While we’re on the subject of tenure here at CV, there is yet another tenure flap happening in the physics department at Iowa State University. Which is my alma mater (always embarrassing to admit that, so I might as well get it out of the way early on). The department has denied tenure to Professor Guillermo Gonzalez. Prof Gonzalez, by all reports, is the author of nearly 70 peer-reviewed scientific papers, co-author of a major college-level astronomy textbook, his work led to the discovery of two new planets, and he has had his research featured in Science, Nature, and on the cover of Scientific American. Recently, he discovered what is known as the Galactic Habitable Zone, which essentially proposes that life forms when there is the right balance of unique conditions. A hypothesis not too different from our own discussions of the anthropic principle here in theoretical high energy physics!
Sounds pretty good, so what’s the problem? In addition to this scholarly record, he has also co-authored a book on Intelligent Design, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery. Ooooohhhhh!! A religious studies professor at ISU led a faculty petition drive to denounce efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science. Hmmmm! Seems like a healthy response.
The upshot is that Gonzalez wrote this book as an untenured professor, and now has been denied tenure, with some members of the faculty, including the department chair, apparently saying that the book factored in their decision. He has appealed the decision. The Discovery Institute and Christian blogs are all over the story.
It’s not the first time ISU has had fundamentalist Christians on their faculty — one of my physics professors there used to hold bible meetings with students in his office. (He also always asked me why I was studying physics rather than busying myself cooking in the kitchen. He very grudgingly gave me an A, but had to admit I had earned it. But I digress…)
So what would you do?
At first, I thought this is a difficult case. I could never condone the preaching of ID in the classroom. But Gonzalez claims that he had never introduced Intelligent Design into the classroom (could you be sure he never would?). He claims it is a private belief and he wrote the book on his own time (how could he believe in ID and be a serious scientist? How does he resolve the conflict in his mind?). IF his claims are true, it’s kinda like writing a blog!. And wouldn’t we be hypocritical if we thought he didn’t deserve tenure because he shared his private views in public and we didn’t share his views? Is this worse than the guy with the bible meetings in his office?
But yet, he wrote a popular book, very much in the public arena, advocating an anti-scientific idealogy. This shows a clear lack of scientific judgement, and
damages the public’s perception of science. However, after a simple google search, I found the clincher: he gave invited lectures at other academic institutions, billed as an ISU professor, promoting Intelligent Design. OK – now he crossed the line and used his professional position to promote ID. So the faculty does have a basis in denying him tenure in my book.
PS: I just saw Rob Knop’s post on this case, which also agrees with this denial of tenure.