Professors Defend Ohio Grad Student Under Attack by Darwinists

Background Note by Discovery Institute
Bryan Leonard is a doctoral candidate in science education at Ohio State University (OSU) whose academic freedom has been under attack. For the past several weeks, Darwinists have been waging an outrageous public disinformation campaign against Leonard in an apparent effort to prevent him from succesfully defending his dissertation. For more information on Bryan Leonard’s plight, see our earlier press release, here.

To correct the misinformation being circulated by Darwinists regarding Leonard and his dissertation, two OSU professors serving on Leonard’s dissertation committee have issued the following statement. We are posting this statement on our website as a public service.


We are concerned and dismayed by recent attacks against OSU doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard. A gifted high school biology teacher, Mr. Leonard is at the final stage of his doctoral work at OSU in science education. He previously passed his written and oral examinations in 2002, as well as successfully defending his dissertation proposal in 2003. His dissertation committee had approved his dissertation draft this spring, and his final defense of his dissertation had been scheduled for June 6.

At the last minute, certain persons in the OSU community appeared to be trying to derail Mr. Leonard’s candidacy using highly questionable tactics. Rather than first contact his dissertation committee or dissertation advisor directly with any concerns they might have had, they have campaigned against Mr. Leonard in the news media and on blog sites. We regard this public effort to defame a currently enrolled graduate student to be a serious breach of professional ethics. Furthermore, this is a violation of the courtesy and respect all OSU students have the right to expect from OSU faculty and staff. If these persons have legitimate concerns, they ought to be raised through proper university channels, not in the media.

Rather than respond in the media to unfounded attacks, we have been attempting to work through the proper channels at the university in an effort to resolve the situation. Unfortunately, inaccurate and inappropriate quotes by university officials concerning Mr. Leonard continue to be recycled in the media and on the internet. Many of these quotes misrepresent or mischaracterize the actions and integrity of both Bryan and his committee members. As a result, we feel that we must issue a public statement to clear the record on the following points:

(1) The Ethics of Mr. Leonard’s Research. It has been alleged by three OSU professors at that Mr. Leonard’s dissertation was “unethical human subject experimentation” because it examines the question: “When students are taught the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution, do they maintain or change their beliefs over time?” According to the Columbus Dispatch, these professors acknowledge they have not read Mr. Leonard’s dissertation, but they believe that Mr. Leonard’s dissertation research must have been “unethical” because there are no valid scientific criticisms of evolution. “As such,” they allege, “it involves deliberate miseducation of these students, a practice we regard as unethical.” It is important to note that the professors’ argument is not with Mr. Leonard but with the Ohio State Board of Education, which, contrary to their views, adopted both a science standard and a model curriculum last year encouraging teachers to teach about “how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”) Ohio Standards, Life Sciences, Benchmark H)” It is absurd to claim that Mr. Leonard is being unethical merely for following the state’s official policy in this area.

We also want to be clear that Mr. Leonard followed all university guidelines in obtaining appropriate student and parental consent for his research. Not only was Mr. Leonard’s research proposal approved by OSU’s Institutional Review Board, but Mr. Leonard received permission by all parties necessary for him to conduct the educational research in his high school. Claims that Mr. Leonard’s research was unethical are without any basis in fact. In contrast, three OSU professors and the Acting Dean of the OSU Graduate School have publicly claimed that there is evidence of unethical practice; yet, none of them have ever seen the Institutional Review Board application documents.

(2) The Composition of Mr. Leonard’s Dissertation Committee. It has been alleged that Mr. Leonard’s dissertation committee is improper either because it did not have two members from the science education area or because its committee members did not have relevant backgrounds. Here are the facts:

  • Mr. Leonard’s original advisor was a professor from the science education program. After that professor left OSU for another university, a new dissertation advisor was required. Prof. Paul Post, who teaches in the Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSAT) section of the School of Teaching and Learning, was selected after Mr. Leonard called the graduate school office to check on the regulations relating to the selection of a new advisor. Mr. Leonard was told at that time (either in late 2002 or early 2003) that the only requirement was that his new advisor must be in the School of Teaching and Learning (T&L) and must have the rank of category P. Prof. Post met these requirements.
  • Dissertation committee members were carefully selected based on their expertise in the areas of teaching a variety of different science classes including a college level biology course that included evolution related lessons. They were also selected for their expertise in their involvement with the Ohio Academic Content Science and Technology Standards. For example, Prof. Glen Needham served on the science writing advisory committee for the model science curriculum adopted last year by the Ohio State Board of Education. He also has had experience in several science education enrichment programs for Ohio public schools.
  • At every stage of the committee-forming process Mr. Leonard consulted with his advisor and with the appropriate university offices for guidance on the make-up of his committee. No one from the university ever expressed any concerns to Mr. Leonard during the process that his committee needed two members from the science education area. In fact, Mr. Leonard was given what now appears to be erroneous information by the relevant university offices. When a vacancy occurred on his committee earlier this year, Mr. Leonard contacted both the graduate school and the T&L office to check with them regarding any applicable rules and regulations for choosing a replacement. The graduate school office again said that the only requirement as far as they were concerned was that Mr. Leonard’s advisor needed to be in Teaching and Learning (which he is) and to have a category P rank. The selection of other members of the committee was up to Mr. Leonard in consultation with his advisor. The T&L office told Mr. Leonard that they follow the graduate school standards, so whatever he was told by the graduate school was the relevant standard. Mr. Leonard called the T&L office a second time in order to confirm this information, and he was told the same thing. Nothing was said about a requirement that two members, or any members, of his committee must be from the science education section of MSAT.
  • Although we have now learned of an apparent policy within T&L that there be two members from science education on science education dissertation committees, it does not appear that this policy is either widely known or consistently applied. First, as already mentioned, when Mr. Leonard repeatedly sought guidance from the appropriate university offices earlier this year and in 2002 or 2003, he was not informed of any such policy. Second, we have now learned of several other science education dissertation committees over the past few years that apparently did not have two members from the science education section. Also, the dissertation committee was approved by the Graduate Studies Committee for the College of Education, which is supposed to check for compliance to various policies (T&L is a subdivision of the College of Education). Given these facts, it would be grossly unfair to selectively and retroactively apply this policy to Mr. Leonard at the very last moment of his dissertation process.

3. The replacement of Mr. Leonard’s original Graduate Faculty Representative (G.F.R). It has been publicly reported that Mr. Leonard’s original Graduate Faculty Representative withdrew herself and therefore had to be replaced. In truth, she was removed at the last minute by the Graduate School in a highly irregular procedure without any consultation of Mr. Leonard’s advisor, his dissertation committee, or Mr. Leonard.

4. The nature of Mr. Leonard’s research. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the nature and scope of Mr. Leonard’s research project. Mr. Leonard does not teach intelligent design in his classes. Nor does his research project examine the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory. Instead, it looks at the impact on students of teaching a curriculum that includes scientific information and interpretations for and against macroevolutonary theory (an approach called for in the Ohio science standards). Mr. Leonard’s research is directed toward student learning and pedagogy, not on the merits of the scientific debate over evolution.

All students, whatever their viewpoint, have the right to be treated with respect, and OSU professors have the obligation to safeguard the academic freedom not only of themselves but of their students. We urge fellow members of the OSU community to remember this fact in the present instance, and we urge the news media to be more responsible before carelessly publishing unfounded claims harmful to the reputation of a student.

Robert DiSilvestro
Ph.D. Biochemistry, Professor of Human Nutrition
Glen R. Needham
Ph.D. Associate Professor of Entomology