WBGSU Radio Interview on Religious Discrimination Against Creationists

December 1985

Author: Dr. Jerry Bergman
Subject: Social Issues
Date: 08/05/2005

(Edited for Clarity and Grammar Only)

George: The University and Religious Beliefs: How Tolerant is the Academic Community Towards the Religious Beliefs of Faculty Members? Are America’s universities prejudice toward more conservative religion and beliefs?  Let us took at the case of Dr. Jerry Bergman.  Dr. Bergman was denied tenure and was terminated by Bowling Green in 1980.  Dr. Bergman is now suing the university.  He claims that he was denied tenure because of his creationist and religious beliefs.  What is tenure and how does a teacher get it?  Charlie?

Charlie: Thank you George.  As defined by the university’s academic charter, tenure is obtained after a faculty member passes a probationary period, which is not to be over seven years.  Tenure affords faculty members an opportunity for full time employment every year until they die, resign, retire, or fail to accept an appropriate appointment.  Several criteria are used for evaluating persons for tenure.  They are teaching effectiveness, scholarly and creative work, service to the university, and attainment of a terminal degree or its equivalent.  One of the factors that may impinge upon this is, the university’s academic charter, which further defines these criteria.  When a person is denied tenure, a petition for a grievance arbitration is available.  The grounds are “failure to observe the due process, denial of academic freedom failure to consider the member’s competence, or unlawful discrimination based on race, creed, national origin, sex, age, or handicap.”  While interestingly, religion is not specifically mentioned here, we can assume the word “creed” includes religious belief.

George: The defense counsel for Bowling Green has asked that this statement be read.

As special counsel to the Ohio Attorney General, I represent Bowling Green State University in litigation brought by Gerald Bergman.

Since the matter is in litigation, I do not feel that it is proper for a representative of the university to discuss the issues in a form other than a court.  I am familiar with Dr. Bergman’s claims and feel they will be much more limited when they are subject to the proper rules of evidence.  The university has investigated Dr. Bergman’s claims fully and found no discrimination.  I might point out that the person who initially investigated this matter was Myron Chenault, himself a minority.  The faculty personnel conciliation committee also held hearings on Dr. Bergman’s claim, and concluded that the university and its representative had acted properly.  Finally, both of the agencies charged with the enforcement of the employment discrimination claims, the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission investigated Dr. Bergman.  The university’s position is simply that Dr. Bergman’s views played no part in the decision that his contract was not to be renewed.  The university as a public institution has taken, and takes no position with regard to the propriety of Dr. Bergman’s religious beliefs.  Very truly, John Mattimoe.

Dr. Bergman, This letter seems to put a damper on you case.  They claim, quite openly, that “you don’t have a case.”  How do you respond?

Dr. Bergman:  I was shocked when I read the letter.  It would take me two hours to properly respond to it but, briefly, I went to Myron Chenault and asked his office to investigate my case before I was denied tenure.  He said there was no point in looking into it until after I was denied tenure because it was simply supposition that I may be denied tenure.  After I was denied, he said there nothing at that point that he could do.  I am not aware that he did any investigation of my case [this was verified in court].  If he did, I would think that he would have contacted me, and I would have seen a copy of his report.  As far as I know, the claim that Myron Chenault investigated my case is totally false.

Secondly, the faculty personnel conciliation committee did not investigate my case.  At their hearing I was not, as is required by the university rules, given copies of the documents used against me.  Furthermore, I had no idea what their concerns were.  I had heard rumors, but I did not know what, in fact, their concerns were until I attended the appeal meeting.  Then I had a grand total of ten minutes to respond to them!  This is hardly enough time to respond to a series of issues, many of which I never heard before, and many of which were irrelevant.  Further, my advisor felt I should not bring up religion at this meeting as it may prejudice the committee members against me.  Also, I had a clear case on the basis of due process, so he felt that there was no need to focus on other concerns.

The EEOC, likewise, I am not aware of any investigation that they did.  If they did, I think they would have contacted me, and they would have completed a report.  I’ve never seen one.  This is like saying you have been found guilty of a crime, although you have never been to court, or even charged with a crime.  In my case, what are the charges?  When was I found guilty?  Neither did the Ohio Civil Rights investigate religious discrimination concerns.  They investigated reasonable accommodation, and my charge was a religious discrimination charge.  Furthermore their investigation is full of errors.  For example, they claim that they contacted certain persons, and I have affidavits from them stating that they were never contacted by the Ohio Civil Rights.  The OCR concluded, interestingly, that I was not denied tenure because of my religion, but because they voted to deny me tenure!  They concluded that my teaching and research was adequate.  I would think in the case of a black or a woman, this would hardly be seen as a valid reason. One would explore why a person was denied tenure.  You can’t deny a black tenure and say “we have no reason” admitting that his teaching, research, service was adequate, but his white colleagues simply voted not to give him tenure.  I doubt they would let that stand.  And they should not, but investigate the reason for the firing.

If religion is not seen as important in my case, why were there dozens of communications within the university discussing my religion?  Even in the depositions, which the university recently took, why did they spend an enormous amount of time, several hours out of six, either directly or indirectly discussing my religious background, beliefs, etc.?  They even asked the religion of some of my witnesses!  If religion is not important, why did they spend such an enormous amount of time on my religion?  One of my attorneys said that I should have brought my Bible instead of all the affidavits because it seemed the university was not interested in my teaching, research, or service, but my religion.  They asked, basically, a grand total of two questions relative to the required criteria, teaching, research, and service.  One of those questions was why I felt that I was a superior teacher.  My response was because my student ratings were consistently in the 80th and 90th percentile for the relevant period, which is about two years before one goes up for tenure (and my student evaluations were usually high before this time as well).  They also asked why I felt I was the most productive faculty member in my department.  I responded “by simply counting publications, this is rather apparent.  I had more publications than my entire department combined.”  I don’t remember what percent were in press or in print at that time, but I had over 200, many in prestigious journals.

Charlie:  Dr. Bergman, if your religious beliefs were the cause for your being denied tenure, it implies that those who do receive tenure are either stifling their beliefs, or are nonreligious?  In other words, what sets you apart from those who are religious and still received tenure?

Dr. Bergman:  There’s a very clear difference between me and those who, as you say, are “religious” and receive tenure.  Most are not creationists, but only, at best, nominal Christians.  Surveys have consistently found that about half of the American population are conservative creationists.  And yet most state universities have very few, if any, creationists in their science, or related areas, faculty.  I am aware of only a couple creationists on the staff at BGSU, and these are in-the-closet, so to speak, about their creationism.  I am not aware of a single, outspoken creationist at Bowling Green, although I know several who are sympathetic.  As one person in the science department at BGSU said to me, “I don’t want to happen to me what happened to you.  Therefore, I am going to be very careful about discussing my creation beliefs.”  If half the population are creationists, therefore half the faculty of BGSU should be; those who claimed that no discrimination occurs there can easily be proved wrong by a simple Chi-Square analysis.

In response to this, some people claim that, as you become more educated, you realize that creationism is false and evolution true.  This is false analogy for a number of reasons.  Many scientists actively involved in the creation movement today were at one time evolutionists.  So we are not talking about people who were raised creationists and continue as such as professors, but people who became creationists only after they were convinced by the scientific evidence, as I was.  The claim that education “enlightens” is similar to claiming that, although 10% of our country is Jewish, no Jews are on faculties of universities because, after they become educated, they realize how foolish Judaism is.  The assumption that more knowledge alone causes one to be an evolutionist is both discriminatory and derogatory.

George:  Dr. Bergman, in an earlier interview you mentioned that you knew of persons who were actually denied degrees because of their creationists beliefs.

Dr. Bergman:  I have documented numerous cases where this has occurred, including at Stanford, Harvard, and other schools.  When one has a 4.0 average, a number of publications, goes to school under fellowship, and then the faculty says “we are not going to give you a degree,” certainly one should become suspicious  Through interviews, etc., I have found the bigotry of some faculty is very blatant.  One openly stated “there is no way this university is going to give a creationist a Ph.D. in Science.”

George:  Do you have specific, documented cases of this?  It’s awfully hard for me to believe that someone who would go through school with a 4.0 average would not get his degree.

Dr. Bergman:  I’m glad you find that hard to believe.  I know of numerous cases, although many creationists have earned degrees, so its not 100 percent discrimination.  It is difficult for an open creationist, regardless of his or her qualifications, to earn a Ph.D. and, especially, to achieve tenure.

George:  Dr. Bergman, you have said that you know of no faculty member at any secular state supported university who was an out of the closet creationist who received tenure.  Are there no tenured creationists at all?  Or that you are only aware of those who can’t seem to separate their personal beliefs from their professional lives?

Dr. Bergman:  Some creationists do achieve tenure.  The most common way is to be an evolutionist when one achieves tenure.  Many of my colleagues who are creationists achieved tenure in this way.  They were evolutionists for many years, and only after they were tenured did they become creationists.  Another way is to stay tightly in the close until you achieve tenure, and only then to open up relative to your creationist beliefs.  It is difficult and, again, I am not aware of a single case, and I have investigated this very thoroughly, in which an out-of-the-closet creationist has earned tenure at any state university.  [Note: since this interview I have learned of several cases.]  I am not saying that cases do not happen, but after thoroughly researching this, I have yet to find one.  I am sure, if I keep researching, I will find a few cases, but I would say it’s extremely rare for an out-of-the-closet creationist to be awarded tenure at a state university.

George:  Dr. Bergman, as to your specific case, what classes did you teach?

Dr. Bergman:  I taught tests and measurements in the college of education.

George:  You were involved, basically, with education majors?

Dr. Bergman: Right.

George:  How were you treated by you students?

Dr. Bergman:  My student evaluations were high, and my feedback was very positive.  Most students, as far as I was aware, were very happy with my teaching, and many told me, both in writing and verbally, that they felt I was one of the best teachers in the university.  My colleagues brought out that my teaching was not the issue.  Their concern was not my teaching, research, or service.  As far as I am aware, no one has legitimate concerns relative to teaching, research, or service.  The concern has always been my religious beliefs and whether or not they crept into my teaching.

George:  Dr. Bergman, you claim never to have taught traditional religious concepts in you classes.  Are we to assume by that distinction that you taught what we might call non-traditional religious concepts?

Dr. Bergman:  For the courses I taught, if I would have started openly talking about religion, non-traditional or traditional, my students would have wondered.  They do not expect this content in the classes that I taught.  I did not have enough time to cover the material I was assigned, and I knew religion was an issue that could cause problems; therefore I stayed away from it.  I was repeatedly accused of teaching religion, though.  A number of my colleagues, in their depositions under oath, stated that they were very suspicious that I had talked about religion in the classroom.

George:  Why the distinction between traditional and non-traditional religious concepts?  Is it possible that your religious beliefs are not openly articulated but permeate other thoughts that you transmit to students?

Dr. Bergman:  If you’re a religious person, it is going to show sooner or later in your conduct, at least it should.  Thus, my peers were concerned that I might have talked about my beliefs.  Their concern was not so much that I might have talked about religion, but that I might have supported a position that they feel is wrong.  They said that a number of my publications, such as my fastback published by Phi Delta Kappa on the creation/evolution controversy, were an embarrassment to the university.  Basically, I concluded in this monograph that we should look at both sides of the question, and my colleagues felt that we should not.  We should teach evolution only.  Evolution has been proved, they concluded, creation has been disproved.   Therefore, we should not put creationism in a favorable light.  They made it very clear to me that this was their concern.

George:  I don’t understand, Dr. Bergman, why you don’t just teach at a fundamentalist school instead of trying to get into a state school [This question was commonly asked of me, and is equivalent to saying that a black denied tenure should teach at a black college instead of trying to get into a white school.]

Dr. Bergman:  Well, unfortunately, because of these problems I am now divorced, and most fundamentalist schools will not hire divorced faculty.  It is their written policy.  I was almost hired at one large fundamentalist school, but the divorce issue came up.  We were talking about salary, and the issue of my family came up and the Chair said, “You’re not divorced are you?”  I said, “Well, yes, I am.”  That was the end of the interview.

George:  Have you found any work since you’ve been let go from B.G.?

Dr. Bergman:  I’ve only found part-time or temporary work.  Once you’re denied tenure, you’re basically blackballed.  I just received a letter today from a colleague with the equivalent of two Ph.D.s, both from Ivy League schools.  He said he was rather naïve.  He thought that two Ph.D.s from Ivy League schools, dozens of publication and so on, would make it easy to find a job.  He has not worked since he was last denied tenure, about twenty years ago.  His wife, a nurse, supports him.  And his credentials are impeccable.  He is a marvelous person and has done, I feel, very important work in his field.  He was openly denied tenure because he was a creationist, but before this discrimination was illegal.  Now he has found that it is virtually impossible to get an academic job.

George:  Dr. Bergman, what would be your response to those who might say that you, or a person with you beliefs, belong in a secular classroom about as much as Charles Darwin belonged in the pulpit?  Aren’t the presuppositions of religious faith and scientific inquiry in 1984 inherently antagonistic?

Dr. Bergman:  The science beliefs of today, yes, and I think that’s part of the problem.  Although one cannot totally separate one’s beliefs from one’s job, I think we should evaluate job performance on the basis of objective criteria.  Catholics believe in transubstantiation, or the Eucharist, where the wine and the bread laterally are changed into the blood and the body of Christ.  You can do chemical analysis on this, and as far as I am aware it’s proven that, after the ceremony, the wine is still wine and the bread still bread, not blood and flesh.  Therefore, should we fire all believing Catholics because they believe something that is not scientific?  And you can say the same thing about all religious faiths.  Religious beliefs inherently require some faith.  If there was no faith necessary, there would be no need for beliefs, only knowledge.

George:  Does faith have a place in scientific inquiry?

Dr. Bergman:  Of course.  Studies have found that faith is, ironically, an important aspect of scientific inquiry.  Science theory accepts many things on faith.  As far as I am aware, no one had ever directly seen subatomic particles.  Evidence for them exists, but the evidence is based on a series of assumptions, and one who does a lot of reading in science finds that many things are taken on faith  Scientists tend to discount this, but I don’t think most have thoroughly analyzed the scientific process. Many things are very had to verify by empirical research, therefore we need some faith to accept them.

George:  What about math or English teachers who are really not involved in science?  Are they discriminated against?

Dr. Bergman:  Yes, they are.  Again, it is their personal beliefs that are objected to.  And, obviously, for an English professor, if it never came up you can easily hide your creationist beliefs. I was rather naïve, I suppose.  I thought my colleagues would judge me on the basis of my teaching, research, and service.  I testified before school boards relative to the two-model approach.  Because of this, I was widely known as a creationist, and my views were much talked about.  This is very clear, and came out in the depositions from my opposers.  If you stay in the closet, there are few problems.  The key is to keep your beliefs to yourself.  But, I feel to have to hide what you believe in this country is horrible.

George:  Ok, we have a caller.  Thank you for calling Forum, You’re on the air.

Caller:  I know Dr. Bergman.  I have not found his creationist viewpoint threatening or irritating.  It has been nothing but enlightening.  I just wondered if the whole process of getting tenure is a popularity contest.

George:  The caller seems to be supportive, Dr. Bergman.  Do you feel that there’s a lot of people out there who support you, or do you feel like you’re a lone wolf fighting a hopeless battle?

Dr. Bergman:  Well, I have been surprised at the support.  About a dozen colleagues at the university, several in my department, signed affidavits stating that they felt that my religious beliefs were a factor in my denial.  Also, in fact, most of my supporters are not creationists.  Some are rather open about their agnosticism.  They feel if we start firing people on the right, maybe they will start firing people on the left as well.  So, to protect their own position, they feel they had better defend me.

George:  Ok, we’re going back to the caller.

Caller:  Thank you.  I listened to this show from the start.  I find Dr. Bergman’s position and comments very interesting, and I certainly would like to see this problem explored and corrected by someone outside of the university.  The university may be prejudiced and unwilling to change their position regardless of the evidence.  I have spoken with Dr. Bergman on many topics.  He’s very learned, very well versed.  I have specifically addressed his creationist viewpoints, and he has never been offensive, and I am not a “religious” person.

George:  Do you have any other friends or acquaintances that have been involved with something like this?

Caller:  Only through hearsay.

George:  Have you been in one of Dr. Bergman’s classes, or were you a faculty or staff member?

Caller:  No.  We met outside of the university.  I have talked to a number of people who have known Dr. Bergman.  Some of their viewpoints are different than mine, but there is no one who has yet convinced me that he was a poor teacher, and I believe that should be the final criteria.

George:  Do you feel the tenure process should be changed?

Caller:  I am not that familiar with it.  Popularity is too much part of it, but guidelines or rules should be followed on both sides, both the person wanting tenure, and those in a position to grant tenure.

George:  Thank you very much for your call.  Dr. Bergman, do you feel creation should be taught simply because it is so basic to Christian thought (the notion of a static reality as opposed to one of constant change)?

Dr. Bergman:  First of all, you have to define creation.  Creationists accept micro-evolution, or small changes within limits and I don’t know any creation scientist who do not.  The concern is molecules-to-man via evolution, with no need for outside direction.  Obviously, therefore, evolution should be taught, but in a non-dogmatic way and its limits stressed.  Teachers should help students to see both sides of this issue and help them to realize that there are many serious problems with evolution, especially with natural selection as the creator.  Most creationists accept a form of natural selection, yet the literature coming out recently on it is devastating, so even creationists are having to revise their views.  As we look more and more into it, we find that, although it logically should operate, there is a lot of major problems (like catastrophic events that seem to be far more important then we thought).  Many evolution critics believe in evolution, but find that non-natural selection factors are important relative to the percentage of species that populate a certain area.

George:  So the theory of evolution may be evolving, is that what you are saying?

Dr. Bergman:  It clearly is.  In fact, some books recently published by non-creationists are devastating to evolution.  They present a clear case against evolution, but whether evolution is valid or not is not the issue here.  I may believe that the Earth is hollow inside, a square outside, but that should be irrelevant to my case.  What is relevant is how I performed my job duties.  And my student evaluations are clear.  One of my main concerns is, “was I evaluated by the Chair in writing, as the faculty charter requires?”  I should have had annual, written evaluations on my performance, and I never had such.  When I went up for tenure, I don’t know what they went on, aside from hearsay or a popularity contest, and this was a major due process violation.  If I had some shortcomings, and we all have things that we can improve on, these should have been clearly spelled out to me in my annual evaluations, but I never had evaluations to help me work on any perceived shortcomings.

George:  Ok, Dr. Bergman, the time is winding down.  What happens if you don’t win your case?

Dr. Bergman:  It has been very discouraging.  It’s very upsetting, what is going on in this country today.  I have thoroughly investigated religious discrimination, and have a book coming out soon on this topic.  From my research, and I have consulted with a number of attorneys who specialize in discrimination cases, and have found that there has never been a case of religious discrimination against a secular institution by a religious person in this country won, ever, by the aggrieved person.  And, to me, that is frightening, very frightening.

George:  Religious discrimination—does it exist in our colleges?  You can decide for yourself.  Thank you.

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