Published March 18, 2009
A Texas legislator is waging a war of biblical proportions against the science and education communities in the Lone Star State as he fights for a bill that would allow a private school that teaches creationism to grant a Master of Science degree in the subject.
State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) proposed House Bill 2800 when he learned that The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), a private institution that specializes in the education and research of biblical creationism, was not able to receive a certificate of authority from Texas' Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science degrees.
Berman's bill would allow private, non-profit educational institutions to be exempt from the board’s authority.
“If you don’t take any federal funds, if you don’t take any state funds, you can do a lot more than some business that does take state funding or federal funding,” Berman says. “Why should you be regulated if you don’t take any state or federal funding?”
HB 2800 does not specifically name ICR; it would allow any institution that meets its criteria to be exempt from the board's authority. But Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community.
“I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago,” Berman told FOXNews.com. "I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution.
"But when you ask someone who believes in evolution, if you ask one of the elitists who believes in evolution about the gaps, they’ll tell you that the debate is over, that there is no debate, evolution is the thing, it’s the only way to go.”
But critics say that Berman’s bill will be disastrous if it passes.
“This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized,” said Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.
“Right now, we don’t have this problem in Texas. Texas is not a center for degree mills, because our laws allow only the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve the granting of graduate degrees.”
“It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery,” says Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. “I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don’t take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want.”
Schafersman fears that amending state law to accommodate institutions such as ICR would devalue Texas graduate degrees.
“The degrees would substandard, worthless, but they would be certified by Texas,” he said.
All colleges and universities granting degrees in Texas currently must be issued a certificate of authority by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The certificate allows that institution to grant a higher education degree that is recognized by the state – a degree a graduate would need to apply for a teaching position in a Texas public school.
ICR was denied a certificate of authority in 2007.
HB 2800 would pave the way for institutions like ICR to grant science degrees equal to those of other Texas universities. And that possibility has critics fuming.
“Their science education degrees are greatly inferior to those at, say, the University of Texas or Baylor University or even a good community college, frankly,” says Scott. “Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science.”
The ICR issued a statement affirming that it is a legitimate educational institute that employs credentialed Ph.D. scientists from around the country. It insisted that the “THECB has acted discriminatorily against the ICR’s application both in process and in the substance of fact,” and it said “THECB allowed influence of evolution-biased lobbying efforts to influence process and outcome.”
The coordinating board denies any wrongdoing and says Berman’s bill is a slippery slope for higher education in Texas.
“HB 2800 appears to open the doors of Texas to predatory institutions,” says De Juana Lozada, assistant director of communications for THECB. “Were the bill to become law, it could have the effect of leaving students defenseless against exploitation by diploma mills and other substandard institutions.
"The Coordinating Board just last year eased restrictions on legitimate institutions of higher education desiring to operate in Texas. For legitimate institutions, the legislation is completely unnecessary.”
Berman sees the board's decision to deny ICR certification as a double standard.
“If a school’s teaching all evolution, would that be a balanced education?” he asked. “So it’s the same thing on both ends of the stick.”
But advocates of more conventional science education say the THECB was right to deny ICR certification and that Berman’s motives in introducing the bill were simply to reward an institution loyal to him.
“You just can’t play fast and loose with the rules that everyone has to follow just to favor a constituent,” says Scott. “I think the people of Texas should be very concerned about this issue.”
While HB 2800 makes its way through the legislature, ICR and the THECB will continue their mediation before a Texas state judge. Insiders say that if the mediation does not go their way, ICR will sue the board.