The New York Times
Evolution Opponent Is in Line for Schools Post
By CORNELIA DEAN
The National Association of State Boards of Education will elect officers in July, and for one office, president-elect, there is only one candidate: a member of the Kansas school board who supported its efforts against the teaching of evolution.
Scientists who have been active in the nation’s evolution debate say they want to thwart his candidacy, but it is not clear that they can.
The candidate is Kenneth R. Willard, a Kansas Republican who voted with the conservative majority in 2005 when the school board changed the state’s science standards to allow inclusion of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. Voters later replaced that majority, but Mr. Willard, an insurance executive from Hutchinson, retained his seat. If he becomes president-elect of the national group, he will take office in January 2009.
The group, based in Washington, is a nonprofit organization of state school boards whose Web site (www.nasbe.org) says it “works to strengthen state leadership in educational policymaking.”
Brenda L. Welburn, its executive director, said Mr. Willard’s only opponent in the race withdrew for personal reasons after the period for nominations had closed. Each state has one vote in the election.
Some scientists hope that when states submit their votes, they will write in someone else. One possible candidate is Sam Schloemer, a retired businessman from Cincinnati who won a seat on the Ohio board last November with the help of scientists who organized to defeat creationist candidates.
Mr. Schloemer, a Republican, said in a telephone interview that he had learned of Mr. Willard’s unopposed candidacy a few days before. He said he had no particular desire for the office, but added, “I would rather serve than see someone of his persuasion represent school boards across the country.” Mr. Willard, who is in his fourth year on the 16-member national board, said in a telephone interview yesterday that issues like the teaching of evolution were best left to the states.
“We don’t set curriculum standards or anything like that,” Mr. Willard said of the national organization, adding that it handled issues like advising state boards on how to deal with governance concerns or influxes of immigrant students or ways to raise academic achievement among members of disadvantaged groups.
He said, though, that he personally thought students should be taught about challenges to the theory of evolution, like intelligent design. And while he said he had not heard of a possible challenge to his candidacy, Mr. Willard added that he was not surprised by it.
“Some people are mindless about their attacks on anyone questioning anything Darwin might have said,” Mr. Willard said.
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Courts have repeatedly ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines, not scientific theories.
People like Steve Rissing, a professor of biology at Ohio State University who was involved in the state election effort last fall, say they fear that if Mr. Willard is elected, challenges to the teaching of evolution would move to the national board. “Those of us in the trenches say, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” Professor Rissing said.
Patricia Princehouse, a professor of evolutionary biology at Case Western Reserve University and a leader of the scientists’ efforts, said she hoped there would be many write-in votes. “Whether they decide it counts or not is up to Nasbe,” Professor Princehouse said, using the acronym for the national association. “But people do not have to endorse Willard’s candidacy.”
The association’s bylaws make no provision for write-ins, said Ms. Welburn, the executive director.
John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a group based in Seattle that espouses intelligent design, praised Mr. Willard’s views on evolution and denounced criticism of his candidacy as “the kind of thought-policing we are getting used to.”
But Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who testified last year in a lawsuit over an effort to challenge the teaching of evolution in Dover, Pa., said he was “concerned” when he learned a supporter of intelligent design was slated to head the national school board group.
“We are in a nationwide struggle for the integrity of science education,” Professor Miller said, “and any situation that provides an opportunity for the opponents of science education to advance their agenda is a matter of concern.”
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The New York Times