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Setting the Record Straight about Guillermo Gonzalez’s Denial of Tenure by Iowa State University

John G. West

Parks Library Iowa State.jpg

Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez is in the news this week because of his hiring as a faculty member by Ball State University in Indiana. That has led to the recirculation of a lot of misinformation about why Gonzalez was denied tenure by Iowa State University (ISU) in 2007. As we amply documented at the time, the real reasons Gonzalez did not get tenure at ISU were simple: discrimination and intolerance. Despite an exemplary record as a scientist, Gonzalez was rejected by ISU because of his support for intelligent design.

Of course, ISU claimed otherwise, as various bloggers and reporters are uncritically reminding us. In the words of one reporter:

The university said the decision [to deny tenure to Gonzalez] was based on his refereed publications, his level of success in attracting research funding, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and evidence of future career promise in astronomy.

Really? Let’s take the three most important factors mentioned by ISU:

“Refereed publications”

Refereed publications were supposed to be the primary standard for excellence in research according to Gonzalez’s own department’s tenure and promotion policies. So how did Gonzalez perform according to this primary criterion? He published 68 refereed articles in science journals. That’s 350% more than the 15 articles his department regarded as the normal standard for demonstrating research excellence. Even if one only looks at articles published by Gonzalez after he arrived at ISU, he still produced 25 since 2002 — which again is significantly more than the 15 articles that “ordinarily” are supposed to demonstrate research excellence according to his department’s standards. In addition, according to the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System, Gonzalez had the highest number of “normalized citations” to his work among the astronomers in his department for articles published between 2001 and 2007. More generally, Gonzalez had more peer-reviewed journal articles than all but one of the faculty granted tenure at ISU in 2007. In fact, Dr. Gonzalez had more peer-reviewed journal articles than all but 5 faculty granted tenure at ISU between 2003 and 2007!

“Research funding and grants”

Research funding was not a published criterion for earning tenure in Dr. Gonzalez’s department. Indeed, it wasn’t even mentioned in the departmental standards for tenure and promotion. So if this factor was considered key in his tenure denial, ISU was applying a criterion outside of its own stated standards.

Even had the criterion been valid, Gonzalez did receive $172,000 in outside grants while at ISU, which was more grant money than 35% of ISU faculty granted tenure in 2007 whose CVs listed grant dollars.

“Evidence of future career promise in astronomy”

Surely the main evidence of an academic scientist’s future career potential is his ability to generate refereed publications as well as the impact of those publications on his discipline. It is clear that Gonzalez stood out in both areas.

ISU also suggested at the time that its tenure standards were “so high, that many good researchers have failed to satisfy the demands of earning tenure” at ISU. Contradicting this claim was the fact that 91% of ISU faculty applying for tenure in the year Gonzalez was considered received it.

Public documents requests filed by Discovery Institute later revealed just how corrupt the ISU tenure process was, exposing the vicious campaign that took place behind the scenes to deny Gonzalez tenure and violate his academic freedom rights because of his support for intelligent design.

Let’s hope that Gonzalez gets fairer treatment at Ball State University.

Image: Parks Library, Iowa State University/Flickr.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



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