Thursday, December 6, 2007

Iowa Professor denied tenure and claims free speech and conspiracy theories

You are going to love this one. In my previous post I discussed how the Texas Science Curriculum Director was forced to resign for doing her job! Last April Guillermo Gonzalez, a professor of Astronomy at Iowa State University was denied tenure for NOT doing his!

Let's compare. Chris Comer, the Texas Science Curriculum Director sent out one email FYI'ing some people about a presentation by Barbara Forrest concerning the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate and the Dover Trial. This is a topic you would think is part of her responsibilities. Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomy professor and Intelligent Design support and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute (The think tank funding and promoting Intelligent Design). Well it has been said that he was denied tenure because of his support of Intelligent Design.

Ms. Comer hasn't seemed to respond publicly yet, but the Professor is claiming all sorts of free speech violations and conspiracies of other non-ID supporters conducting all sorts of smear campaigns that eventually denied his tenure. My position is simple . . .GOOD!

OK, let's focus on the Professor since I've already posted my feelings on Ms. Comer. What is tenure anyway? Academic Tenure is a system designed to protect teachers when they espouse unpopular views. It is primarily intended to guarantee the right to academic freedom; it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, or spend time on unfashionable topics.

How is tenure decided? Basically it's decided by the Academic Department who vote to recommend the candidate for tenure based on the tenure-eligible professor's record in teaching, research, and service over this initial period. According to Iowa State while the Professor showed great early promise he had no major grants during his seven years at ISU, had published no significant research during that time and had only one graduate student finish a dissertation. Grants is apparently a major concern. The Professor sponsored $22,661 in outside grant money from July 2001, records show. In that same time period, his peers in physics and astronomy secured an average of $1.3 million by the time they were granted tenure. Now based on that track record is this a man you want to have Tenure?

Now without getting into a long dissertation on Intelligent Design let us not forget that the results of the Dover Trial determined that Intelligent Design is not rooted in Science, but in Religon. OK, we have an Astronomer who apparently spent a great deal of time dealing with non-scientific subjects apparently at the expense of doing the things required to achieve Tenure. As a member Academia myself, I can understand his desire for tenure and the job security it can provide. But realistically there are a great many requirements to achieve that level and tenure is not granted to everyone. It is reserved for achievers and frankly the record shows this Professor isn't one of them. In case you are wondering I am not in a position that offers tenure, so i really understand his desire, but I have also seen to level of effort required to reach tenure . . .it's impressive!

So has the Professor's free speech been violated? I don't think so. He's is still free to espouse Intelligent Design, he's just not going to be able to do it from the position of a Tenured Professor. It's interesting to note that another tenured Professor, Michael Behe of Lehigh University, is also a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. What's interesting is he was tenured long before his interest in Intelligent Design and his own University has stated a position on Intelligent Design "It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific." Even his own Lehigh bio contains this comment "My ideas about irreducible complexity and intelligent design are entirely my own. They certainly are not in any sense endorsed by either Lehigh University in general or the Department of Biological Sciences in particular. In fact, most of my colleagues in the Department strongly disagree with them." He's allowed to have these views, but when teaching he requires an official disclaimer. You gotta love free speech.

Now the Discovery Institute has been trying to sell the whole conspiracy idea and they might have a point, but it's not the one they have been selling. Let us remember the tenured department faculty, the department chair, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the executive vice president and provost were the group that denied him tenure. That's a pretty far flung conspiracy. He apparently didn't have the support of anyone in the tenure decision process! He has appealed and his appeal was denied in spite of the public relations campaign pushed by the Discovery Institute.

So back to the bottom line. Ms. Comer was doing her job and got forced out while Professor Guillermo Gonzalez failed to do his job and got exactly what he should have expected and the publicity machine known as the Discovery Institute wasn't able to do more than spin the truth -- something they are quite good at doing!

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