Fink flunks Case science test

Fink flunks Case science test
Faculty rejects her creationist veneer

Akron Beacon Journal - Nov 02, 2006 - Editorial
By Steve Hoffman, Beacon Journal editorial writer
It's tough to get academics to agree on when to hold the next Faculty Senate meeting, let alone on the agenda, but science professors at Case Western Reserve University have come out almost unanimously against the re-election of Deborah Owens Fink to the state school board.

Seventy-five out of 90 faculty members who teach in the prestigious university's science departments signed a scathing open letter, released Tuesday, urging voters to dump Fink, a board member since 1999, and elect Tom Sawyer, the former Democratic congressman who represented the Akron area from 1987 to 2003.

Voters haven't seen anything like this before in District 7, which covers Ashtabula, Portage, Summit and Trumbull counties. Fink, a Bath Township resident who teaches marketing at the University of Akron, has never faced opposition before.

So how did Fink manage to outrage an entire science faculty, covering every discipline from anthropology to psychology and who knows how many shades of the political spectrum?

Easy. She worked very hard at it for a long time.

A Republican with political ties to charter school magnate David Brennan, Fink has spent much of her tenure on the board attacking the teaching of evolution in high school biology class. Her tactics clearly followed a wedge strategy devised by right-wing think tanks looking for a way to reintroduce creationism into the science classroom.

All along, the agenda was political. There is no scientific controversy about evolution, which has become the bedrock of modern biology. Top scientists at Case say there is more scientific controversy these days about how gravity works than about the ideas first promulgated by Charles Darwin.

Besides being ignored by a marketing professor, what really set the scientists at Case on edge in recent days was Fink's ridicule, her contention that only fringe groups of "dogmatic" scientists oppose her candidacy.

Her efforts to paint scientists as the extremists got the attention of Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case, who had appeared before the state board in 2002 when Fink pushed hard for the inclusion of a variant of creationism known as "intelligent design" in the high school biology curriculum.

As the Fink-Sawyer race heated up this year, Krauss began circulating a letter among fellow faculty members. Considering that 10 are out of the country on sabbatical, Krauss achieved remarkable agreement across a wide variety of perspectives.

One reason for the agreement is that intelligent design is not science and never will be. It assumes that a higher power guided the development of life. This kind of unprovable assumption is the proverbial camel's nose under the scientific tent, toppling a structure carefully built on a foundation of observation and testing.

At one point earlier this year, Fink and her allies discussed curriculum standards that would challenge not only evolution, but also stem-cell research, cloning, even global warming. All would be taught under a "Controversial Issues" template that would provide another wedge to get creationism back into the science class. As Krauss argued, these issues are not controversial from a scientific perspective.

Finally, in February, a majority of the state school board, having dumped a guideline and lesson plans that called for critical analysis of evolution (but no other part of the science curriculum), pulled any further discussion of science standards off the table.

The other big reason behind the scientists' concern is the danger that Ohio is slipping further behind when it comes to developing the scientifically literate work force that it needs for an expanding, prosperous economy. That is a big part of why Sawyer agreed to get into the race when approached by a group of scientists called Help Ohio Public Education, among whose co-founders is Patricia Princehouse, who teaches evolutionary biology, among other subjects, at Case.

If Fink wants to blame anyone for her electoral predicament, she should start with Gov. Bob Taft. Given the aims of the Discovery Institute, the think tank spearheading the intelligent design movement, it was impossible not to reach the assumption that, by 2002, Ohio was being maneuvered into being a test case for the next political assault on evolution.

Taft watched the situation develop in 2002 through 2004, but failed to act in a decisive way. It was only after a federal court case in Pennsylvania late last year outlawed teaching intelligent design as a violation of the separation of church and state that pressure built for the Ohio school board to abandon its standards and lesson plans for subjecting evolution to extraordinary critical analysis, and, thus, a discussion of intelligent design.

The letter from Case represents the overwhelming consensus among mainstream academics that the teaching of science is too important to be hijacked for political gain.

If anyone in this battle is on the fringe, it is Fink, not the faculty of one of Ohio's premier research universities.

Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or e-mailed at