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Ben Stein Comes to Burlington - and So Does His Intelligent Design Doc

State of the Arts



Playing a droning teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein originated the phrase, “Bueller . . . Bueller?” But it’s a safe bet no one will be playing hooky when the actor/comedian/economist/opinion columnist delivers the UVM School of Business Administration’s Kalkin Lecture on April 25 in the Ira Allen Chapel.

Stein’s talk bears the all-inclusive title “Ben Stein on Life.” But as the star of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a documentary starting April 18 at Burlington’s Merrill’s Roxy Cinemas, Stein has a clear agenda. The film contends that the scientific establishment has systematically suppressed research into “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution. Not surprisingly, it has generated heated controversy in advance of its release, including a forceful pan from Scientific American.

Given that left-leaning docs such as Michael Moore’s are common fare at the Roxy, Expelled may seem like an unusual choice. Owner Merrill Jarvis Jr. says the suggestion to program the movie came from UVM, where an assistant in the dean of the business school’s office thought Expelled would pair well with the upcoming talk. Six days later, citing worries about controversy, the same employee asked Jarvis if he could postpone the film till after Stein’s visit.

Reached by phone, business school Dean Rocki-Lee DeWitt says the apparent mixed messages were due to a “miscommunication,” and that the concerns about Expelled came from “what appears to be an overzealous public relations office.” For her part, DeWitt asserts, “I’d rather be in a position to actually see this.” She doesn’t want students to be “ill-informed about the film” when they approach Stein at his post-lecture Q&A: “We teach critical thinking in the business school.”

Jarvis says he never considered delaying or canceling Expelled: “I play controversial movies all the time,” he points out. “It’s not for me to judge who’s right or who’s wrong.”

Jarvis received a couple of other emails asking him to program Expelled. One of them came from Phil Ronco, administrator of Williston’s Trinity Baptist Church, who says he contacted the Roxy in a non-official capacity. (On the film’s website, Christian schools are encouraged to schedule group screenings and present their Expelled ticket stubs for a chance to win a $10,000 donation.) Ronco suggests in an email that Stein’s movie “may cause some people to begin to question why they believe what they believe.”

Jarvis is trying to set up a Roxy Q&A with Stein. “I’m hoping Ben will come to the theater,” he says. “It’s the right thing for him to do if he’s in town."