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Editorial: BU opens old wounds with Marks

Sept. 14, 2007

Mark Twain once said the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple. Sometimes in institutions of higher education, it's easy to see what Twain was talking about. Case in point: Baylor's most recent conflict.

The problem began when Dr. Robert Marks, distinguished professor of computer and electrical engineering, posted research relating to intelligent design on his personal Web site hosted by Baylor's server.

Marks had no disclaimer on his site disassociating the research from that conducted under Baylor approval, so university officials shut down the site and then met with Marks to discuss the terms under which the site would go back up.

It still hasn't gone back up, and conspiracy theories are flying about infringement of academic freedom and administrative hypocrisy.

It would be nice to get to the bottom of this.

The official line is that Baylor, being conscientious about its name, is merely protecting itself from being seen as endorsing something it hasn't. And if this were clearly the case, that would be fine. Baylor has every right to disassociate itself from research it has no official hand in.

But the fact that this is intelligent design research seems to have something to do with creating this circus. It's a hot-button academic issue, especially with Baylor's history, and for the sake of not only the university's reputation but also its relationship with its professors, it would seem prudent to settle any conflicts as quickly and amiably as possible.

Unfortunately, it looks like it's too late for that. Marks and his attorney have been attempting to reach an agreement with Baylor's general counsel about what will be on the Web site when it goes back up on Baylor's server. As long as it is clear that Marks' research is clearly separate from his officially recognized research, there shouldn't be any further problem.

Marks is a distinguished professor pursuing research in his field, and he deserves not only academic freedom, but also the common courtesy of honest and open communication. The Baylor administration has only further exacerbated the situation by not being straightforward about why they don't want to be affiliated with Marks' research in the first place.

Baylor administrators are free to regulate their stamp of approval on Web sites, but if they plan to do so, they should follow this policy across the board.

If not, they at least shouldn't pretend this whole thing is merely arising from a technicality. That's insulting the intelligence of all the parties involved and all those who have proudly chosen to associate themselves with Baylor.

It is unfortunate that Baylor has come into the academic spotlight for this controversy. It is unfair to professors not only in sciences, but also in other fields, that their scholarly research and teaching accomplishments get overlooked or overshadowed time and again by occasional drama such as this.

Marks, no doubt, would have preferred things to proceed differently, but all professors at Baylor feel the effects of this as well.

It is a shame that these disagreements become arenas of administrative politics and cast a misrepresentative light on the academics of the university as a whole.

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