Chris Comer is out of a job. She was a nine-year veteran in the position of director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (Texas-speak for the state’s “department of education”). The TEA administration essentially forced her resignation.
So, why would TEA do that? Comer forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education announcing a talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest to several people with the following addition: “FYI”.
The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.
Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.
“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.
How did that play out?
In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.
Apparently, not being a team player in the The Republican War on Science is a firing offense at the TEA. Why forwarding an announcement concerning a talk whose topic is highly relevant to the conduct of science education by an internationally recognized speaker should cause TEA administrators a problem escapes me. One is forced to wonder whether Ms. Comer would be looking for a new job if instead she were forwarding emails announcing talks by DI fellows about “intelligent design” creationism.
Let’s take stock here. Will the Discovery Institute come forward to say that the TEA is repressing Ms. Comer’s free speech rights? Will they urge her to become the star of the “Expelled” movie? After all, she did actually lose her job over her stance on evolution in education, as opposed to various people noted as being featured in the film who did not. But the DI is unlikely to do so because Ms. Comer is on the opposite side of the issue from them. They aren’t defending a principle, they are pushing a particular line of propaganda.
In practical terms, I think that state employees do need to be wary of using work email accounts. For example, almost all of my email correspondence is done through a personal email account. I only use my MSU account for a strictly limited subset of things that are directly related to my job. I encourage people to pick up a free email account with one of the services that provides web-based email if they have any doubt about how their employers may look upon their activities.
I heard about Ms. Comer’s case and several other hair-raising instances of the very real oppression faced by advocates of good science education earlier this month at the Dover reunion. At the time, Ms. Comer had requested keeping this quiet, so the story remained untold. With the Austin American Statesman article, you now know about it. There are lots of untold tales of oppression of pro-science people that you will never hear about because the principals simply want to move on with their lives and have the harassment end. The fact of the matter is that pro-science people don’t have to exaggerate instances of harassment, death threats, or termination of jobs due to unfair and unprofessional action of antievolution advocates, as the antievolution advocates have to do to reshape their molehills into mountains.
Update: Here is the email that cost Chris Comer her job:
To: Glenn Branch
From: Glenn Branch
Subject: Barbara Forrest in Austin 11/2
Dear Austin-area friends of NCSE,
I thought that you might like to know that Barbara Forrest will be speaking
on “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse” in Austin on November 2, 2007. Her
talk, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry Austin, begins at 7:00 p.m. in
the Monarch Event Center, Suite 3100, 6406 North IH-35 in Austin. The cost
is $6; free to friends of the Center.
In her talk, Forrest will provide a detailed report on her expert testimony
in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial as well as an overview of the
history of the “intelligent design” movement. Forrest is a Professor of
Philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at
Southeastern Louisiana University; she is also a member of NCSE’s board of
For further details, visit:
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott’s Evolution vs. Creationism
NCSE’s work is supported by its members. Join today!
Update 2007/11/30: Texas Citizens for Science has a page giving more details on the Comer case and internal politics at the TEA. Apparently, TEA policy was that unconstitutional intrusions of religion into classrooms had to be treated “neutrally”. Does this mean that all employees were essentially fitted with administrative gag orders such that they could not even point out that fact that the courts have consistently found religious antievolution unconstitutional? It sure looks that way.
The Associated Press has a story that has been picked up by the New York Times.
Update 2007/12/03: Ralph Blumenthal has an article in the New York Times on Chris Comer and the TEA. It looks like he did his homework.
Update 2016/09/07: Replaced expired links on death threats with a link contributed by Arkady Bukh.