William Dembski and Assistant Director Bruce Gordon as “creationist.”

Dembski was released from his duties a few months later. Dembski and Beckwith both declined interviews, and Gordon could not be reached.

The professor currently embattled with the university, Marks, is a tenured professor and recently won $140,000 in grant money, the second-highest grant ever received in Baylor’s physics department, Gilmore said.

When asked what the legal issues were surrounding this case, Gilmore named three: The right for a university to ask a professor to add a disclaimer to a Web site, viewpoint discrimination and the right to academic freedom.

On the issue of academic freedom, Gilmore said, “If universities don’t allow for civilized debate, they should just close their door.”

In his news release, Discovery Institute’s Luskin agreed.

“It is simply unconscionable that a major university would so trample a scientist’s right to freedom of scientific inquiry,” the release read.

Director of media relations Fogleman continually insisted that the issue involving Marks’s Web site had nothing to do with Baylor’s past controversies. Yet, at one point she contradicted her former statements.

“This is an issue about process. It’s an ongoing discussion right now. This is simply about the content of the Web site,” Fogleman said.

“Baylor has outbreaks of religious controversies from time to time,” Gilmore said. “The school might say that this issue is a legal one, that (Marks) refused to obey their rules. This is simply not true. Sometimes cases like this come up where A is really the problem, but you’re using B as the subterfuge. This is about the content of the Web site.”

Gilmore said the Web site is now on a different server, and Marks will continue his work.

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13 Responses to “Baylor Forces Professor to Shut Down Site”

  1. Universities do this kind of thing because they are afraid of losing grant money. Who holds the purse strings here? BTW what is the new address for the web site?

  2. The good news is this — Marks is going to continue his work ( so says the last sentence of the article ).

  3. Two things:

    First, it remains the case that few people at Baylor actually know about what is going on re: Marks. (This would undoubtedly change were the campus newspaper to write something.)

    Second, some have commented on other threads, proclaiming their decision “to never send their children to Baylor” based on this episode (or indeed, several episodes) of intolerance toward ID. This displays a simpe lack of a sense of proportion. Sure, the antagonism of some Baylor constituencies against ID is repulsive, but these constituencies represent only a very small minority at Baylor–albeit simultaneously a very powerful minority. For those who don’t know, Baylor has been having a culture war over the past decade or so, and there are still some alumni, donors, and faculty who simply have it out for anything that might make Baylor look like the Christian institution it was founded to be. These constituencies remain powerful in various departments, but their control is gradually fading–much to their discontent. Suffice it to say that they are concerned to maintain their control through almost any means available. To sum up, it is wrong to make a negative judgment on a whole institution as sprawling as Baylor based on this one series of episodes related to ID.

  4. Bill, I’m kind of surprised that you declined an interview, considering how much you’ve had to say on this issue here at UD.

  5. country6925: I can only do so much.

  6. The Fork: I agree that Baylor is a mixed bag with some very good and some very bad elements. How it’s all going to shake out remains to be seen. Having been on the faculty there for six years, I have some insight into how it is progressing in its efforts to recapture Christian faithfulness. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Baylor is not out of the woods and that what happens with the EIL will serve as a test case for what is likely to be Baylor’s Christian future. For the record, I like the school, think it’s students are some of the friendliest anywhere, root for its teams, and have a daughter who wants to go to Baylor (I don’t try to dissuade her from that, though I’m glad her going to Baylor would not be for another ten years — perhaps Baylor will have a clean bill of health by then).

  7. “As a result of this interview, people called and complained…”

    What people? Affiliated with the university, or just “people”?

    “We jealously protect the university’s name.”

    Cause God knows, protecting the university’s name means aligning it with materialism. Man what a mess they’ve made for themselves.

  8. A Very well written article it is nice to see that some of the young college students have an excellent grasp of the exact nature of the controversy,,,

    Dr. Dembski…You may have suffered financially, as well as your reputation in the scientific community as a whole for standing up for what you know to be true, but I can’t help thinking that you now have a certain satisfaction that your foundational work is finally ruffing up so many “established” feathers in the academic world…Maybe the pain will be worth it after all!?! I certainly hope so.

  9. Yet, at one point she contradicted her former statements.

    “This is an issue about process. It’s an ongoing discussion right now. This is simply about the content of the Web site,” Fogleman said.

    I don’t suppose there’s any way to know whether the paper misquoted her, or she simply mispoke, or this is actual self-incrimination? The writer doesn’t seem to be in doubt about the quote, but its a pretty bad slip on her part if she really said it.

  10. Dear “The Fork”: Regarding the powers at Baylor that oppose its being the Christian institution it was founded to be, what makes you think “their control is slowly fading”? Speaking as an insider, that is not my sense of the situation.

  11. Chemfarmer, what is your sense of the situation?

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