Waxman letter on SMART Grants for Evolutionary Biology majors

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal) has written to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings demanding explanation and corrective action for the omission of Evolutionary Biology from a list of college majors eligible for need-based financial assistance, as discussed on this blog here and here and here, and on The Panda’s Thumb here and here.

Congressman Waxman’s letter is available in PDF format from his own site and in html at YubaNet.com.

Waxman wrote his letter as the ranking minority (i.e., Democrat) member of the House Committee on Government Reform. For reasons that were laid out here in an earlier post, however, I think we should demand that this matter be investigated by Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del), who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Congressman Waxman’s letter calls for Evolutionary Biology to be put back on the list. Since the Department of Education has already announced that it is doing this, some people might want to wish this incident away as something that’s been taken care of already. There are at least two reasons for continuing concern, however:

First, there is the institutional problem noted by Barmak Nassirian, the registrars’ association official who called attention to the missing major, who was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education saying, “I’m happy they’ve restored evolutionary biology””

‘But he also said the incident points to the “potential dangers of having the Department of Education involved in curricular matters.” He said he would prefer that the department defer to the National Academy of Sciences or some other autonomous body to rule on such issues — a comment that was also made by others who wrote letters to the department about the omission…’

Second, there is the continuing prospect (as I wrote earlier) that there may be “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.” Maybe this time they didn’t get away with it, but they’ll keep trying when the find other opportunities. And who knows: they might move into some position where they actually do have more discretionary authority to act on their own.

These are continuing concerns that call for the exercise of Congressional oversight by Congressman Castle’s committee.

Posted by Tony Whitson

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