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The following was released to the press today by Lee Greer, former assistant professor of biology at La Sierra University, and his legal representation. It is published below without edit. —Alexander Carpenter
La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, retaliates against an evolutionary biologist on the faculty for proposing how to include creation as a faith position in the science curriculum
Riverside, CA — May 09, 2012 — It’s not every day that a church-affiliated University terminates a biology professor for proposing a way to teach creation as a theological position alongside evolutionary science in classes on origins, but that is exactly what happened to La Sierra University’s Dr. Lee Greer.
Dr. Greer has been a biology professor at La Sierra University for 5 years and was only one year away from tenure review. Since early 2009, he has seen an ongoing conflict in the blogosphere and on campus over the teaching of evolution in LSU’s biology program. This conflict has created divisions between the University and the Church and even threatened the school’s accreditations with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the Adventist Accrediting Association (AAA).
During the conflict, Dr. Greer, an evolutionary biologist by research discipline, reached out to conservative students on campus, as well as to conservative Trustees of the University’s Board, and also Church officials, notably the Adventist North American Division Vice President for Education, Larry Blackmer. Consulting with these and other individuals, Dr. Greer drafted an informal “Joint Proposal of individual La Sierra University Faculty and Trustees” that he hoped would balance the interests of the biology faculty who need to teach evolutionary science and students who need to learn it, with the concerns of the Church and constituents, who want the inclusion of creation in this Seventh-day Adventist institution.
Dr. Greer’s Joint Proposal suggested continued inclusion of evolution by “teaching and research in the various disciplines of the modern sciences according to the most up-to-date and rigorous standards of the published science . . . including the data which highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various models.” The proposal also suggested that biology faculty affirm and incorporate “the Biblical concept of creation, including the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Genesis 1 and 2, as a faith position at the classroom level, when questions of origins are discussed.” The proposal noted that “creation is not a scientific construct. It is a faith construct. The conviction of Divine Creation lies beyond the purview of the methods of empirical science, and cannot be subjected to them. Nevertheless, faith and science can and should interact.”
This proposal was endorsed by the majority of La Sierra’s biology faculty and by four Trustees. Although signed on to by individuals, explicitly not on behalf of the University, the informal proposal was welcomed by the Board chair and also officials of the Adventist Church. The Board of Trustees voted to affirm the document by officially adopting it verbatim as a “curriculum proposal.”
According to Dr. Greer, “I intended the proposal to be a suggested compromise to finally put an end to the conflict over the teaching of evolution on our campus, by safeguarding the scientific integrity of our program, the affirmation of the official denominational position, and the University’s continuing accreditations."
Unfortunately, the Administration’s response to the independent proposal was not positive. “It seemed to me that President Randal Wisbey was upset that biology faculty, such as myself, had independently exercised our academic freedom by proposing a solution,” Dr. Greer said. In addition, three of the four Trustees who signed were removed because of their role in the Joint Proposal.
The Administration insisted that the biology faculty sign a hastily-written, official apology memo over the release of the informal proposal. Because of the memo’s mischaracterizations and errors of fact, Dr. Greer refused to sign giving his reasons in summary—despite several warnings communicated to him that failure to sign would place his faculty position in jeopardy. Two months later during the Christmas break 2011, Dr. Greer was notified that his contract at LSU would not be renewed. Furthermore, he was informed that this “does not constitute a ‘for cause’ termination.”
Dr. Greer is convinced that the University terminated him because of the informal proposal. “Before this, things were going positively – the University often let me know how well I was performing. The provost thanked me by letter ‘for the many stellar things which you have done, and continue to do, to enhance the learning experiences of our students.’ The termination of my appointment really came out of the blue, especially since I had been assured shortly before Christmas that no problems were anticipated.” To many it is evident that the issue was neither Dr. Greer’s teaching, his research publications and presentations, nor his service on campus and beyond, including for the City of Riverside, and his widely-reported work on the Navajo Nation.
Kathryn Proffitt, a former LSU Trustee who individually endorsed Dr. Greer’s informal Joint Proposal, agrees with Dr. Greer’s assessment, “For a faculty member to take the initiative to suggest an approach-in-principle to resolve this long-standing controversy, which was acceptable to the Church, was extraordinary. Rather than losing his position, Professor Greer should have been commended. President Wisbey has done a great injustice to Dr. Greer."
Dr. Greer hoped for a fair, expeditious hearing and to return for the new school year in the Fall, after the facts had been revealed. On February 23rd, he filed a grievance which, if successful, would have led to his reinstatement. His expectations were ended when LSU’s lawyer sent a letter that in effect attempted to close the door on the grievance process for Dr. Greer.
This leaves Dr. Greer with little recourse other than filing an action against the University for violating his contract, which guaranteed him complete academic freedom to teach and publish without interference from the University. His attorney, Chris Heikaus Weaver, remains hopeful that such a move will be unnecessary, stating, “Dr. Greer was trying to incorporate creation into La Sierra’s science classrooms in a way that would respect the Church's beliefs, while maintaining scientific integrity. I have to believe that once the University’s Trustees understand this, they will reverse course and let Dr. Greer get back to the teaching and research he loves.”