UT professors object to creation institute's inclusion in charity list

UT professors object to creation institute's inclusion in charity list
Ralph K.M. Haruwitz, Austin American-Statesman - 11/30/2011
David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, was sifting through the list of charitable organizations approved for state employee donations when he was startled to see that the Institute for Creation Research was included.

Now he and several other faculty and staff members at the university are trying to get the Dallas-based nonprofit group, which promotes a biblical view of creation as science, stripped from the list.

A panel that oversees the State Employee Charitable Campaign will consider the professors' grievance when it meets Friday in Austin. The panel, known as the State Policy Committee, decides each year which charities to include on the list of hundreds to which workers at state agencies and universities can donate through payroll deductions.

The issue, in the view of the creation institute's critics, is whether it meets a requirement in state law to provide "direct or indirect health and human services."

"The Institute for Creation Research is an anti-science organization," Hillis said. "They work to undermine the mission of the university and of science in general, and especially the science that is the very basis for health and human services. How could such an organization possibly be listed as a charitable organization to be supported by state employees?"

Officials of the institute did not respond to a request for comment.

The organization's listing in a brochure distributed to state employees offers the following description: "Science strongly supports the Bible's authority and accuracy. With scientific research, education programs, and media presentations, we equip Christians to stand for the Truth."

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, whose members are gubernatorial appointees, voted 8-0 in 2008 to reject the institute's proposal to offer a master's degree in science education. The board's commissioner, Raymund Paredes, said at the time that the institute's portrayal of evolution as false and of the Earth as being 6,000 years old amounted to religious belief as opposed to science. The institute sued, but a federal judge dismissed its case.

Mike Markl , who served as chairman of the State Policy Committee until he resigned Oct. 31, said he didn't recall the Institute for Creation Research among the many organizations that applied to be included in the program. He said the committee's reviews are based on standards spelled out in state law.

"Any personal biases weren't part of the process and shouldn't be part of the process," said Markl, director of payroll services for the state Health and Human Services Commission.

The policy committee is scheduled to elect a new chairman Friday. Chris Conradt, a committee member who works at the state comptroller's office, said he would prefer that the committee's new leader address questions regarding the Institute for Creation Research.

Noe Barrios , another committee member and chief of staff for Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said it would be premature for him to comment because he has not reviewed the relevant materials.

Charities included in the program range from the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund , which supports injured or ill service members, to Vegan Outreach , which promotes "ethical eating." A number of charities have religious leanings, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Jewish Community Association of Austin .

But the Institute for Creation Research espouses such a strongly sectarian view of the origin of life that its inclusion "was enough to get me riled up," said Daniel Bolnick , an associate professor of integrative biology at UT who studies the evolution of autoimmune disorders. "It gives them legitimacy they really don't deserve."

John Hoberman , a UT professor of Germanic studies, said the institute is "an adversary of the values a research university stands for" and that its activities "do not qualify as the sort of humanitarian activity we associate with charity in the proper sense of the word."

rhaurwitz@statesman.com; 445-3604