Richard Colling Will Get Biology Class Back

It looks like microbiologist and immunologist Richard Colling will again be teaching the general biology class at Olivet Nazarene University. Back in October, we told you about a rally in support of Colling, who in 2007 was barred from teaching the course after his book Random Designer attracted national media attention. The book tries to reconcile evolution with Christian faith by promoting “theistic evolution” (and challenging the belief in biblical creation). Colling, who has tenure and had been teaching at the school for more than 25 years, was stripped of his regular teaching duties (he could only teach small courses that didn’t involve his book), and other professors were barred from using his book in their classes—decisions that raised questions of academic freedom at Christian and other religious institutions of higher learning. (The school’s professors, however, were allowed to teach the same views that Colling promoted in his book and teach other books with similar content; implying that the actions against Colling were the result of pressure from financial supporters who had been reading about his views on evolution in newspapers and magazines, and mistakenly believed he was the only one teaching them.)
But last month, the American Association of University Professors found that the school had violated Colling’s academic freedom with their actions. “President Bowling made the decision not to allow Professor Colling to teach Biology 201 and to ban Random Designer from the curriculum for the express purpose of appeasing off-campus critics, including key members of the board of trustees, evidently hoping that these critics would believe that he had done something to suppress the teaching of evolution at Olivet Nazarene when in fact he had not,” its report reads. “The investigating committee finds, however, that in doing so he disregarded the faculty’s primacy in matters of curriculum, abrogated his responsibility to defend faculty freedoms from ‘outside influences,’ and, most importantly, weakened academic freedom at Olivet Nazarene University.” The report concludes that the “administration of Olivet Nazarene University curtailed the academic freedom of Professor Colling in order to dampen controversy that had arisen among anti-evolutionist elements of the university’s church constituency. In thus acting, the administration placed a higher value on what the president called ‘constituent relations’ than on the principles of academic freedom to which the university itself claims to subscribe.” Now, Colling and the university are meeting to try to resolve their differences, according to Insider Higher Ed. He has been told he can go back to teaching and his book can be used, an outcome that he says is “a successful and positive resolution of the academic freedom concerns originally raised.” —Heather Wax

Category: Science Education

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2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    The book didn’t challenge the Church of the Nazarene’s doctrine of creation, only what some people thought it should be. I’d just like to clarify, as a Nazarene who has no problem reconciling faith and science. This issue wasn’t about the denomination, but a few people who seems to have a bit too much power.

  2. Heather Wax says:

    Thanks for the correction. I’ve made the change in the post.

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