Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Gonzalez Tenure Appeal Denied

Iowa State University president Gregory Geoffroy has denied the appeal of Gonzalez’ tenure denial. Money quote:

Because the issue of tenure is a personnel matter, I am not able to share the detailed rationale for the decision, although that has been provided to Dr. Gonzalez. But I can outline the areas of focus of my review where I gave special attention to his overall record of scientific accomplishment while an assistant professor at Iowa State, since that gives the best indication of future achievement. I specifically considered refereed publications, his level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy.

In other words, pretty much exactly the areas that have already been identified as lacking. Since Gonzalez now has a more detailed version of the denial in hand, he should release it publicly. I’m sure it would contain many of the specific problems that many of the rest of us have noticed, like the fact that the vast majority of his publications came not from research done at ISU but from his earlier postdoc appointments, that his publication record had slowed to almost nothing since then and that he had attracted virtually no money for actual research in his 6 years at ISU.

The DI, predictably, notes this denial while continuing their unsupported whining about persecution. But if there are no valid reasons for denying tenure given in Geoffroy’s denial letter to Gonzalez, you know damn well they’d be publicizing it widely. There’s only one reason why neither Gonzalez nor the DI will make that letter public – because it undermines their persecution claims by giving specific and valid reasons why his tenure was denied.


  1. #1 Ginger Yellow
    June 4, 2007

    I’m eagerly awaiting the selective quotations and creative use of ellipses.

  2. #2 David C. Brayton
    June 4, 2007

    This comment is a bit off topic, but why is tenure based on reearch ability as opposed to teaching ability? I’ve had lots of teachers and being a good reseracher/scientist is not strongly correlated with teaching ability.

    I even had a professor remark, “I hate teaching but I’ve gottta do it if I wanna continue my reserach.”

  3. #3 Chuck
    June 4, 2007

    To answer your question, David, it usually depends on where a department sees a professor going. For better or worse, most science faculty at big research institutions are granted or denied tenure on the basis of their research, beause the primary focus of most science departments is to attract prominent researchers and therefore big research grants. I personally (as a research-minded person) think that is great. If he was at an institution or department whose primary mission is teaching, or if he is hired specifically as a faculty member they see as going down the teaching route, they would have looked at his tenure application differently.

  4. #4 Bill Poser
    June 4, 2007

    Most universities say that tenure is based on: (a) research; (b) teaching; and (c) “service”, where “service” comprises both service to the university (e.g. serving on committees and task forces) and service outside the university, to the profession (e.g. on editorial boards) and to the general public (e.g. advice to community organizations). The precise weight given these varies from university to university, with research-oriented schools focussed more on research, liberal arts schools and colleges more on teaching. “service” can beef up minor weaknesses in the other two areas but is probably never critical in and of itself. I’ve never heard of someone being denied tenure solely because of poor “service”. (Actually, I have heard of one initial denial on those grounds, but it was totally unfounded and overturned when grieved.)

  5. #5 Bill Poser
    June 4, 2007

    Chuck’s comment makes me add that some institutions have two types of faculty position, research and teaching, where everybody teaches, but “teaching” faculty are not expected to do research. On rare occasions such “teaching” positions are created ad hoc by research-oriented institutions that want to retain or attract someone who is an outstanding teacher.

  6. #6 raj
    June 4, 2007

    I don’t believe that I would be too crass as to suggest that ability to conduct research is heavily correlated to the ability to obtain outside monetary support for the research.

    A couple of decades ago, there was a suggestion to separate the research function of a university from its teaching function (the teaching function would be far less likely to bring in revenue), but that suggestion apparently didn’t go very far.

    Quite frankly, when I was at University, some of the best teachers–even of undergraduate courses–were also the best researchers.

  7. #7 Royale
    June 4, 2007

    This whole thing is a big non-sequitor to me.

    Would the ID people cry foul if say, a stock-broker who believed in ID got fired? So, why would it matter if an astronomer, who believes in ID, did not make tenure?

    Astronomers don’t do biology any more than biologists do astronomy.

    If anything, this is a big game of confuse the sciences by playing on people’s lack of knowledge of which field of science pertains to what.

  8. #8 W. Kevin Vicklund
    June 4, 2007

    Bringing it back on topic, the departmental guidelines for tenure clearly state that to get tenure, the professor in question has to demonstrate excellence in either research or teaching and at least satisfactory performance in the other area. Service is definitely tertiary. With the data available to us, it is questionable whether he was even satisfactory in either area – he certainly wasn’t excellent in any area.

  9. #9 Rob Knop
    June 4, 2007

    This comment is a bit off topic, but why is tenure based on reearch ability as opposed to teaching ability? I’ve had lots of teachers and being a good reseracher/scientist is not strongly correlated with teaching ability.

    Because research universities are not about teaching. Simple as that.

    At some — such as mine, Vanderbilt — you can be denied tenure if your teaching is really bad. But once your teaching is adequate, doing any better doesn’t give you any positive points at all. All you have to be is good enough not to be embarrassing, and after that your quality is judged entirely by your research — and, from my point of view, even then via a somewhat stilted set of metrics.

    Research universities that say they require “excellence” in teaching are lying. Some require adequacy in teaching, some don’t care at all.

    Small liberal arts colleges are a different story.


  10. #10 Rob Knop
    June 4, 2007

    Would the ID people cry foul if say, a stock-broker who believed in ID got fired? So, why would it matter if an astronomer, who believes in ID, did not make tenure?

    Astronomers don’t do biology any more than biologists do astronomy.

    There is more to ID than biology. Guillermo Gonzalez has been arguing that there is evidence for design in astronomy. He’s brought ID firmly into the realm of his field. And, since he’s a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the ID people clearly endorse what he’s doing.


  11. #11 gary l. day
    June 4, 2007

    A tenured professor of astronomy who was also a creationist would be a valuable addition to DI’s paltry list of “scientists” which they trot out frequently. An astronomer, specifically, is always helpful in a “debate” between Young Earth Creationists and Old Earth Creationists.

  12. #12 Dave S.
    June 4, 2007

    The university I went to was clearly research oriented. One of the faculty even mentioned to me that being seen as an exceptional teacher didn’t count for much (over being a merely average teacher) – and may even be seen as a net detriment as some members of the tenure committee may wonder if the candidate is focussing too much on being a good teacher and not enough on bringing in the grants/students/post docs.

  13. #13 SLC
    June 4, 2007

    Prof. Knop is absolutely correct that competence in teaching is quite secondary in research oriented universities. This is also true in the humanities. When I was an undergraduate at a major university, there was a history assistant professor named Richard Drinnen who was considered one of the best instructors at that university in any field. His courses were always oversubscribed. He was denied tenure because his publishing record was considered substandard at that school. This raised quite a stir in the student body among his students but who cares what the students think. Unlike the private sector, at universities, the customer (i.e. the student) is always wrong.

  14. #14 Djinna
    June 4, 2007

    Astronomers don’t do biology any more than biologists do astronomy.

    If anything, this is a big game of confuse the sciences by playing on people’s lack of knowledge of which field of science pertains to what.

    Damn good point. Essentially, they’re just saying “but he likes science!” (forgive the in-joke to Royale), which grates me when used to describe a child. Describing “science” as monolithic makes my eyes roll involuntarily even when used only to describe the elementary school kind, where it is generally all blurred together. University researchers should be expected to know the general parameters of their field.

    But, really, this is totally playing up on the “The Big Bang doesn’t make sense, so evolution must be wrong!” argument/Chewbacca Defense. If an astronomer actually believes that ID and/or evolution has any relevance to astronomy, and they’re NOT talking about panspermia, I’d say they not only shouldn’t be given tenure, but also probably shouldn’t be teaching at all, as that says a lot about their lack of competence.

  15. #15 Allen MacNeill
    June 4, 2007

    Having been a quasi-tenured senior lecturer at a major research university for over 30 years, I can tell you that (surprise, surprise) it ultimately comes down to money. The emphasis on research grants is primary because that’s what pays the bills. At my institution, the university rakes off over 50% of every dollar that comes in via grant money, calling it “overhead.” And indeed, that’s exactly what it is; paying for laboratory construction and maintenance, equipment purchase and maintenance, paying utility bills, etc. Lecture halls, libraries, and so forth are at least partially funded via student tuition and alumni giving, but research is virtually entirely funded via grant money. At a university like mine, that means that if professors don’t bring in enough grant money to support themselves and their graduate students, that support comes out of the grant support “overhead” earned by their colleagues.

    This means that when people come up for tenure review, the amount of grant support they bring into their department is the first and most important thing that everyone considers. “Dead weight” is literally that; it’s a kind of parasitism on the department that can make or break it. If, as the public record shows, Gonzalez brought in minimal grant funding (and the bulk of that was in the form of support from his department/university), while other department members brought in much more, he has literally been parasitizing the other members of his department when he should have been doing exactly the opposite.

    This is why it takes several years to make a tenure decision. Department members want to be able to identify trends, so that they can predict what a prospective tenure candidate will do in the future. On the basis of his performance over the critical six-year assistant professor period, Gonzalez showed every indication of being a financial burden on his department, without any corresponding benefits.

    If his research had been outstanding (despite low grant funding) and reflected credit on the rest of his department, they might grant him tenure anyway, because that would reflect credit on them and therefore make grant funding more likely for them. This is why people like Isaac Asimov are kept on the faculty of their universities, despite bringing in virtually no grant funding (indeed, Asimov was promoted from associate to full professor, without pay but without debate).

    That was clearly not the case with Gonzalez, who made the rest of his department look like a bunch of creationist yahoos. My guess is that the vote against granting tenure was virtually unanimous, and that they are all heaving a great sigh of relief, especially as the professional politicians at the Discovery Instititute daily confirm all of their worst fears.

    His department dodged a bullet, IOW, and I’m sure they’re happy they had the opportunity to do so. Gonzalez, OTOH, has been crucified, but by the Discovery Instititute, not his department. The best Gonzalez can hope for now is that the Discovery Instititute can line up some kind of financial support that can provide for him and his family for the foreseeable future. Like Dembski, his career in mainstream academics is effectively over.

    There’s an old lesson here; don’t rock the boat until you have tenure. Once you have tenure, generally the only way you can be removed is for malfeasance (which nowdays means having sex with one of your students or stealing departmental funds) or alienating a major contributor and having your departmental line removed from the budget as a result. “Academic freedom,” in other words, is mostly for tenured faculty members and non-tenure-track academics.

    Gonzalez abandoned a golden opportunity to establish himself as a credible researcher, apparently prefering to build a career as a guiding light of the “intelligent design” movement. That was a serious strategic error on his part, and he has paid the price. If Gonzalez were in theoretical physics or mathematics, he could still go on to make a name for himself, as he could do them anywhere (a Swiss patent clerk did just that, and not without some midling success). However, Gonzalez’s chosen field requires telescope time and access to high-speed computers to analyze the data obtained from telescope observations. Both of these are now out of reach for him, probably forever. Bad career move, and worse, because now the only people who will pay him anything are the ID supporters, but his academic credibility has now been permanently damaged, with no prospect of earning it back via observational astronomy.

    Which means that there is now only one tenured academic in a mainstream university doing even quasi-scientific work in “intelligent design theory” – Michael Behe, at Lehigh University. He has tenure, of course, and so until he retires he can essentially do what he wants…unless he so alienates a major source of funding to his department that the administration decides to eliminate his budget line. The trend for “doing science” among IDers is therefore steeply downhill, and talented people with an open mind and curiosity about the possibilities of design in nature should be re-thinking their career tracks. Showing support for ID is now the kiss of death in mainstream academics, and only those very few who already have tenure and are in secure positions can still publically do so.

    As we know from past experience, this does not mean that the ID political machine (as exemplified by the Discovery Institute) will shut down. On the contrary, it will shift into high gear, pumping out more propaganda for as long as its financial supporters will fund it. But as far as penetrating mainstream academics, it’s all over…for now. They will be back, of course, but it will take a generation or more, as it did for ID to take up the cause of “scientific creationism.”

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am a non-tenure track professional teacher at a major research university. This means that I come up for reappointment every five years, and as long as I’m doing a decent job teaching, I get reappointed. This leaves me free to do what I want with my free time, as I’m not required to do research. I do some anyway, without the usual restrictions placed on professors. Currently, I’m working on several books, including an introductory textbook on evolution for non-scientists, a book on the evolution of the capacity for religious experience, and a book on chance, necessity, and design in nature.

    Allen D. MacNeill, Senior Lecturer
    The Biology Learning Skills Center
    G-24 Stimson Hall, Cornell University
    Ithaca, New York 14853
    phone: 607-255-3357 (office)
    email: adm6@cornell.edu
    “I had at last got a theory by which to work”
    -The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

  16. #16 SLC
    June 4, 2007

    It is now common knowledge that Prof. Gonzalez received no outside funding, other then from the Templeton Foundation and Discovery Institute, which funding was inconsequential. Does anyone know if he even submitted any proposals to NSF or NASA to attempt to obtain a grant? My suspicion is that he never even submitted a proposal to perform research in his subject area.

  17. #17 Doc Bill
    June 4, 2007

    So, we’ll have to see whether the DI takes Gonzo in from the cold.

    Any bets?

  18. #18 Royale
    June 4, 2007

    Thanks Dr.(?) MacNeill.

    As for this:

    “This means that when people come up for tenure review, the amount of grant support they bring into their department is the first and most important thing that everyone considers.”

    I don’t know if I made the right career choices, but I’m glad I didn’t choose academia. 😉

  19. #19 Coin
    June 4, 2007

    Exactly how much capacity to support people does the DI have at this point? I remember there were rumors at one point that their ability to get donations had dropped significantly post-Dover.

  20. #20 Pamela Thompson
    June 5, 2007

    Statements Regarding the June 1, 2007 Chronicle of Higher Education Article by Richard Monastersky, Intelligent Design vs. Tenure.
    [Chronicle of Higher Education, June 1, 2007. Article by Richard Monastersky:
    Intelligent Design vs. Tenure]

    Richard Monastersky’s article featuring Guillermo Gonzalez should have pointed out that Professor Gonzalez received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation in the amount of $42,851.07 from the 1999 Cosmology and Fine Tuning Program. Other recipients included Andre Linde, Martin Rees, Neil Turok, Bernard Carr, John Donoghue, Catherine Drennan, Alexander Vilenkin, and Laura Landweber. The successful applicants were selected by an international panel of scientists. Results were to be published in peer-reviewed journals.

    The grant to Guillermo Gonzalez was to support scientific research on the dynamical and compositional properties of the Sun with respect to other local stars. In his proposal, Mr. Gonzalez described his research as a science-focused research project designed to evaluate those features of the Sun which were anomalous but important for the evolution of life so as to optimise the SETI programme.

    “This grant focused on astronomy, and had nothing to do with biology or evolutionary theory” remarked Professor John Barrow, “it was part of a well-established programme of cosmological investigation into how the computed likelihood of certain unusual astronomical features of our environment may be biased if they are also necessary conditions for biological complexity to evolve.”

    Pamela P. Thompson
    Vice President for Communications
    John Templeton Foundation

  21. #21 Dave S.
    June 6, 2007

    You knew the hysterical stupidity had to come sooner or later … and is it any wonder it comes curtesy of DaveScot?

    Didn’t he use the Niemoller poem thing once before?

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