Yesterday the Discovery Institute held a press conference at the capitol building in Des Moines, to announce Guillermo Gonzalez’s plans to sue Iowa State University over their decision to deny him tenure. Supposedly the lawsuit will be filed pending the rejection of an appeal to the Board of Regents, which is virtually guaranteed simply for the fact that the Regents typically uphold tenure decisions. Joining Casey Luskin, Rob Crowther, Gonzalez’s attorneys, and a few other DI folk was state Senator David Hartsuch (R-District 41).
The core of the DI’s assertion is that there were “secret tenure deliberations” aka a plan to oust Dr. Gonzalez because of his ID views. They claimed to have proof via emails obtained by FOIA, and provided such information in a press packet. As I have not had the opportunity to fully comb through the packet, at this time I will refrain from commenting on it (I’m never particularly impressed by the DI’s ability to take statements out of context, so I don’t think it fair to just parrot what snippets they put up on Powerpoint slides). The format of the proceedings was a presentation by the DI followed by a question-answer session where discussion was not to be encouraged in front of the press, thus cementing the press conference as another DI Dog-and-Pony Show.
I am most confused by the DI’s approach to the whole Gonzalez situation. They are treating the tenure review guidelines as if they are a set of rules, a sort of hard-and-fast minimum requirement. So if said hurdles are passed, tenure should be guaranteed. Dr. Gonzalez does meet many of the requirements, true, but then again his scholarship has fallen off since 2004, only publishing a handful of papers and not successfully mentoring any students. Plus, the majority of his citations come from papers published from his work at the University of Washington. Interestingly enough, tenure guidelines at ISU do not specifically mention funding levels to be met. This is not surprising, I guess, as setting a more hard-and-fast rule would be virtually impossible since it would have to be done yearly as the funding climate changes, and be rather arbitrary to begin with.
The DI thinks, however, that because the department guidelines do not mention funding, funding should not be considered. Obviously that is ridiculous since work simply doesn’t get done without money, and a stellar publication record on somebody else’s dime doesn’t matter one whit if Gonzalez can’t bring home the bacon. How does Gonzalez stack up on funding?
The same day Geoffroy denied Gonzalez’s tenure appeal, the Des Moines Register published a story stating Gonzalez had only attracted $22,661 in external research grants since arriving at ISU.
During an interview with The Tribune this summer, Gonzalez countered that claim, saying he has brought in more. He said shortly before he left the University of Washington to come to ISU, he received, and brought much with him, a three-year, $58,000 grant he used to write his book “The Privileged Planet” and a five-year, $64,000 NASA grant, which he used to pay a doctoral student at the University of Washington. Then, as his tenure documents were at the provost level for review, he received promise of a five-year, $50,000 grant from the Discovery Institute.
Although it is more than the Des Moines Register originally reported, it was still far below that of the average $1.3 million in research funding the newspaper found tenured faculty in the physics and astronomy department had generated during their first six years before receiving tenure.
So Gonzalez brought in about 1/10th of the funds of his other colleagues, on average, at best. A good chunk of that went back to the University of Washington to pay a grad student, not ISU. The Templeton grant to write Privileged Planet would pay a portion of his salary, not fund research and advance the mission of his department. And the DI grant (having probably the most fortuitous timing I’ve ever seen) of $50k over 5 years won’t even pay a technician for two full years. The DI claims not much money is needed to do astronomy research, simply on a computer to crunch numbers (which is laughable as typically universities provide some computers to their professors). But somebody, be it a technician, a grad student, or a postdoc, has to be paid to collect data, which that requires salary, benefits, and ‘scope time. Obviously it does require serious cash, as his peers are pulling in over ten times the money Gonzalez is. By way of comparison, I coauthored a grant that netted $198,000 over the course of one year when I was a postdoc.
And Gonzalez apparently submitted his ID work for review by the tenure committe by citing the Privileged Planet and the Templeton grant in his dossier (I could be wrong on this, but nobody has yet demonstrated otherwise, and other news sources have said as much). So why, exactly, SHOULD his intelligent design work not be scrutinized? In that area, too, he’s a scientific failure; he’s brought in a pittance of grant money ostensibly to write a book that repackages the “fine tuning” argument (books, btw, do not undergo the rigorous peer review of scientific journals, rather they are written for money and publicity). He has not received any significant grant money with which to conduct his “groundbreaking” ID research. He has not published any ID-related research in a peer-reviewed journal. I’d wager he hasn’t even submitted it for publication either.
Tenure is not a right. Tenure is not a minimum set of hurdles to clear. Indeed, a faculty member who treats it that way should be the last person to be awarded tenure. A department has the right to determine who their colleagues will be, and undoubtedly they wish to choose people who show a tendency toward self-sufficiency, something that Gonzalez clearly lacks since he says he’s been submitting two grants a year. They want people who will continue to produce, not slowly peter out as they get farther and farther away from their mentored postdoc years. The department also has the right to determine who they associate with, as Gonzalez will represent the department to the rest of the world. If they choose not to associate with someone who tries to pass off a 200 year-old debunked, repackaged theological concept as science, I would have to support them in that decision. Hell, if Gonzalez were the racist, sexist asshole James Watson, I’d still support not renewing his contract too, no matter how good his track record (that’s part of what a professorship is too, is the renewal of a contract. Not getting tenure is not the equivalent of termination of a permanent position. People seem to miss that point a little too often). Academic freedom means that the rest of the department must have the freedom to discuss the ramifications of granting tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, indeed to say things that may sound extremely harsh, without being dragged to court over it.
I was somewhat confused by Senator Hartsuch’s role in the proceedings, but then I am usually quite disturbed whenever politicians get involved in these situations. He was ostensibly stumping for Dr. Gonzalez’s academic freedom and released statements to that effect. Ironically he refused to say he would support the academic freedom of a white supremacist (“that’s racism!”, which apparently means they don’t deserve academic freedom) or how to draw the line on that slippery slope. Incidentally I find it amusing how Republicans are so quick to drape themselves in the PC veil whenever a religious concept like Intelligent Design is involved, but that’s neither here nor there. Citing his love of free speech, I was graciously told I would not be allowed to “discuss” anything once they found out I was there on behalf of Iowa Citizens for Science (an announcement which triggered a burst of whispering between him and the DI folk, after which anytime I attempted to ask a simple question, the good senator immediately jumped forward and bullied me into shutting up by almost yelling at me that he would not “be debating” with me, but would be willing to meet my group at any invitation to do so. Quite an assumption since 1. I wasn’t trying to have a debate, I was trying to ask questions and 2. all subsequent questions after the discussion on racism and academic freedom with a reporter and I were directed at the DI folk, not him. Oh well. Gotta feed his political base).
What the DI and Senator Hartsuch seem to miss is the fact that the rest of the department has Academic Freedom as well, or should anyway, to choose their colleagues. And since ISU accepted and administered both the Templeton and DI grants (the university is free to reject them), Gonzalez can’t exactly claim that the university was being hostile to him conducting ID-related work there.