Thursday, December 13, 2007

Texas biology professors voice support for evolution education

Dec. 11, 2007, 2:31AM
Texas biology professors voice support for evolution education

© 2007 The Associated Press

AUSTIN — Biology professors from across Texas stressed the importance of educating students about evolution in a letter to the state education commissioner and said Texas Education Agency employees shouldn't be required to stay neutral on the subject.

More than 100 faculty members from the universities of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas State, North Texas, Houston, Rice and Baylor signed the letter. It was sent Monday to Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott.

"I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I and many others simply feel that good evolution education is key to understanding biology as a whole," said Daniel Bolnick of the University of Texas, who started collecting signatures last week.

The professors sent the letter in response to the departure of Chris Comer, who said evolution politics were behind her forced resignation last month as the state's director of science curriculum.

Comer said she came under pressure after forwarding an e-mail that her superiors felt made the agency appear to be biased against the instruction of intelligent design. Intelligent design holds that the universe's order and complexity is so great science alone cannot explain it.

UT integrative biology professor David Hillis said the Comer's ouster shows the country is slipping into "scientific illiteracy."

"It is extraordinarily unfortunate and inappropriate that religious views are dictating hiring and firing decisions at the Texas Education Agency," he said. "This is an enormous black eye in terms of our competitiveness and ability to attract researchers and technologies."

Education officials say Comer's resignation came after repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. Scott and other officials declined to comment specifically, because they feared being sued.

"I am really frustrated with the issue, knowing the truth and not being able to talk about it," Scott said.

According to TEA documents, Comer's superiors recommended she be terminated because of comments she made about the agency's leadership and her failure to get approval for making presentations outside the agency.

The documents show that Lizzette Reynolds, the agency's senior adviser on statewide initiatives, notified Comer's superiors after Comer forwarded an e-mail announcing a presentation by an author who argues that creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools

"This is something that the State Board, the Gov.'s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports," Reynolds said in the e-mail to Comer's supervisors.

Comer said her only recent reprimand was in February after she attended a meeting of science educators without getting prior approval.

"Did I question them when they said things that I thought were wrong? Yes, I did that," Comer said Monday. "I did speak up for myself. I was not a shrinking violet. But then, as the director of science, I thought it was important to hear my expert opinions of what is going on."

Next year, the State Board of Education begins a review of the state science curriculum, which will set standards for classroom instruction and textbook selection.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman,

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