Evolving Position at Olivet Nazarene

Professor involved in evolution dispute says university has lifted limits on his teaching and use of his book.
February 11, 2009
 

A biology professor at Olivet Nazarene University may soon be able to resume teaching introductory courses and have his book defending evolution taught on the campus.

Richard Colling, the professor, was barred from teaching general biology or having Random Designer, his book, taught at the university that is his alma mater and the place where he has taught for nearly 30 years. Colling's book argues that it is possible to believe in God and still accept evolution. When the book appeared in 2004, some anti-evolution churches campaigned to have him fired, and while the university initially defended him, it subsequently put limits on what he could teach and barred his book from being taught.

A report issued last month by the American Association of University Professors found that Olivet Nazarene violated Colling's rights. The report set the stage for a possible censure of the university by the AAUP.

Since the report was issued, Olivet Nazarene officials have been meeting with Colling to try to resolve their dispute. Colling said Tuesday that he has been assured that the limits on his teaching and the use of his book have both been rescinded. He praised the AAUP report and the university's willingness to work through the issues. As far as he is concerned, he said, the outcome is "a successful and positive resolution of the academic freedom concerns originally raised."

A university spokeswoman said that Olivet Nazarene officials weren't ready to go public with details of the negotiations. But she confirmed that there have been "a series of productive meetings" that were leading to "a common way forward."

While the AAUP follows its reports on academic freedom violations it finds with attempts to negotiate a solution, those settlements rarely are speedy and sometimes never come. Gregory Scholtz, director of the AAUP's department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, said that the final decision of the association's academic freedom committee and members would depend on official notification from the university.

But he said it was encouraging to see progress so quickly. "What we are always after is a resolution that honors our policies," he said. "For this to happen now, instead of after censure is imposed, is a great thing."

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