According to the (conservative Christian) American Center of Law and Justice, Gina — a student at Suffolk County Community College — was wronged by her professor before the ACLJ made things right.
Gina had a 3.9 GPA and was initially doing fine in her philosophy class… until the subject of God’s existence came up.
Gina read the assigned materials and participated in class discussions, presenting traditional philosophical arguments on whether God exists and whether He possesses certain characteristics such as being all-knowing or all-good. However, Gina was unwilling to state that she would reconsider her personal religious beliefs on God’s nature and existence, and her grades suffered as a result.
The ACLJ states that professor Philip Pecorino “has stated that it is his job to get students to reject a belief in a sacred or unquestionable ‘truth’ in favor of the ‘rational’ view that science, logic, and philosophy are the only reliable sources of ‘truth.’”
Gina thought she was going to get a D or F in the class because of her faith.
The ACLJ states that after they complained to the school, Gina received the grade she actually earned — a B. Now, they are claiming “victory” — one they will surely cite in their efforts to get donations.
Now, let’s hear from the other side…
A press release from the Center for Inquiry pulls no punches.
The ACLJ’s story is untrue, says CFI.
“The ACLJ’s spurious claim of a legal ‘victory’ is just slightly less outrageous than its brazen attempt to intimidate a philosophy professor from doing his job — which is to get students to think critically,” commented Ronald A. Lindsay, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, who has talked to the allegedly biased professor. “As far as I can tell,” observed Lindsay, “the ACLJ’s letter accomplished nothing other than providing an excuse for soliciting donations.”
Dr. Pecorino taught over 13,000 students over thirty-six years, students who were both religious and non-religious. He “has a well-deserved reputation for fairness.”
After the school received the letter from ACLJ, the professor’s own students began to fight back:
Indeed, after the ACLJ made its baseless accusations, students in Pecorino’s class, including religious students, defended him, stating that he does not pass judgment on students because of their beliefs, but simply challenges them to examine all beliefs critically, including their own. His students have stated that they cannot identify Pecorino’s own views based either on the course materials or the textbook authored for the class by Pecorino, and he does not pressure them to adopt any particular position.
What does the professor himself have to say about all this?
“I would not be doing my job as a philosophy professor,” explained Pecorino, “if I did not require students to think about their beliefs and provide reasons in support of their beliefs — not my beliefs or anyone else’s beliefs. Critical examination of beliefs, including one’s own beliefs, and training in reasoning are among the primary objectives of a philosophy course, and of a liberal education in general. Only professors who are negligent or indifferent allow students to earn good grades simply by providing as a reason for an assertion ‘well, this is what I believe’.”
He won’t talk about his interaction with Gina in particular because he deems it inappropriate to discuss a student’s work with the public.
However he does say the whole case is “preposterous.”
I love the explanation of why Gina — along with her classmates — was indeed failing at one point in the class:
“At no time did I tell her she was in danger of failing. When I had to project a grade for her earlier in the semester, I projected a ‘C’ and that was when she was most resistant to providing any reasoning to support her assertions. She was not open to examining her own beliefs or to entering into the dialectical process of inquiry in community because, according to her, she already had all the answers.” And what of the ACLJ’s claim that Gina had a failing grade average of 54 prior to the ACLJ’s intervention? “That is a misleading use of information. I use a cumulative point system in grading,” explained Pecorino. “In other words, as students progress during the semester, they earn points for each assignment, with a possible total of 100 points by the end of the semester. Gina at one point probably did have 54 points, but that in no way indicates she was in danger of failing. She had 54 points, not a failing grade average of 54. All students start the semester with 0 points, so by the ACLJ’s logic, all students are in danger of failing.”
He adds that when his college received the ACLJ’s letter, he only received support from colleagues and the administration.
So is this a minor case or does it have far-reaching implications?
“Essentially, the ACLJ is claiming a religious exemption from the obligation of students in public colleges to engage in critical thinking, and this claim strikes at the core of higher education. If permitted to go unchallenged, this claim will weaken our democratic and pluralistic society.”
Amazing how a student can hide behind religion and a religious “watchdog” group when she’s not willing to examine her own beliefs in a class that requires students to examine their own beliefs.
Even more amazing is how this story gets spun for an uncritical religious audience — one that will most likely never be told what the professor has to say about it nor will they try to find out for themselves.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Jay Sekulow[/tags]