After 17 years as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College, Michael Talkington will not be in the classroom this semester.
The decision is his own, he said, though it came after a student in the spring complained Talkington "glossed over" evolution and instead taught creationism and intelligent design in his biology class.
Student Bryan Jaden Walker wrote on his blog, jadeneternal.wordpress.
Walker wrote that he complained to Sonya Williams, OCCC's director of science, but was told the professor was entitled to share his opinions in class.
The complaint was investigated internally by the college but no disciplinary action was deemed necessary, OCCC spokesman Cordell Jordan said.
"We checked it out and admonished the professor to please follow curriculum protocols," Jordan said. "We give latitude. You're allowed to teach however you want, but you do have to teach what's on the syllabus and that seems like what happened."
Talkington said what Walker reported on his blog is inaccurate.
"That may be his perception. I'm not calling him a liar, but that is not factual," Talkington said.
"I simply acknowledged that there are other schools of thought. I did not teach creationism. I did not promote one view over another. I did not mention God or Christianity. I stayed within the bounds of what the college allows."
He said he presented the basic principles of evolution and taught an entire lab on evolution and he doesn't believe he shortchanged students taking his science class.
Walker's telephone number is not listed and he didn't return messages left on his blog.
Physics major John Weis, 23, said he took Talkington's biology class about a year ago.
"Evolution was not taught at all in his class," Weis said. "When he hit that unit, instead of discussing it himself he had a single slide that had both creationism and evolution. When I spoke up and asked him about it, he claimed there was no evidence for either, but they are just different world views."
Weis said he complained to a department coordinator and was assured Talkington's view was not the college's policy and the issue would be discussed with him.
"She mentioned that other students had complained about his behavior in the past," Weis said. "She told me to stay in the class and finish and that other classes in the future would deal with the topic more thoroughly."
"I paid a lot to learn science, not his personal
The incident caught the attention this summer of several in the scientific community.
Victor H. Hutchison, professor emeritus in the zoology department at the University of Oklahoma and a board member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, said he's been following the case.
"It's inappropriate in general in college teaching to cover subjects in a course that's not related to a course, particularly in religion, because there are people of different faiths and it takes time away from the class," he said.
Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education reports there have been bills introduced almost every year in the state Legislature since 1999 that would allow teaching creationism or intelligent design in science courses.
In 2009, the Senate Education Committee killed Senate Bill 320, dubbed the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom act. The bill was authored by Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, who argued at the time that the bill would allow more classroom discussion and more freedom for teachers who might be fearful about what they can or cannot teach.
Hutchison said it's unconstitutional to teach religion in a science classroom and points to federal court cases that have supported that opinion since 1968.
"Science does not and cannot recognize religion because it's not science; it cannot be proven," he said. "We're not anti-religion, we just think that it's appropriate to keep the two separate."
Oklahoma has received an F from two different national rankings, Hutchison said, the Fordham Foundation and the National Center for Science Education, for the state's teaching of evolution.
Talkington, who is not teaching anywhere right now and doesn't know if he will return to the classroom, said he thinks the case was blown out of proportion.
He said many students loved his class, pointing to students who rated him positively on websites such as RateMyProfessors.com.
Several on the site commented that Talkington was the best professor they'd had.
Talkington wouldn't comment on his views.
"People are looking to debate this issue anyway," he said. "I want to stay out of that debate."
He enjoyed his tenure at OCCC, he said.
"I enjoyed what I did and enjoyed my interaction with the students. I'm disappointed that one student took it to that level of animosity."
Legal challenges to anti-evolutionist policies began with the Scopes Trial of 1925, a case the evolutionists lost.
Since 1968, however, U.S. courts have consistently held that "creationism" is a particular religious viewpoint and that teaching it in public schools would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The leading cases are: