Maine’s controversial Gov. Paul LePage (R) may have appointed a creationist to serve as the state’s acting education commissioner. Dr. William Beardsley is the former president of Bangor-based Husson University and is considered a close associate of LePage. The governor’s administration announced the appointment yesterday.
Beardsley’s academic credentials aren’t in doubt. His understanding of basic science is less certain: He expressed unequivocal support for teaching creationism during his unsuccessful 2010 bid to become the Republican nominee for governor.
According to The Bangor Daily News, Beardsley articulated his position in response to a simple debate question from Maine Public Broadcasting’s Jennifer Rooks.
“Do you believe in creationism, and do you think it should be taught in Maine public schools?” she asked candidates.
“I would teach creationism,” Beardsley replied.
Until yesterday, he hadn’t indicated that he’d changed his views. Once news of Beardsley’s appointment – and his creationist beliefs – broke, he suddenly started back tracking.
“There’s a place for religion and a place for science,” he said yesterday. “Do I believe in science? Of course I believe in science. My mother was an astronomer. Am I a person of faith? Yes, I happen to be a person of faith.”
Beardsley also promised that he would not attempt to adjust the state’s science education standards to weaken the teaching of evolution.
Nevertheless, his appointment is a matter of concern, given his unequivocal statement in favor of creationism in 2010. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the LePage administration can hardly boast of its support for sound science education.
Quite the opposite: LePage indicated that he too is a creationist during the same 2010 debate.
“I would say intelligence, uh, the more education you have the more knowledge you have the better person you are and I believe yes and yes,” he said. LePage’s answer was surely muddled, but most observers at the time interpreted it as support for “teaching the controversy,” or teaching both creationism and evolution, which still violates the law.
Earlier this year, LePage vetoed a bill to adopt Next Generation Science Standards in public schools. He named budgetary woes as justification for the move. But the National Center for Science Education noted at the time that “there were persistent rumors” his opposition to the standards really stemmed from his opposition to evolution. The State House eventually voted to overturn his veto by a wide margin, but the effort failed in the State Senate. For now, LePage remains victorious in his quest to keep the standards out of public schools.
The very legality of Beardsley’s appointment is in question, too.
State law requires the governor to appoint an education commissioner from within the ranks of the Department of Education. Beardsley did not meet those requirements—until Friday. The News’ editorial board reported that LePage “hired” Beardsley for a special DOE role that lasted mere hours. LePage then announced that his old friend would take the top job.“The move allowed LePage to comply with the letter, but certainly not the spirit, of the law surrounding temporary department leadership appointments,” the paper stated.
The Portland Press Herald echoed that sentiment. “LePage gets to put a buddy in charge of one of the most important departments of state government, and Beardsley doesn’t even have to sit in front of a legislative committee to answer a lot of stupid questions, like ‘What did you mean in 2010 when you said that you would teach ‘creationism’ in public school?’” its editorial board wrote.
Beardsley should answer those questions. He owes the people of Maine an explanation for his abrupt ideological shift. And perhaps he could use a preemptive reminder: It’s illegal to teach creationism as fact in public schools, so don't even think about it. We’ll be watching.