The DI had their press conference. They unveiled their killer evidence, emails from his university colleagues obtained via a Freedom Of Information Act request. They revealed — oh, horrors! oh, tea and crumpets! oh, I feel a swoon coming on! — that his colleagues had discussed Gonzalez’s involvement with intelligent design in a negative way before the tenure decision was made.
The disclosure of the e-mails is contrary to what ISU officials emphasized after Gonzalez, an assistant professor in physics and astronomy, learned that his university colleagues had voted to deny his bid for tenure.
“I think Gonzalez should know that some of the faculty in his department are not going to count his ID work as a plus for tenure,” physics and astronomy professor Bruce Harmon wrote in an e-mail dated November 2005 – a year before the department voted on the tenure case.
“Quite the opposite,” Harmon added.
Uh, yeah? This is a surprise? Of course his colleagues would have been talking about his ID involvement. I’m sure my colleagues talk about my involvement with the creation-evolution wars, too; I’m willing to bet that, if a FOIA were served on my colleagues, there has been some private discussion about my militant atheism, too, and it hasn’t all been rah-rah hooray-for-him stuff, but mostly concerns about it’s affect on perception of the university. I expect that. Does Gonzalez really think he could publish a book that was billed as a scientific discussion of the “privileged planet” hypothesis, that he could go on media tours, that he could be a darling boy of one of the loudest anti-scientific institutions in the country, and that his fellow faculty would not discuss this, or express any reservations?
This is precisely what his colleagues are supposed to do: discuss concerns about his tenure case. There are yearly reviews where we professors get evaluated, and they discuss this kind of stuff at length. It’s also told to the subject: “You should be doing X to strengthen your case, you should be doing less of Y, which isn’t helping you.” Harmon’s comments are precisely the kind of legitimate criticism that should be discussed. The alternative is to lie to the candidate every step of the way and then sandbag him at the last step.
I can give a similar example from my own history. I was up for tenure at Temple University, and among the activities that I was best known for at that time was some software development: I’d written a rather elaborate piece of software for image processing and lab automation that was getting some attention in the developmental biology community, and I was traveling around a fair bit helping people do time-lapse and ratiometric imaging and that sort of thing. It was academic, and it was scholarly, but not of a type the department was familiar with, and my review files contained a mix of comments just like that — “Should his imaging work count for tenure?” And some said no, and others said yes. Do I consider the remarks before I went up for final tenure review that my software work was insufficiently biological a case of bias against me? No. It was fair warning of what some of my peers considered a strike against me (or in some cases, a plus), and I had the opportunity to shift my focus before the final decision.
Gonzalez was fully aware that he was engaging in extra-disciplinary activities that were not winning him friends. Of course, if he’d published a dozen papers a year and pulled in a few million dollars in grants, all work that is clearly recognized in tenure evaluations, it would have been evidence of productivity beyond his dubious activities, and there wouldn’t have been a problem.
In May, Eli Rosenberg, chairman of the ISU Department of Physics and Astronomy, told the Register that Gonzalez’s tenure denial was “not political” and that journalists were wrong to suggest that Gonzalez’s tenure review was based on anything other than his scientific qualifications.
Later that month, however, Rosenberg told World Magazine, a Christian publication, that Gonzalez’s book, called “The Privileged Planet,” played a role in the tenure decision-making process. But the book was not an overriding factor, Rosenberg added.
So where’s the conflict? His tenure denial was not political, but based on his scientific work; his ‘scientific’ work for the DI and on his book was judged inadequate, and uncompensated for by achievement in other areas, and so he was denied tenure. So far, all the DI has pulled up is evidence that the academic bureaucracy was working exactly as it always does in these cases.
The Panda’s Thumb has more on the Discovery Intitute’s misplaced hysterics. They don’t have a case.