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Polyani Center's future is unclear

Oct. 24, 2000

Director's removal arises from e-mail

By BLAIR MARTIN

Staff writer

In the wake of Dr. William Dembski's removal from his duties as director Thursday, the Michael Polanyi Center's future is even more unclear.

Dembski was released from his position Thursday after the release of a controversial e-mail he wrote that caused concern among some faculty members.

Faculty senate chairman, Dr. Jay Losey, said Dembski's e-mail conflicted with the theme emphasized in the external committee's report, which stated that he and the Center would work in a collegial manner with other members of the Baylor faculty.

'Any faculty member who posts intolerant remarks should be held accountable for those statements,' he said.

Dr. Michael Beaty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning, said he wouldn't comment on any particulars surrounding Dembski's reassignment except that Dembski's actions, after the release of the e-mail, compromised his ability to serve as director.

Beaty said Dembski will now serve as associate research professor in conceptual foundations of science within the university's Institute of Faith and Learning, where he will devote himself to the research of intelligent design and can serve the remainder of his five-year contract.

In Dembski's absence, Dr. Bruce Gordon, assistant-director of the Polanyi Center, was appointed as interim director to continue the center's daily functions and implement the recommendations of the external peer review committee's report, one of which is to establish an advisory committee to oversee the center.

Gordon said he and Beaty are in the midst of 'generating a list of possible names for the advisory committee to be submitted to the provost and Dean Wallace Daniel.'

'At the moment, everything is up in the air,' he said. 'But it is my hope that we [Beaty and Gordon] might reconstitute a new center.'

Dr. Charles Weaver, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, said the advisory committee, which will be composed of faculty members, will serve an important function.

'This is what most faculty was concerned about prior to the report,' he said. 'By having the formation of this advisory committee, the Polanyi Center will be subject to peer review for their research and writings and will have to actually defend their views.'

Weaver said that initially the center's two-man operation, Dembski and Gordon, were outside of any kind of accountability.

'With academic freedom comes accountability,' he said. 'Responsibility to one's own peers, students and professional colleagues across the nation.'

Dembski's reassignment not only adds to the uncertainty of the center -- it is also another incident in the continuing evolution of the center's controversial existence on campus, which began a year ago.

TIME LINE

Oct. 1999 - The Michael Polanyi Center quietly establishes itself onto Baylor's campus. Primarily consisting of Drs. William Dembski and Bruce Gordon, few realized its existence or how much controversy it would foster.

April 12 to 15, 2000 - The Michael Polanyi Center hosts its first conference on campus, titled The Nature of Nature. With debate already surrounding the center's purpose, faculty members were encouraged to attend the various seminars led by acclaimed science and philosophy scholars from around the country.

April 18, 2000 - After much debate among faculty within science, philosophy and theology departments, the Faculty Senate calls for the administration to dissolve the Polanyi Center, stating that the center's study of intelligent design has 'creationist' undertones and may ultimately jeopardize their department's degrees.

April 20, 2000 - Sloan publicly rejects the Senate's recommendation to dissolve the center, saying that faculty members were consulted before the center's establishment and that there was a legitimate place for the center on Baylor's campus.

Spring - Administration and faculty reach a compromise and an external peer review committee, consisting of eight academic scholars led by philosophy professor Dr. William F. Cooper, is established to investigate the legitimacy and validity of the Center's research.

Sept. 8 to 10, 2000 - The committee holds its final meeting on Baylor's campus, where they draft a report that will list their thoughts and recommendations of the Center's mission and affiliation with Baylor.

Oct. 17, 2000 - Committee's report is released citing four major recommendations. First, the Center's mission is best supported under the structure of the Institute for Faith and Learning. Second, the Center should not only continue to pursue the intelligent design theory but should also expand a broader focus to include broader areas of its mandate as well. Third, an advisory committee, composed of Baylor faculty members, should be created to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component of the Center, and finally, that the Center should no longer bear the name Michael Polanyi.

Oct. 19, 2000 - One day after he released a controversial e-mail, Dr. Dembski is released from his duties as director and reassigned to associate research professor in conceptual foundations of science.

Currently - Drs. Gordon and Beaty are generating names of potential members for the advisory committee.