A state Board of Education evaluation team has recommended that state approval be removed from a school in San Diego County that is the only "creation science" school in the country offering master's degrees.
The team's report recommends stripping the mantle of state legitimacy from the Institute for Creation Research in Santee.
The report "seems reasonable to me," state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said Tuesday, although he will not act on the recommendation for a month or so.
Withdrawal of the state license might mean the end for the institute, which has provided some of the ideological underpinning for the literal, fundamentalist biblical interpretation of the creation of the Earth and life on it.
John Morris, administrative vice president of the institute, said the report is part of "a very insidious plot" on Honig's part to "establish a state religion in California" that would be "anti-creationist" in nature.
Morris said he had received no word of the evaluation team's report, but added that "obviously we'll appeal if the ruling goes against us."
The institute has been authorized to grant master's degrees in biology, geology, physics and science education since 1981, but has awarded only about 20 degrees in that time, Morris said.
For more than a year, Honig has been trying to drop state approval because he thinks the school teaches religion, not science.
The evaluation report, written by a team of five college and university scientists who visited the institute for several days last August, touches only lightly on that controversy, but does find that the institute's offerings are not comparable to other higher-education institutions.
The institute's curriculum "is not consistent in quality with curricula offered by appropriate established accredited institutions," the report says, and its courses "are not comparable to the courses required of graduates" of accredited schools.
The report says the faculty has produced little reputable research, the library and laboratories are inadequate and the courses do not prepare students to be science teachers, which is one of the institute's main goals.
Honig said the negative findings, and the recommendation that state approval be lifted, were unanimous on the part of the five-member team, which included two science faculty members from UCLA, one from UC San Diego, one from California State University, Long Beach and one from Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio.
But the report states that Leroy E. Eimers, professor of physics and mathematics at Cedarville, disagreed with some of the findings and recommended that state approval be continued for the master's programs in geology, physics and science education but not in biology. Eimers was named to the evaluation group at the suggestion of the Institute for Creation Research.
This is Honig's second encounter with the forces of "creation science" in recent months.
In November, after a dispute that lasted several months, the Board of Education adopted curriculum guidelines for science textbooks that stress the teaching of evolution as theory but delete references to evolution as scientific fact.
The dispute with the Institute for Creation Research began when the school applied for renewal of its state license in 1987.
Non-accredited higher-education institutions must have state approval in order to offer degrees.
Honig did not think an institution that taught its students that mountain ranges could be created in a day and that Earth might be only 6,000 years old, instead of about 4.5 billion years as most scientists believe, was very educational.
However, those judgments are made by teams of experts, not by Honig's office. Evaluators visited the Santee campus in the summer of 1988 and later wrote a report recommending that state approval be withdrawn.
But the committee vote was 3 to 2, and one of its members switched his vote, Department of Education sources said Tuesday.
After lengthy discussions among lawyers for both sides, it was determined that the institute would make some curriculum changes and a new review would be conducted in the summer of 1989. This is the negative report that was made public Tuesday.
The institute can appeal to a state administrative law judge, who would recommend that Honig either accept or reject the evaluation report.
The institute also can, and probably will, seek to overturn the decision in court.