BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – Comedian Ben Stein has withdrawn as commencement speaker at the University of Vermont because of complaints about his views on evolution.

UVM President Daniel Fogel, who chose him based on a warm response Stein got at an on-campus lecture last spring, says he was deluged with e-mail messages from people who find Stein’s views of science offensive.

Fogel says that when he told Stein about the criticism, Stein – who was to be paid $7,500 – backed out of the May 17 event.

“I did not ask him not to come,” Fogel said. “I was not going to let him be blind-sided by controversy.”

Stein has drawn fire before for criticizing evolutionary theory and speaking in favor of intelligent design.

Stein told the Burlington Free Press that the controversy over him as commencement choice was “laughable” and “pathetic.”

He said he was not “anti-science” as some critics have labeled him.

Fogel, who said he’d been only “vaguely aware” of Stein’s controversial views, said the e-mails he got beginning two days after the announcement caused him to approach Stein.

“Once I apprised Mr. Stein of these communications, he immediately and most graciously declined his commencement invitation,” Fogel said in a letter to the UVM community issued Monday.

The issue isn’t academic freedom, it’s whether UVM should host a graduation speaker who holds views antithetical to scientific inquiry, Fogel said.

Stein called that characterization “wildly unfair.”

“I am far more pro-science than the Darwinists,” Stein wrote in an e-mail to the Burlington Free Press. “I want all scientific inquiry to happen not just what the ruling clique calls science.”

Fogel said in retrospect, he was sorry that he did not anticipate the extent and intensity of the concerns expressed about Stein.

“Although I am firm in my belief – profoundly held – that, as a university, UVM is and must remain a marketplace of ideas, I also recognize that commencement should be a time when our community gathers inclusively, not divisively, in full celebration of the achievements of our graduates, of the families who join us to honor them, and of the institution itself and our academic values as a scholarly, scientific, and creative community,” he said in the letter.

Stein, 64, a graduate of Yale Law School who worked as a Federal Trade Commission lawyer and wrote speeches for presidents Nixon and Ford, is best known by some as the droll teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

In a 2008 documentary entitled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” he asserted that scientists are afraid to challenge the theory of evolution because they fear they’ll be ostracized or fired.

Information from: The Burlington Free Press, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com

AP-ES-02-03-09 1803EST

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