Proposed House Bill 2800 Will Exempt the Institute for Creation Research
from the Law that Governs the Awarding of Science Degrees
by Texas Institutions of Higher Learning
by Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2009 March 12
Those wonderful, wacky radical religious-right Republican legislators are at it again. This time it's not Rep. Charlie Howard of Sugarland or Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, but their colleague and frequent cosponsor of their bills Representative Leo Berman of Tyler. Rep. Berman is responsible for the latest transparently pro-Creationist, anti-science, crony-pandering bad bill, House Bill 2800 that will exempt the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) from the law that governs the legality and legitimacy of degrees awarded by institutions of higher learning in Texas.
As everyone knows--from reading the details in Texas Citizens for Science reports here, here, here, here, and here--ICR tried to obtain official Texas certification from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to grant Master of Science Degrees in Science Education in Texas. ICR failed in this attempt because the THECB Commissioner, Raymond Paredes, sought advice from scientists and science educators about the legitimacy of the ICR's graduate program. They reported that the ICR program was based in pseudoscience, not science, and Dr. Paredes and his professional staff correctly decided that the ICR did not meet the standard to award a M.S. degree in Science Education or any other discipline.
What most readers don't know is that since the 2008 April hearing in Austin, in which ICR was denied the certification necessary to offer the M.S. degree in Science Education, ICR and THECB have been engaged in administrative mediation to resolve the impasse, but without success. ICR really thinks it is a science organization, that its science education curriculum is legitimate, and that it deserves the right to award the degree. The THECB disagrees and is holding firm. ICR has been offered the opportunity to award a M.A. degree in Christian Studies, Creation Studies, Origins Theology, or any other appropriate and legitimate topic that matches the religious pseudoscience it promotes, but ICR has refused to compromise. The THECB can't compromise in any way that allows ICR to offer a master of science degree in a science program since Texas law is firm on that point. At this time, there are only three alternatives that might give ICR the result it wants: (1) go to court and challenge the law and THECB's enforcement of it, (2) get the law changed, or (3) exempt ICR from the law. This is where Rep. Berman comes in.
Seeing that his friends were having a problem, Rep. Berman graciously wrote a brief bill that will exempt ICR from the law. House Bill 2800 (PDF) is an act that relates to
exempting certain private nonprofit educational institutions from state regulation applicable to degree-granting institutions.
The bill amends the appropriate part of the Texas Education Code that regulates the conditions under which an institution can have the right to award valid, certified, and transferable graduate degrees in Texas. This is Subchapter G of Chapter 61 of Texas's Education Code that serves to regulate
the use of academic terminology in naming or otherwise designating educational institutions, the advertising, solicitation or representation by educational institutions or their agents, and the maintenance and preservation of essential academic records.
This law provides, among other things, that
A person may not grant or award a degree or offer to grant or award a degree on behalf of a private postsecondary educational institution unless the institution has been issued a certificate of authority to grant the degree by the board in accordance with the provisions of this subchapter.
The "board" is the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board. Berman's House Bill 2800 gives "certain private nonprofit educational institutions" an exemption from this law. It states that
The provisions of this subchapter do not apply to a private educational institution, including a separate degree-granting program, unit, or school operated by the institution, that:
(1) does not accept state funding of any kind to support its educational programs;
(2) does not accept state-administered federal funding to support its educational programs;
(3) was formed as or is affiliated with or controlled by a nonprofit corporation or nonprofit unincorporated organization; and
(4) offers bona fide degree programs that require students to complete substantive course work in order to receive a degree from the institution.
The bill transparently was meant to apply specifically to the ICR. ICR is easily consistent with items 1 and 3, and arguably satisfies items 2 and 4, although possible problems remain for ICR. First, if a student attends an institution of higher learning whose degree program is certified by the state or accredited by an accreditation organization, the student will qualify for federally-funded student loans and possibly scholarships. Wouldn't this violate the "does not accept state-administered federal funding" restriction? Second, the words "bona fide" and "substantive" are stretched to the breaking point. The ICR curriculum does demand some work from its students (ICR is not a degree mill), but the work's content so plainly consists of pseudoscience rather than science that giving ICR an exemption under this law (assuming it passes) would still be tendentious. Does "substantive" mean lots of course work by students or does it mean accurate and reliable instruction in the subject presented? ICR would satisfy the former condition but not the latter. And would the ICR science education degree program truly be "bona fide" compared to other such science education programs in Texas? No, since it was demonstrated by the professional scientists and science education professors that Commissioner Paredes consulted that ICR's program was very different from a typical Texas university science education program. But is that what "bona fide" means in context? Perhaps not; it might just mean that the program actually exists, which I can stipulate that it does.
The person who first reported the new bill to me, John Kingman, also visited Rep. Berman's office in the Capitol. He spoke with Andy on the Legislator's staff since Rep. Berman was not in. When asked if the bill would apply to ICR, Andy said it would. John then asked Andy the key question: what was the objective of the bill? Andy thankfully did not attempt to dissimulate. He replied forthrightly that it was "for institutions that want to teach creation science or intelligent design." I'm so glad that has been made clear. My Texas Legislature filed bill search engine configuration is set up to watch the SBOE and high school education, so I missed HB 2800, and I thank John Kingman for catching it and informing me.
I have been watching the ICR v. THECB mediation process as best I can, since it is confidential and the press is not reporting on it very much, but I admit I did not expect a legislative attempt to bypass this policy and mediation process. I guess I didn't give ICR sufficient credit for being cheeky enough to ask their cronies in the Legislature for special-interest legislation. ICR only moved to Texas a year ago, and it wasted no time in learning how to work the Texas political system. But I should have known, since they quickly and quietly passed the first two required examinations of the THECB certification process before the press, public, and Commissioner took notice. ICR was denied its coveted certification essentially at the last minute by an outraged and activated science education community that began writing letters and speaking out. When the Commissioner discovered what was happening in his agency essentially under his nose and without his knowledge, to his credit he immediately instituted a more professional evaluation of the certification process by asking competent science and science education professors to examine the materials submitted by ICR. Prior to this, the certification evaluation of ICR was being carried out by individuals with no expertise in the matter. This story is explained in the five references linked above.
What are the chances this bill will pass? Thankfully, slim to none. The bill is incredibly stupid, a characteristic of all bills filed by religious right-wing legislators to promote their right-wing religious agendas. If it passed, the bill would, of course, brand Texas as the stupidest state in the nation, since it would be saying, "Hey, everybody. We don't care what credibility Masters Degrees in our state have. Everyone should come to Texas and get a Masters Degree in Science Education. You will be able to qualify for a higher salary or a better job."
But there is an even more obvious flaw--not obvious to Leo Berman, of course, who obviously has no capacity for forethought and can't anticipate the consequences of his bill's effects. If the bill became law, any nonprofit entity that accepts no state or federal funding and offers a "bona fide" degree program with "substantive" course work, whatever those mean, would be able to move into Texas and start offering any university degree they want without state agency interference. We wouldn't even need a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. It would make Texas a magnet for unscrupulous private "educational" companies that will want to offer students the opportunity to pay for bogus advanced degrees that--while completely valueless with regard to their academic content--will nevertheless possess great value as legitimate, certified, transferable, and reciprocally recognized (in other states) undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded with the full approval of the state of Texas. If HB 2800 became law, it would be a gold mine to every fly-by-night degree-granting outfit in the country.
The bill has a small chance of being approved in the House higher education committee, an extremely tiny chance of being approved by the House, and an infinitesimal chance of being approved by the Senate. However, if the bill succeeds in passing all these hurdles, I am unfortunately certain that Governor Rick Perry would sign it. Our radical religious-right Republican governor--who believes in Young Earth Creationism and Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy and achieved office with 39% of the Texas vote, precisely the percentage of our state's citizens who have the same religious beliefs as he--appointed A. W. "Whit" Riter III of Tyler chairman of the THECB in 2008 November. Mr. Riter has many business skills and accomplishments and has devoted his time to worthy civic causes, such as the UT Tyler Foundation Board and College for all Texans Foundation. However, he is a member and on the Stewardship Board of Grace Community Church in Tyler, whose Statement of Faith includes this:
1. In the verbal, complete inspiration of the Old and New Testaments and hold them to be the inerrant Word of God, the supreme and final authority.
To my knowledge, Mr. Riter has not tried to influence the THECB or Commissioner Paredes to favor the unscientific and educationally-damaging desires of the Institute for Creation Research, and I hope this policy doesn't change.
Newspaper articles about HB 2800
Lawmaker backs creation institute
Coordinating board had rejected group's master's degree proposal.
By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Monday, March 16, 2009
The Institute for Creation Research couldn't get its proposal to offer an online master's degree in science education approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board last year.
Now, an East Texas lawmaker has come up with an alternative: Exempt the institute from the coordinating board's rules.
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said his proposed legislation is intended to allow the Bible-oriented group to proceed without the coordinating board's blessing.
"Why are people who call themselves scientists afraid to hear two sides of a debate?" Berman asked Friday.
His proposal would exempt private, nonprofit educational institutions that do not accept state funding and state-administered federal funding from coordinating board rules.
Members of the coordinating board, who are gubernatorial appointees, voted 8-0 in April to reject the proposal by the Dallas-based institute.
Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said at the time that the institute's program, based on a literal interpretation of biblical creation, falls outside the realm of science and therefore could not be designated "science" or "science education."
De Juana Lozada, a spokeswoman for the coordinating board, said Friday that the agency could not comment because the Institute for Creation Research has appealed the board's decision and because the proposed legislation could have ramifications for the case.
Lawrence Ford, a spokesman for the institute, said in an e-mail that Berman's measure "is not limited to a particular viewpoint, either creationist or evolutionist, theist or atheist, Jewish or Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or Hindu, rich or poor, or any other viewpoint."
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said the measure promotes a right-wing religious agenda.
"It would make Texas a magnet for unscrupulous private 'educational' companies that will want to offer students the opportunity to pay for bogus advanced degrees," Schafersman wrote on his group's Web site. "If H.B. 2800 became law, it would be a gold mine to every fly-by-night, degree-granting outfit in the country."
Berman said his proposal encourages different viewpoints and debate.
"Personally, I don't believe in evolution," he said. "I don't believe I came from a salamander that came out of a pond."
Bill Would Allow Texas School to Grant Master's Degree in Science for Creationism
By Nora Zimmett
Wednesday, 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.
Texas Citizens for Science Last updated: 2009 March 22