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Attack on OSU Graduate Student Endangers Academic Freedom

SEATTLE – An effort by three professors at Ohio State University (OSU) to publicly damage the academic future of a graduate student, Bryan Leonard, because of his support for teaching about the controversy over evolution is “an attack on academic freedom and a violation of professional ethics,” said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman.

“Bryan Leonard has not even had a chance to defend his dissertation through the university process and they have gone to the press to try to discredit him in public,” said Chapman.

“It seems to me that the graduate student’s real crime in this group’s eyes is that he represents the science teaching policy recently adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education,” added Chapman. “Having failed to win their way with the state board, they are taking it out on an unusually promising graduate student who was consulted by the board in its deliberations. The professors apparently have not even read the dissertation they are denouncing.”

According to an article in the June 9, Columbus Dispatch, OSU professors Steve Rissing, Brian McEnnis, and Jeffrey McKee are seeking to discredit the dissertation research of Mr. Leonard, an OSU graduate student (and current high school biology teacher). Mr. Leonard’s dissertation analyzes how teaching students “the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution” impacts student beliefs about evolution.

“Last year Prof. Rissing tried unsuccessfully to kill the lesson plan that Mr. Leonard helped to draft, but he was rebuffed by the Ohio Board of Education,” said Chapman. “Now it appears he and his colleagues are trying to strangle Mr. Leonard’s academic future.”

According to the Dispatch, the professors admit that they haven’t read Leonard’s dissertation. But that hasn’t stopped them from asserting that Leonard’s research is flawed because it “may have involved unethical human-subject experimentation.” But the supposed unethical problem with human subjects is nothing more than teaching high school students the scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the theory. That kind of teaching is an approach endorsed by Ohio’s official science standards and also the conference report appended to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“The complaining professors are simply defining as ‘unethical’ any research that disagrees with their dogmatic view of how to teach evolution,” said Chapman.

“Ohio State University has a number of science professors who publicly dissent from a Darwin-only policy,” added Chapman. “I hope they and university and state officials will stand up against the power tactics employed by the ideologues in this case. Otherwise, OSU could become a national example of tyrannous viewpoint discrimination in higher education.”

In 2002 Science Excellence for All Ohioans released a list of 52 Ohio scientists publicly supporting academic freedom to teach the scientific arguments for and against Darwin’s theory of evolution. The Ohio scientists represented a wide range of scientific disciplines, from entomology (insect zoology) to toxicology, from nuclear chemistry to engineering, from biochemistry to medicine and surgery. Some of the scientists are employed in business, industry, and research, but most teach at state and private universities. A third of the scientists on the list were at The Ohio State University in Columbus at that time. For more information visit:

Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute promotes thoughtful analysis and effective action on local, regional, national and international issues. The Institute is home to an inter-disciplinary community of scholars and policy advocates dedicated to the reinvigoration of traditional Western principles and institutions and the worldview from which they issued.