Phi Beta Cons

We Can’t Hire a Potential Evangelical!

I’m coming a bit late to this story (heck, even the New York Times got there before me), but the American Center for Law and Justice has a faculty hiring case to watch. Respected astronomer C. Martin Gaskell has sued the University of Kentucky after the university denied him a job, and ACLJ attorneys have turned up a veritable gold mine of evidence that he was not hired because he was a Christian:

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy.

“Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.”

In his deposition, Dr. Cavagnero recalled reading Ms. Shafer’s e-mail and said he discussed Dr. Gaskell’s faith with the department chairman at the University of Nebraska, where Dr. Gaskell worked at the time. Dr. Cavagnero also said a colleague, Moshe Elitzur, worried that Dr. Gaskell “had outspoken public views about creationism and evolution.”

Dr. Elitzur, in his deposition, said he feared that bad publicity could arise from bringing Dr. Gaskell to the university, which is less than 100 miles from the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky.

“There’s no way you can avoid the headline in The Herald-Leader saying ‘U.K. hires a creationist for public outreach,’” Dr. Elitzur remembered saying.

Keep in mind, he was considered a “creationist” even though he accepts standard evolutionary science. This is an astounding act of anti-intellecutalism and bigotry on the part of the university — excluding an accomplished scholar not because of his scholarship but because they feared his religious beliefs.

When I speak at church and community groups around the country, they often act as if their university in their state is an exception to the radicalism they see at places like Berkeley or Harvard. Yet many of the most egregious violations of academic freedom occur at flagship state universities (just ask Kenneth Howell). In fact, in my experience, conservative-state professors can be among the most aggressive, feeling that they must act as beacons of (self-described) reason in dark places such as Kentucky. Whereas professors at Berkeley feel secure — as if the battle has been won — Kentucky professors look a few miles north to the Creation Museum and feel the call to become ideological warriors.

And then they slip, and write down their true feelings: Evangelicals (actual or potential) need not apply.


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