On a long list of undergraduate majors that qualify low-income students for SMART grants, a white gap has taken the place of Evolutionary Biology on the list. If Evolutionary Biology is not included, that means students majoring in that field would not be eligible for funding under the program.
The deletion of this undergraduate college major was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in the New York Times. Both articles report U.S. Department of Education personnel describing the omission as a clerical error.
How plausible is that? Maybe the 18-minute gap in Richard Nixon’s White House tape really was just a clerical or a mechanical screw-up; but what are the chances that this single omission out of all the biological sub-disciplines was truly just a random error?
It does seem plausible to me that this might have happened without authorization from high-ranking policymakers in the Department. In the current environment, I can imagine some Department functionary thinking to themselves: “Since there’s no money here for kids majoring in Creation Science or in Intelligent Design, federal money should not be supporting Evolutionism, either. It’s only fair to give them equal treatment, one way or the other. Since I’m the one preparing this document, I can do something about that myself.”
If that’s not plausible, then it seems to me that a decision by someone with authority in the Department is more likely than the “clerical error” explanation. Either way, this is alarming, and calls for an investigation to get at the bottom of how this happened.
The alarming thing is not the lack of funding for legitimate programs of study. That will be corrected when the major gets put back on the list, and the limitation could have been worked around in any case by declaring the student’s major differently.
What is alarming is the prospect of individual(s) within the Department of Education who feel that it is their prerogative to put their own politically, ideologically, or religiously motivated preferences into effect as the Department’s operative policy, at whatever cost to the education of America’s students, and without authorization from the Congress.
Fortunately, the one Member of Congress who is in the best position to do something about this, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is the Hon. Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.), who is the sole representative in the House for the state which boasts the highest per capita number of Ph.D.’s in the United States; and I expect, as the home of DuPont and several biotech companies, has the highest per capita number of science and (specifically) bio-science Ph.D.’s. Congressman Castle should understand this as a concern, and the seriousness of this concern. Moreover, as a Republican at-large representative of a “blue” state (who deservedly takes credit for advancing progressive stem-cell legislation), he is relatively free from political pressure to join ranks with the “Republican War on Congress.”
So, let’s all get to work and contact Congressman Castle, encouraging him to get to the bottom of this matter, and to make sure that the Department takes whatever corrective actions may be necessary to make sure that there will be no more efforts to sabotage education from within the Department.