Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, filed an appeal of the tenure denial last week. Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy had rejected Gonzalez's request in April.
Neither university officials nor Gonzalez would say Monday whether the tenure denial was due to his views on intelligent design. The theory holds that the universe and living things are so finely tuned and complex, they must have been designed by a supreme, intelligent force.
Gonzalez noted, however, that he has frequently been criticized by people who don't consider intelligent design as a legitimate science.
He is known for his support of the theory because he co-authored a book, "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery." The book has been embraced by many religious conservatives and was the source for a namesake documentary about intelligent design.
Two years ago, he was the unnamed target of a petition signed by more than 120 ISU faculty renouncing intelligent design as legitimate science.
"I knew it would be controversial, but I didn't expect this level of opposition," Gonzalez said. "I recognize it's a minority position, but that doesn't mean it's wrong."
Although Gonzalez won't discuss the reasons for the tenure denial, a Seattle-based think tank has blamed his belief in intelligent design. The group, the Discovery Institute, includes Gonzalez as a senior fellow.
"We've seen in the past couple years, a ratcheting up (in the) targeting of scientists and students who express skepticism toward neo-Darwinism or support for intelligent design," said John West, associate director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture.
West said the climate is more reminiscent of Cuba, where Gonzalez fled as a child in the late 1960s.
"You get the same sort of doctrinal litmus test you'd expect in some place like Cuba, not Iowa," West said. "If the situation is so intolerant at American universities that a top-notched scholar cannot get tenure because he believes there is empirical evidence for design in the universe, Americans need to be questioning, 'Is this America?"'
ISU spokesman John McCarroll said Geoffroy has until June 6 to decide on Gonzalez's appeal.
Tenure-track professors are on a probation until their seventh year, when they're eligible to apply for a permanent position.
"Tenure is taken very, very seriously," McCarroll said. "You're basically granting a lifetime appointment. You're making a commitment to the individual on behalf of the university and the state of Iowa."
He said tenure requests go through multiple steps in the review process -- faculty in an individual's department, the department chair, the college dean, the executive vice president, the provost and finally the president. They consider candidates' research, publishing and teaching record as well as their ability to generate funding.
"Dr. Gonzalez was denied at every step," McCarroll said. "The process does allow for Dr. Gonzalez to appeal that right back to the president."
Gonzalez said he's "very openly a Christian," but his theory isn't contingent on believing in a higher being or the supernatural.
"It doesn't prove God and it doesn't start with God, either," he said. "But some of the intelligent design research can have positive religious confirmation -- that's why it angers atheists."
Gonzalez maintains he's never taught intelligent design in the classroom. He said his work on the subject is limited to his book and some lectures he's given on the topic away from the university.
Gonzalez co-authored a college-level astronomy textbook published by Cambridge University Press last year and has had articles on subjects unrelated to intelligent design appear in publications such as Science, Nature and Scientific American.
"None of my (68) published papers are about intelligent design," he said.
Gonzalez said he'd like to remain at Iowa State.
"It's kind of stressful," he said. "All I can do is wait."