Friday, September 08, 2006

The Francis Beckwith Story

From the Chronicle of Higher Education
PEER REVIEW
Baylor Professors Criticize Denial of Tenure to Conservative Colleague
STILL FIGHTING: An already divisive controversy over a tenure denial at Baylor University appears to be getting even uglier.

Last spring Francis J. Beckwith, 45, an associate professor of church-state studies, was denied tenure despite a long list of publications and a recent teaching honor. Some saw the professor as a casualty in a battle between conservatives and liberals at the Baptist university. Now Mr. Beckwith is alleging that the former chairman of his department, who resigned under a cloud, worked to undermine his tenure application.

Mr. Beckwith, who is appealing the tenure decision, is a conservative Christian who has often written on hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion. He is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute, which promotes the intelligent- design movement. A legal scholar, Mr. Beckwith says that he is not a supporter of intelligent design but that teaching it in public schools is legally permissible.

It was Mr. Beckwith's teaching, not his scholarship, that was criticized in his tenure denial. He was accused of disregarding the curriculum and using the classroom to spread his Christian views — a charge he denies. Some of his colleagues were outraged by the university's decision. C. Stephen Evans, a professor of philosophy and humanities, says he will consider resigning if the decision is not reversed. Mr. Evans, who calls himself a liberal democrat, says Mr. Beckwith is being "railroaded for his conservative views, even though he clearly merits tenure on the basis of his scholarly work and teaching."

In a new twist, Mr. Beckwith alleges that the then-chairman of the church-state-studies department, Derek H. Davis, never provided him with its tenure guidelines and encouraged colleagues to vote against his tenure. Mr. Davis denies this.

Mr. Davis is involved in a controversy of his own. He resigned from the university at the end of the spring semester following allegations that he neglected to properly cite sources for two of his articles. In one case, Mr. Davis closely paraphrased passages from a 1986 book by Ronald L. Numbers, a professor of the history of science and of medicine at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Mr. Davis acknowledges the improper citation, calling it "human error," not plagiarism. Mr. Numbers, who notified Baylor officials about the passages and later exchanged e-mail messages with Mr. Davis, says he is not satisfied with that explanation.

Mr. Davis says he was not forced to resign from Baylor but chose to do so after university officials discussed the allegations with him. "I resigned because I told people 'If you consider this a problem, then I will resign,'" he says. "They said they weren't sure if it was a problem or not." Mr. Davis is now dean of humanities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, which is not affiliated with Baylor University.

Baylor's provost, J. Randall O'Brien, would not comment on the circumstances of Mr. Davis's resignation or on Mr. Beckwith's tenure case, citing privacy restrictions. He did say that he expected a decision on Mr. Beckwith's appeal this month. Thomas Bartlett

6 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

Political factors influencing a tenure decision? Well, I never!

I am kidding.

I know some Christians love to play the role of the poor persecuted Galileo fighting the naturalistic priesthood, but it isn't clear from the article what happened. This article reads like page six (OH, and by the way, did you HEAR that so-and-so resigned, and he may have PLAGIARIZED?): I'll wait for more details from both sides before judging things.

Departmental politics almost always play some role in tenure decisions. I have heard some awful stories from people denied tenure (e.g., one tenure committe asked a positive outside reviewer to retract their review). For all we know, it isn't the guy's Christianity that got him smoked. Assuming it was politics, he may just be an insufferable ass, who does passable work (the fact that it is Christian in focus isn't important). Also, don't forget a committee can deny you tenure even if they simply don't like your work, of if they don't like the direction your work will take the department in the future (giving tenure is a huge committment).

Brian Leiter, for what its worth, tore into Beckwith a few years back. He paints Beckwith as another Discovery Institute hack, and also makes some interesting points.

Ryan said...

BDK:

I know some Christians love to play the role of the poor persecuted Galileo fighting the naturalistic priesthood, but it isn't clear from the article what happened.

Ryan:

Nothing in the article implies that anyone is thinking that. Baylor is a Christian University. If anything, it would have to do with his politics, not his specifically Christian beliefs. It looks like you're projecting your experience with the ID debate or something similar onto this situation. Since you actually concede that "For all we know, it isn't the guy's Christianity that got him smoked", I don't know where you get the idea that this has anything to do with a Christian persecution complex.

BDK:

Brian Leiter, for what its worth, tore into Beckwith a few years back. He paints Beckwith as another Discovery Institute hack, and also makes some interesting points.

Ryan: Oh "another" one? LOL, I didn't realize there were "hacks" there in the first place. How do we quantify "hack" exactly? Or is this just slander? Do you approve of "painting" people as "hacks"? This sounds like the kind of hatchet-job that you posture to disapprove of in your comment!

Ryan

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ryan said:
If anything, it would have to do with his politics, not his specifically Christian beliefs.

From the original article:
He was accused of disregarding the curriculum and using the classroom to spread his Christian views — a charge he denies.

At any rate, I was forestalling such interpretations, which are all too easy to make, and which I have seen people make regarding this case. This topic has been a subject of discussion on this blog, which you may have missed.

As for the Leiter thing, I was paraphrasing his article. If you had read it and understood it, you would have seen that.

Jerk that knee!

Ryan said...

BDK:

From the original article:
He was accused of disregarding the curriculum and using the classroom to spread his Christian views — a charge he denies.

Ryan: Again, the problem is probably not that the views are "Christian", because Baylor is a Christian university - indeed the largest Baptist University. The emphasis would be on *his* in that statement - and from the context, it looks like its politics.

BDK:

As for the Leiter thing, I was paraphrasing his article. If you had read it and understood it, you would have seen that.

Ryan:

I wouldn't have necessarily seen that, as your use of "another Discovery Institute hack" could of course mean that you think a case for members of the DI being "hacks" has been established. But since you clarified, I'll gladly take your word for it. It seems, from your latest response, that you do not think the DI are or Beckwith are "hacks".

BDK:

Jerk that knee!

Ryan: Rather, I thought I was kneeing that jerk. ;-)

But I'll reconsider in light of your clarification. Leiter's article is trash. He didn't tear into anything other than his own credibility. Its puerile enough to call those you disagree with "liars", but let's look at his specific comments.

Beckwith writes:

"In his letter to the editor Thursday, Oak H. DeBerg made the completely audacious claim that those who testified at the July 9 State Board of Education hearings on behalf of textbook accuracy in the biological sciences were pushing 'a conservative religious view . . . at the expense of good science.'

Leiter responds:

"There is nothing 'audacious' about pointing out what is obvious to everyone who isn't a pathological liar, namely, that this entire debate (here in Texas) is being driven by a hardcore minority of right-wing Christian fundamentalists--this is indisputably true with respect to the State Board of Education, where the primary champions of the Intelligent Design scam are members of the Texas Taliban. But Professor Beckwith is entitled to his rhetorical stage-setting, so let's move on..."

Ryan: Um...The truth or falisty of Beckwith's statement really isn't affected by whether or not the people *driving* the debate are Christian Fundamentalists. This doesn't entail that they are "pushing 'a conservative religious view . . . at the expense of good science.'" Nice try though. And this is his first accusation of a bald-faced lie? Then he equates ID with terrorism and accuses BECKWITH of rhetorical stage-setting?!

In my book, if you're going to ever accuse anyone, especially in academia, of being a "bald faced liar", there'd better be no possibility that either you or they are simply mistaken. Otherwise, the moral outrage you were trying to aim in their direction should be properly focused on you.

My question for you, BDK, is this. After looking over several of the exchanges here and seeing that you are an intelligent and thoughtful person, why do you even read this trash?

This is the kind of stuff I'd expect someone like yourself to be denegrading.

What are the "interesting points" that you think Leiter makes?

Ryan

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ryan asked what I thought was ineresting on Leiter's post. Here's one interesting argument:
[T]his already concedes too much, for surely it is sheer madness to suggest that any view defended in a peer-refereed science publication should be represented in a textbook for schoolchildren!

Absolutely: assign that peer-refereed article in a class for graduate students. But a textbook for schoolchildren ought to reflect the best, current understanding of its subject-matter, as determined by the consensus among experts.

Ryan said...

BDK:

Ryan asked what I thought was ineresting on Leiter's post. Here's one interesting argument:
[T]his already concedes too much, for surely it is sheer madness to suggest that any view defended in a peer-refereed science publication should be represented in a textbook for schoolchildren!

Ryan:

I'm not sure what's interesting about this. No views from refereed journals for "schoolchildren", but its ok for graduate students. Why is that? He doesn't really say directly but it looks to me like maybe the issue is that "schoolchildren" simply can't comprehend something from a "refereed journal". But there's really no reason that a particular "view" from a refereed journal cannot be summarized and adapted to the audience.

Leiter's characterization of this as "sheer madness" is on par with his spinning of Beckwith's other statements into "bald faced lies".

Ryan