DAYTON, Tenn. – Two professors are suing Bryan College because their teaching contracts were not renewed when they refused to agree with the school’s literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account.
As previously reported, Bryan College in Tennessee continues to grapple with an evolution/creation debate which has divided many students and faculty members. The controversy began earlier this year when the conservative Christian school clarified its statement of belief to affirm the literal historicity of Adam and Eve.
Many professors criticized Bryan College’s president, Dr. Stephen Livesay, for pushing the statement of belief clarification.
“These are decisions that did not have to be made at this time,” Dr. Stephen Barnett, a professor of natural sciences, told Chattanooga’s Times Free Press in March. “This is, as I see it, the hallmark of this administration: making hasty decisions and regretting them. And if they don’t regret this decision, they just aren’t thinking.”
Soon after the controversy first came to light, Barnett and over two dozen other faculty members voted “no confidence” in Livesay’s leadership. Barnett knew the measure would damage the school’s reputation, but he argued that it was the right thing to do.
“We knew that it would go public,” Barnett stated. “We knew that it would be damaging to the president’s reputation and the college. But we felt that the damage that had been done to the institution outweighed that reservation.”
Now, nearly three months after the college issued the statement of belief clarification, Barnett and one other professor—Dr. Steve DeGeorge, a professor of education—have filed a lawsuit against the school. According to the suit, Barnett’s and DeGeorge’s teaching contracts were not renewed because the professors refused to subscribe to the school’s literal Genesis interpretation.
“When we sign our contracts we also must affirm the Statement of Faith ‘without mental reservation,’” Barnett explained to reporters. “By asking me to also include [the Statement of Faith] changes, the board was asking me to exclude, even as a possibility, any other way of understanding Genesis than their view of what they think the founders probably thought.”
Barnett told school administration that he could not agree to the revised statement of belief. As a result, his teaching contract will expire today.
“It also seems that right-thinking people would have considered what I said, but right-thinking people are sometimes hard to come by,” Barnett alleged.
DeGeorge, who similarly refused to affirm the school’s literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account, will also be let go today.
In the lawsuit, both professors maintain that Bryan College leadership has no right to change the statement of belief. However, Rosemarie Hill, an attorney representing Bryan College, argued that the professors’ claims were untrue.
“You might disagree with [the statement of belief],” Hill told the Times Free Press. “But the college, through its board of trustees, has the right to make the decisions it did.”
Hill also downplayed the significance of the lawsuit against Bryan College.
“This is not Scopes Trial 2,” she said. “This is an employer-employee issue with two faculty members. That’s all it is.”
In the midst of the continuing controversy, some Bryan College alumni say the school’s commitment to the biblical creation account is admirable.
“The Bible just flat out really does say that the universe was created by God over a time period of six days and that mankind had no ancestors but was, instead, crafted by God’s own hand,” Seth Julin, a 1993 Bryan College graduate, wrote in a letter to the school’s student website. “The Bible does make those claims, and no amount of scoffing, theorizing, pontificating or wishing it were not so will overcome that fact.”