Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Is OBU Afraid of Science?

Almost all of my anger about encroaching fundamentalism at OBU concerns its religion department, where I studied from 1999-2002.  As a student of biblical studies and theology, and now as a Ph.D. student in social science, I tend not to get too worked up about issues in the natural sciences.  But the latest OBU press release about its newest science teacher was actually the proverbial last straw for me.  Within hours of reading about our new scientist "biology laboratory curriculum developer," I finally found the motivation to start this blog.

Given the sad state of the academic job market these days, I find it hard to believe that OBU is still hiring ABDs rather than PhDs who have completed post-docs.  The market is saturated with newly-minted PhDs, but maybe OBU is unable to find an actual scientist who is willing or able to answer these private, personal, invasive, irrelevant, and unethical questions in the job interview.  With these questions being asked of prospective professors, it's no wonder we can't find a real scientist:

  • Who is God to you?   Do you affirm that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent?
  • Do you affirm the Trinity?
  • What is the Holy Spirit?  What is the work of the Holy Spirit?
  • What is the Church?   What is the Church’s role?
  • If I were a pagan and you an evangelical Christian, what would you say to me as our plane was crashing?
  • What experiences have you had leading people to Christ?
  • Do you affirm the Bible as God’s Word as truth and without error?
  • Do you affirm a literal Adam and Eve?
  • What would you say to a student who asked you about the origins of man? (on creation, evolution, etc.)
  • Would you ever advise a student to have an abortion?
  • Do you affirm that there are only two genders, male and female?
  • What is your position regarding homosexuality?  Do you affirm that homosexuality is a sin?

Did our new science teacher just finish his PhD in biology or physics?  No.  His degree is in instructional leadership and academic curriculum.  His master's degree is in education, not science.  Most alarmingly, his faculty web page indicates that his particular interest and expertise is in the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution in high school biology classes.  This raises all kinds of red flags for me, especially as I remember my own biology professor at OBU, Mike Keas.

Thankfully, Professor Keas left OBU and now teaches in the undergraduate degree program at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (which purports to help its graduates "understand and engage the cultural climate of our day."  He began every class with a "science Bible verse of the day" and never tired of reminding us that he and his wife couldn't have children because "there is something wrong with her."  God forbid anyone doubt your virility, Professor Keas!  Anyway, he dodged the question when a student asked him point-blank whether he was a young-earth creationist.  "Intelligent design" was his preferred intellectual sleight-of-hand.  Once, in a lecture on the evils of homosexuality, he went into graphic detail about the physiology of anal sex.  So, I tend not to trust OBU when it comes to hiring science teachers.

On the other hand, I had an absolutely wonderful physics professor at OBU, who I believe is still there.  He managed to keep biblical literalism and fundamentalism out of the science classroom.  Let's hope his new colleague does the same.

This new hire is a) not a scientist, b) interested in (hopefully not obsessed with) "misconceptions held by public secondary school biology teachers" (the topic of his most recent academic conference presentation), and c) made it through the present administration's screening process to teach science at OBU.  None of these facts inspires much confidence.

How long until anatomical figures in the textbooks have fig leaves covering their naughty bits?


  1. I think that you should go meet more of the current science faculty than judge the one new hire. Most of them do not support "young earth" creationism. Most of them have PhDs and have done extensive research in their fields. The new guy is a great teacher (explainer), especially for the non-science majors. Go meet these people before you talk about them. - 2010 Grad

  2. I agree that these facts are not entirely inspiring, but I can say that the science faculty was top notch when I left in May, including the biologist Dr. Brad Jett. I took an honors coloquim where he was one of the teachers about the great contributions which Charles Darwin has made to both science and western culture.

    However, I do agree with the hopes that these invasive questions will not keep away quality faculty.

  3. As OBU’s most recent science teacher hire who seems to have caused you great distress, I would like to clarify some issues you present and correct some inaccuracies. First, you are quite correct, I am not a scientist by training; I am a science educator. When an institution is interested in doing science, the entity hires a scientist proficient in the specific required field. However, when an institution is concerned with educating students about science, a science educator is an excellent choice. A science educator not only possesses training in specific fields of science but is also proficient in teaching methodology and strategies as well. I earned a B.S. degree in Biology; M.Ed. degree in Biology Education; and, a Ph.D. degree in Science Education with an emphasis in Biology. My Ph.D. degree in Science Education was obtained within the University of Oklahoma’s Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum Division. Second, you mistakenly point out that my “. . . particular interest and expertise is in the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution in high school biology classes”. This statement is not accurate as my interest and areas of expertise are in evolution education and identifying whether the concepts of the science of evolution are actually being taught in high school Biology classrooms and, if so, are these concepts being taught accurately, not the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution. My Ph.D. dissertation entitled, Student Acquisition of Biological Evolution-related Misconceptions: The Role of Public High School Introductory Biology Teachers, explored whether these teachers possessed an accurate understanding of biological evolution and, if not, were they transmitting their misconceptions of biological evolution to their students. I might add that my dissertation was awarded the University of Oklahoma’s Provost Dissertation Prize for the best dissertation presented during 2011 in the areas of the social science, education, and the professions. Finally, I was not hired during the current administration tenure. In closing, when I assign my students research topics in science, I emphasize to them that in order to pass through the muddied waters of speculation and half-truths, they must access primary sources. Perhaps you, Sir, should follow suite.

    1. Professor, I figured I'd hear from you on this but I didn't want to engage you if doing so would create any trouble for you. Other faculty have contacted Save OBU anonymously, and I wasn't quite sure whether I should try to write to you. I was definitely mistaken and I owe you an apology. In my haste and zeal to find something objectionable, I didn't carefully review your research. Instead, I let the presence of certain buzzwords color my interpretation and lead me to an incorrect judgment. Also, I think I let my horribly negative experience with an OBU science educator 10 years ago color my impressions. In time, I found plenty of legitimately objectionable things to write about, and I'm sorry that I misrepresented you.

      We may have to agree to disagree that it's necessarily better for a liberal arts college to hire a science educator than a scientist... a little too close to the "practitioners don't teach very well" argument that I find kind of offensive. But of course, given the number of unified studies students and education majors (science or otherwise) coming through OBU science classrooms, obviously you possess very fine qualifications to teach OBU students about science, and I was wrong to suggest otherwise.

      I was also wrong in trying to perceive some kind of divide between moderate senior faculty and fundamentalist junior faculty which I have come to realize is a gross oversimplification, to the extent that such a divide exists at all.

      I regretted this mistake almost from the time I wrote this blog post in December. But I didn't want to say anything to you lest I create any more problems for you by drawing attention to the matter. If you are as much on the side of science and enlightenment as you seem to be, you will have enough trouble at OBU (especially when tenure time comes) without me compounding it.

      If you should want to engage me further, my gmail address is jlupfer. Also, I know it is probably no consolation to you, but I hope you will agree that the quality and rigor of Save OBU blog posts has increased since this unfortunate incident.

      Jacob Lupfer '02
      Silver Spring, MD


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