Victory at Southwestern Community College after Professor Fired for Discussing ‘Adam and Eve’ as Myth

July 18, 2008

The American Humanist Association (AHA) has announced that its legal center has reached a settlement in the case of Steven C. Bitterman, a professor at Southwestern Community College (Iowa) who was fired in September after he argued that the biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be taken literally and then students complained. Bitterman is satisfied with the settlement. FIRE had helped Bitterman compose a letter to the college in defense of his academic freedom after he was fired, but the school’s attorney gave him the cold shoulder.

The AHA press release gives some details of what happened after Bitterman was fired:

On September 20, 2007, Bitterman was fired. In an October 11 letter [edited with the help of FIRE] he called upon the college to publicly commit to the principle of academic freedom by acknowledging "that all ideas and beliefs are open to critical assessment in the classroom by both instructors and students." The attorney for the college responded on October 19, declaring, in part:

"First and foremost, the College understands and adheres to the principles of academic freedom in the governance of its instructors. All instructors at Southwestern Community College, both full-time and adjunct, are given the freedom to present the material for which they are responsible in the manner of their choosing. Consistent with sound principles of academic instruction, all instructors are expected to select methods of presentation which are educationally effective and which respect the rights and interests of students."

The attorney’s response is a pretty shameful hollowing out of the principles of academic freedom. Apparently, all teaching at Southwestern Community College is unacceptable if it does not properly cater to the "interests" of students. Being "educationally effective" should mean something like drawing students into serious engagement with the subject matter, but here it seems that the attorney wants teachers to "respect the rights and interests of students" by steering clear of any challenge to their deepest beliefs. It is a shame when students choose to file a complaint against a professor rather than exercise their own academic freedom to challenge what the professor is teaching.

Here is the latest Associated Press story on the case.

Also of note is this open letter in support of academic freedom on the part of concerned faculty from universities throughout Iowa.

Thanks to the AHA for taking up Bitterman’s case and defending academic freedom.