>(Just to be clear about where I’m coming from, I believe in a Creator and also believe that the evidence I’ve seen supports the evolution of species. When asked about evolution, I say, “It looks like that’s how God did it.” Now that I’ve alienated all but a few of my readers . . .)
The New York Times has an article today on the resignation of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) employee, Chris Comer. In my opinion, the NYT and the Austin American-Statesman focus on the wrong theme. The story is more about the politics of being a State employee than about the politics of science.
The blogosphere is full of comments relating her resignation to “creationists” and drawing an analogy to the movie, “Expelled.”
However, there’s a difference between speech and advocacy on scientific controversies while working in a academic position (even when paid by the State) and the same activity while working for a State Agency. While both should avoid frank political advocacy while on the State’s time clock, the former is in the business of discussing and critiquing science. The Agency employee works directly for men and women who are themselves restrained by the voters of the State, who have their own politics.
The implication of the NYT piece is that Ms. Comer was under pressure due politics, the appointment of a new Chairman of the State Board of Education and the hiring of a woman who used to work for the Bush Administration. On further research, I found a possible connection between a statement that Ms. Comer made concerning the lack of “real” leadership at the TEA under an acting Commissioner and the appointment of the same man to the office of Commissioner.
In addition, it might help to know that the Texas Legislature recently mandated that each agency develop ethics policies.
Texas elects our State Board of Education, the Governor appoints (and the State Senate confirms) one of these elected officials to the Chair and he also appoints the Commissioner of the TEA. The TEA is the bureacracy that provides “leadership, guidance, and resources to help schools meet the educational needs of all students.”
State employees are forbidden by policy to mix in politics while on the job and with State resources. At the very least, it’s not wise to risk bringing pressure down on your appointed or elected bosses. The offense that led to Ms. Comer’s resignation was sending an email from her TEA account that announced a talk entitled, “Creationism’s Trojan Horse.”
Ms. Comer and the author of the NYT article find something notable in the policy at TEA:
But several months ago, in response to an inquiry letter, Ms. Comer said she was instructed to strike her usual statement about the board’s support for teaching evolution and to quote instead the exact language of the high school biology standards as formulated for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test.
“The student knows the theory of biological evolution,” the standards read, and is expected to “identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities and embryology,” as well as to “illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior and extinction.”
I fail to see a problem in a policy requiring the quote. I would think that it would inform and educate any one with questions and protect State employees from political fallout.
Ms. Comer herself makes correlations between certain politically controversial subjects:
“I don’t see how I took a position by F.Y.I.-ing on a lecture like I F.Y.I. on global warming or stem-cell research,” Ms. Comer said.
And she did consider the email risky:
As for the e-mail, Comer said she did pause for a “half second” before sending it, but said she thought that because Forrest was a highly credentialed speaker, it would be OK.
For a step-by-step report about Ms. Comer’s troubles at the TEA, see the Austin American-Statesman article and my earlier post.
>"there's a difference between speech and advocacy on scientific controversies"Maybe so, but there is no "scientific controversy" about evolution. What was punished by forced resignation was advocacy of science over religion. And that resignation was forced by obviously religious advocates.So this really is "the science director was expelled because of her advocacy of science".
>She quit. There's no question about that. There's nothing "religious" here at all. The event was not educational or scientific. It was "how we beat the creationists in court," not "how to teach," or "the latest research literature."Purely political.When she was reprimanded, she is the one who thought the issues were important enough to quit. Then she told the NYT and Austin A-S that her infractions weren't serious. Obviously, at least to her, they were serious enough for her to quit rather than follow through.
>"She quit. There's no question about that."Yes. And "forced resignation" is about the same as "quit" for external purposes.But if one is a 29 year veteran and it takes 30 years to get a pension, it might be far better to "quit" than to be "fired".She's coming to Austin next week to talk to us. Maybe she can tell us the truth."There's nothing "religious" here at all."Tell that to the Chairman of the Board of Education (elected to the Board, appointed as Chairman by the governor". He has expressed sympathy for the creationist arguments in the past. He is obviously a politician."The event was not educational or scientific."How the court case was won is very educational. The judge was a Republican. The creationists were "sure" that he would not dare rule against them. But the judge listened to the arguments for 6 weeks and a lot of science and non-science was presented for his judgement. Then he judged. He did not make a political decision, so the creationists called him "activist". LOL"When she was reprimanded, she is the one who thought the issues were important enough to quit."I think this is incorrect. We will ask her next week. But maybe it will be "off the record" due to fear of "retaliation".
>Today's newspaper:"Chris Comer, who had been head of science curriculum for the TexasEducation Agency, has said she was forced to resign in November afterforwarding an e-mail message that her superiors felt was biasedagainst intelligent design, …"