The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into the policy of a Texas Tech University biology professor who refuses to write letters of recommendation to students who don't believe in the theory of human evolution, school officials said Wednesday.
Federal officials, in a Jan. 21 letter, asked the university to respond to a complaint alleging that Texas Tech and biology professor Michael Dini are discriminating on the basis of religion.
The complaint was filed by a student and the Liberty Legal Institute, a Plano-based religious freedom organization that calls Dini's policy "open religious bigotry."
"Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs," said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute. "No professor has the academic freedom to discriminate against students on the basis of their race, sex, or religious beliefs."
Texas Tech spokeswoman Cindy Rugeley said the university stands by Dini and that his policies do not conflict with those of Texas Tech.
"A letter of recommendation is a personal matter between a professor and student and is not subject to the university control or regulation," Texas Tech Chancellor David Smith wrote in an October response to a complaint letter.
Dini, an associate professor who has been at Texas Tech for 10 years, said Wednesday that he didn't know about a federal inquiry. He referred questions about his policy to a Web page that outlines it.
The Web page advises students seeking a recommendation to be prepared to answer the question: "How do you think the human species originated?"
"If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences," Dini writes.
The institute learned about Dini's policy from Texas Tech student Micah Spradling, who withdrew from Dini's class and the university in the fall and enrolled at Lubbock Christian University after learning about the policy.
Spradling, 22, who plans to be a physician, said he needed a letter of recommendation from a biology professor but, as a creationist, could not "sit there and truthfully say I believe in human evolution."
"It's a theory. You read about it in textbooks. I could explain the process, maybe how some people say it happens, but I could not have said ... I believe in it," Spradling said Wednesday. "I really don't see how believing in the evolution of humanity has anything to do with patient care or studying science."
Spradling re-enrolled at Texas Tech this semester after obtaining a recommendation letter at the other school.
On Dini's Web site, he writes that he has the policy because he doesn't believe anyone should practice in a biology-related field without accepting "the most important theory in biology."
He argues that physicians who "ignore or neglect" the Darwinian aspects of medicine or the evolutionary origin of humans can make bad clinical decisions.
A scientist who denies the "fact" of human evolution, Dini writes, is in effect committing "malpractice regarding the method of science."
"Good scientists would never throw out data that do not conform to their expectations or beliefs," he writes.
In addition to the evolution stance, Dini rejects students he doesn't know fairly well and those who haven't earned an "A" in one of his classes.
Harvey Madison, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Lubbock, said there is no merit to the institute's complaint.
"This was a student or a group who was looking to re-ignite the creation-evolution battle," he said.