Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scientist alleges religious discrimination in Ky.

An astronomer argues that his Christian faith and his peers' belief that he is an evolution skeptic kept him from getting a prestigious job as the director of a new student observatory at the University of Kentucky.

Martin Gaskell quickly rose to the top of a list of applicants being considered by the university's search committee. One member said he was "breathtakingly above the other applicants."
Others openly worried his Christian faith could conflict with his duties as a scientist, calling him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical."

Even though Gaskell says he is not a creationist, he claims he was passed over for the job at UK's MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of the theory of evolution.

Gaskell has sued the university, claiming lost income and emotional distress. Last month a judge rejected a motion from the university and allowed it to go to trial Feb. 8.

"There is no dispute that based on his application, Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position," U.S. District Judge Karl S. Forester wrote in the ruling.

Gaskell later learned that professors had discussed his purported religious views during the search process. Gaskell told the AP in an e-mail that he didn't grow frustrated, but felt "one should not allow universities to get away with religious discrimination." University scientists wondered to each other in internal e-mails if Gaskell's faith would interfere with the job, which included public outreach, according to court records.

The topic became so heated behind the scenes that even university biologists, who believed Gaskell was a critic of evolution, weighed in by citing a controversial Bible-based museum in Kentucky that had just opened.

"We might as well have the Creation Museum set up an outreach office in biology," biology professor James Krupa wrote to a colleague in an October 2007 e-mail. The museum was making national headlines at the time for exhibits that assert the literal truth of the Bible's creation story.

Science professors cited a lecture Gaskell has given called "Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation," which he developed for "Christians and others interested in Bible and science questions...," according to an outline of the lecture. Gaskell told the AP he was invited to give the lecture at UK in 1997, and organizers had read his notes.

The wide-ranging lecture outlines historical scientific figures who discuss God and interpretations of the creation story in the biblical chapter Genesis. Also in the notes, Gaskell mentions evolution, saying the theory has "significant scientific problems" and includes "unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations," according to court records.

Gaskell was briefly asked about the lecture during his job interview in 2007 with the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michael Cavagnero, according to Gaskell's deposition. Gaskell said he felt that questions related to religion during the job interview were "inappropriate." "I think that if I had a document like this and I was advocating atheism ... I don't think it would be an issue," he said of his lecture.

Science professors also expressed concern that hiring Gaskell would damage the university's image. An astrophysics professor, Moshe Elitzur, told Cavagnero that the hire would be a "huge public relations mistake," according to an e-mail from Cavagnero in court records. "Moshe predicts that he would not be here one month before the (Lexington) Herald-Leader headline would read: 'UK hires creationist to direct new student observatory.'"

University spokesman Jay Blanton declined to comment Monday because the litigation is pending.

Gaskell said he is not a "creationist" and his views on evolution are in line with other biological scientists. In his lecture notes, Gaskell also distances himself from Christians who believe the earth is a few thousand years old, saying their assertions are based on "mostly very poor science."

Gaskell's lawsuit is indicative of an increasingly tense debate between religion and science on college campuses and elsewhere, said Steven K. Green, a law professor and director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Ore. "I think it reflects a phenomenon that the sides in this debate are becoming more encamped, they're hunkering down," Green said. "Because certainly within the biology community and within the science community generally, they see the increasing attacks creationists are making as very threatening to their existence — and vice versa, to a certain extent."

Gaskell was uniquely qualified for the new position at the University of Kentucky, according to court records, because he oversaw the design and construction of an observatory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also advised UK during the building of the MacAdam facility. He currently teaches at the University of Texas.

His attorney, Frank Manion, said scientists at UK were too quick to place Gaskell on one side of the creation-evolution debate.
"Unfortunately too many people get hung up on the idea that you have to be one extreme or the other," said Manion, who works for American Center for Law & Justice, which focuses on religious freedom cases. They say "you can't be a religious believer and somebody who accepts evolution, which is clearly not true. And Gaskell's a perfect example of that."


A vivid example of the collapse of behavior standards under Leftist permissiveness

What a shame it is that Dunbar Senior High School, noted for its academic rigor during the era of segregated schools, is now the duty station of several police officers backed by security cameras overseeing a student body enrolled in mandatory sessions designed to prevent sexual assault and other inappropriate behavior.

When I was coming along, Dunbar was the school you wanted to attend if you hoped to enter college and pursue a professional career. Dunbar's reputation was such that some black parents in other parts of the country sent their children to Washington just to attend the school.

My mother, a 1935 Dunbar graduate, was so set on attending the school that, lacking streetcar fare, she would walk there and back from her Foggy Bottom home at 716 23rd St. NW - a six-mile trek roundtrip. She and the house on 23rd Street are gone. But her rich stories about life at Dunbar in the 1930s live on.

My sister and I shared in the wealth of Dunbar experiences when we went there in the 1950s. Excellence, preparedness, hard work and high standards were Dunbar's watchwords.

Contrary to what some believe, the Dunbar of our day was not a school for the city's black elite. If that had been true, the King family, and hundreds of children of the city's working class, would never have entered that citadel of learning.

The disparaging descriptions of today's Dunbar may be accurate, but they are hard to take. My Post colleague, education columnist Jay Mathews recently described Dunbar as a "long-troubled" school with "a stubborn culture of absenteeism, tardiness and wandering the halls during class." Post education reporter Bill Turque wrote that Dunbar "has been a failing school for years."

But it's not the reporting about Dunbar that is distressing; it's what has occurred within the school.

In May 2009, the school system asked Dunbar students their opinions on their school. Forty-seven percent of the 331 students who responded disagreed with the statement "I feel safe at my school." More than 70 percent disagreed with "My school is orderly and in control." Almost 80 percent disagreed that "My school is clean and well maintained."

Our ancient Dunbar building at First and N Streets NW, demolished years ago, was always clean, and it was a source of school pride. It was a safe place to be, too. Of course the Dunbar of old is gone. Ironically, it went the way of segregation, taking with it a cadre of outstanding veteran teachers and administrators, and students drawn citywide to Dunbar by choice.


Why my child wanted to go to a British public school

Expat Anna Nicholas's son found Spanish education no match for a British "public" school. This article is from the Telegraph, where the old British convention of referring to private schools as public schools is still usually observed

Some time ago my mother, a teacher for many years, told me that the three most valuable gifts a parent could give a child were love, education and travel. Having relocated from London to rural Majorca with my husband, Alan, and son, Ollie, at the beginning of the new millennium, I found myself, a decade later, pondering her words.

Our son had undoubtedly received love in spades, and from an early age had learnt to regard airports as his second home. We hunted with the Vedda warriors of Sri Lanka, worked at an orphanage in Colombo and communed with the Ember√° tribe in Panama. We scored points for love and travel, but what about Ollie’s education? Aye, there was the rub.

Before setting foot in Majorca, we had rigorously researched the international schools, enrolling Ollie in what was considered to be the best, in Palma. In the junior school he fared well, mixing with children of different nationalities and benefiting from a cosmopolitan education. But within years, more than 70 per cent of the pupils were local, and this inevitably posed a problem for teachers forced to juggle classes of native English speakers with the linguistically challenged.

ISC Research, which analyses the international sector, claims that only 20 per cent of students now at international schools are from expat families, and that the biggest, most rapidly expanding group is wealthy local children seeking to learn English. We also observed a high turnover of mostly young British teachers, who returned to more lucrative teaching posts in the UK after a few years abroad, which created uncertainty and a lack of cohesion.

A Spanish friend, whose son attended Ollie’s school, persuaded us to consider a new private Spanish boys school in the north-west of the island. Both boys relocated and were placed in the same class.

As the only English pupil, with limited Spanish and Catalan, Ollie found the first year daunting. But he graduated, aged 11, to the upper school with flying colours.

There, however, the regime was tougher and the curriculum reminiscent of a Fifties English school. The pupils learnt by rote, and there was little class discussion or creativity, with emphasis placed on maths, Spanish grammar and linguistics.

At 13, Ollie mooted the idea of returning to England for his schooling. He began to tire of learning in two foreign languages (Catalan and Castilian Spanish) and found the lack of creative subjects, most notably English language and literature, irksome. He romanticised about rugby and cricket, and - God forbid - the British weather.

We decided to look for schools in Dorset because both its airports offered direct flights to Majorca. By chance, I came across the Canford School website. The school’s architecture, landscape and elegant library filled me with awe. I also liked its work ethic, philosophy and lack of pretension.

Although all expat applicants must take the Common Entrance exam or equivalent, much is based on how the prospective pupil performs at interview, and their schooling background. Ollie had never stepped foot in a laboratory or studied chemistry so his level in the subject was pretty woeful. Canford’s head, John Lever, took this on board. His view was that “knowledge per se was less important than enthusiasm, curiosity, a good work ethic and good mental machinery”.

Of all the schools we visited, Canford was the only one to show us lessons in action, and the head never once clock-watched.

Having applied late, we were lucky to be offered just a day place at Canford. This wasn’t such a hardship, because we decided to relocate temporarily to settle Ollie into school, commuting between Dorset and Majorca.

Ollie has so far embraced life at Canford with gusto, made many friends, and greatly enjoyed the wide range of sports and activities. He is keen to board, and when he does, Alan and I will feel happy that we had time to meet teachers, and to attend sports matches and events. Now we have witnessed the fantastic pastoral care, being abroad while Ollie boards will not feel so daunting.


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