Free To Think: Why Scientific Integrity Matters
By Carolyn Crocker
July 4, 2010 marks the official publication of Dr. Caroline Crocker's book Free to Think. As we celebrate our political freedom in America on this day, it's fitting that we be reminded of our need to be free from other forms of injustice that are present with us today. Two of those injustices are, amazingly, freedom of speech and academic freedom. Both of these issues are addressed in Dr. Crocker's autobiographical account of her experience as a professor at George Mason University (GMU).
This long-awaited response to critics of Dr. Crocker puts to rest some of the inaccurate claims surrounding her departure from GMU in May 2005 (for example, see SKEPTIC magazine's treatment of her back in October of 2008). Many of her critics have remarked that there was nothing at all unusual about Dr. Crocker's departure, since her contract simply ended and that was that--happens all the time. But Dr. Crocker reveals that the truth of the matter is anything but typical or usual.
Dr. Crocker, who appeared briefly in the 2008 movie Expelled, was an untenured adjunct professor at GMU and had signed a 3-year contract extension, which others also read. In her book, Crocker recounts how her good fortune was short lived, however, as she became the victim of a bait-and-switch scheme in which her original contract was changed to a one-year term shortly after being accused of teaching creationism in her classes--a charge she steadfastly denies. In fact, recent evidence has come to light from one of her former students that a student who Dr. Crocker caught cheating retaliated against another student and made allegedly false accusations against Dr. Crocker, which eventually culminated in the loss of her job as a professor at GMU. The appeals process as told by Dr. Crocker was little more than a railroading and a denial of her academic freedom per GMU's own code--and readers are provided with her first-ever complete retelling of what happened in her own words, as well as her response to the findings of her grievance committee (all documented in Appendix IV).
Many of Dr. Crocker's critics make the point that she should have been let go for teaching creationism. However, according to Dr. Crocker, all she did was challenge her students to think outside the box a bit and come to their own conclusions based on all of the available evidence, not just the usual consensus views of science. Crocker relates in her book exactly how and what she taught her students, including many in-class interactions. Readers will be left to decide whether they believe her approach was reasonable.
The broader question posed by Dr. Crocker (and hence the title of her book) is how far we should go in controlling the freedom we should give educators who desire to stimulate the thinking of their students. And likewise, how much leeway should be given to students who question consensus views of science. Dr. Crocker's story reveals a very disturbing lack of latitude among GMU officials. Unfortunately, the short-leash policy illustrated by GMU is all too common in many academic institutions across America when it comes to teaching Darwin’s theory.
But if that was not enough, even more alarming is what occurred afterward as she sought legal redress. According to both Crocker and her attorney Ed Sisson (who also wrote a compelling preface for this book), the law firm representing her interests in the GMU fiasco was being considered for hire by GMU on another unrelated matter with one stipulation--they must first agree to drop Crocker as a client before signing on the dotted line. And the travesty is the law firm agreed to do so, and soon after dismissed Sisson from the firm after a 14-year career with them. As Michael Behe, author of the book Darwin's Black Box, writes in support of Dr. Crocker's account, this story is "guaranteed to make your blood boil."
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