Gonzalez Continues Tenure Appeals with New Evidence

Kyle Miller
Iowa State Daily
December 7, 2007
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The denial of tenure for Guillermo Gonzalez, associate professor of physics and astronomy, by both his department and ISU President Gregory Geoffroy has been an ongoing source of contention within the university.

On Monday, the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design organization of which Gonzalez is a fellow, released e-mails revealing that some physics and astronomy department faculty members had identified Gonzalez's research in intelligent design as a factor in denying his tenure.

The e-mails depict a time of indecision in the physics and astronomy department beginning in 2004 about how to handle Gonzalez and whether discussion and creation of a statement discrediting intelligent design would create a "hostile work environment." Such a statement was never published, and in spring 2007, Gonzalez was denied tenure by the department and later by President Geoffroy. Currently, his case is on appeal to the Iowa Board of Regents.

Gonzalez said he feels "not everything is on the up and up; not everything is kosher," and he felt pressure from inside the department "even before the petition was circulated in 2005, and all the more so after the petition." Concerning the e-mails, he said he was "surprised about what people were saying behind my back."

"Absolutely, I can say in unequivocal terms, that ID was a factor [for denying tenure]," Gonzalez said. "I guess I was being naive. I thought I was being judged on my full record."

Gonzalez said if the regents deny his tenure appeal, he will consider taking his case to a higher court. He said he has been applying to other universities in case his tenure appeal is denied. His contract with Iowa State expires in May 2008.

"I haven't decided yet. I have not yet decided to pursue legal action. I will be consulting my lawyers and attorneys based on the totality of the evidence," Gonzalez said.

In one e-mail obtained through an Iowa Open Records request filed by the Discovery Institute, Joerg Schmalian, professor of physics and astronomy, wrote a year before the official tenure process began that speaking about Gonzalez's tenure case without his knowledge was paramount to "secrecy in the department."

"In view of the upcoming tenure decision, secrecy in the department may equally be interpreted as prejudging the case as making a statement," Schmalian wrote. "It becomes clear that there were efforts to write such a statement and that statement was not made only to avoid the impression of a hostile environment. Isn't this strong evidence for secrecy in the department?"

Eli Rosenberg, professor and chairman of physics and astronomy, wrote in Gonzalez's tenure dossier that Gonzalez's research into ID did play a part in his decision to deny tenure on the grounds that ID research "disqualifies him from serving as a science educator." Rosenberg declined to comment on the e-mails.

Lee Anne Willson, university professor of physics and astronomy, wrote in an e-mail to Curtis Struck, professor of physics and astronomy, on Feb. 17, 2004, before Gonzalez's book, "The Privileged Planet," was published, that his book would be making a bold statement and Willson felt that Gonzalez himself is a "mixed bag." Willson could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

"In less happy news, Guillermo has a book coming out in April on astronomy, Earth's privileged place in the universe and intelligent design. [Steven Kawaler, professor of physics and astronomy,] is very upset about possible impacts," she wrote. "I guess I'm rather sad that he wants to be so very public about something that I see as intellectually vacuous, though it may be spiritually satisfying. I think I will talk to him about it at some point."

Willson later added she thought ID is "more than just vacuous" and Gonzalez "is supporting a movement that is dangerous."

Vladimir Kogan, scientist at the Ames Laboratory, was a proponent of making a public statement. He wrote in November 2005 the best publicity Iowa State "can dream about is a direct and open confrontation with Discovery Institute and alike, even in the worst situation of the court turning against the department," and that a statement "signed and placed in a visible place, will show Guillermo Gonzalez that this is not a friendly place for him to further develop his IDeas."

However, Kogan did mention he felt that secretly discussing Gonzalez was not ideal.

"Also, I agree with Bruce [Harmon, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy]: It is not nice to discuss all this behind his back, and after all, he … probably honestly believes in what he is doing and he is certainly a courageous man. An open statement will clear up the air," Kogan wrote.

At time of print, Kogan could not be reached for comment.

Harmon wrote in 2005 that he watched a film documentary of "The Privileged Planet" while on "medication" and that "maybe we should help Eli gird his loins before he loses them."

At time of print, Harmon refused to comment on the e-mails.

Hector Avalos, professor of philosophy and religious studies, circulated a petition discrediting ID in 2005, and said in an recent e-mail interview he feels the Discovery Institute is currently mounting "its latest effort to use Iowa politics to settle a debate that they have lost in the scientific community and in a federal court," and "the Discovery Institute seems to want it both ways. They want scientists whose work leads them to believe ID is scientific to have academic freedom, but they don't want scientists whose research leads them to believe ID is not scientific to express their opinions."

"Academic freedom involves being able to judge you colleague's work," Avalos wrote. "Everyone seeking tenure agreed to be judged when they were hired."

John R. Clem, senior physicist at Ames Laboratory, wrote in 2005 that he was concerned about the possible creation of a "hostile work environment" by circulating an official statement and wanted also to "withdraw [his] name from any public statement."

Clem wrote that Gonzalez's statements were an "embarrassment" to the department and wished to instill in other members that Gonzalez's statements were just the "highly publicized views of one untenured member" of the faculty.

"I feel that publication of such a statement might become the most important piece of evidence in a successful court case to guarantee tenure to the person whose scientific credibility we should attempt to discredit," Clem wrote. "I think the best policy is just grin and bear it for the next couple of years."

Clem said he feels the e-mails being brought to light by the Discovery Institute are misrepresentations of the full story, as they are "on a fishing expedition to raise publicity for their cause" by "extracting the most negative comments" made by faculty to the press, thus facilitating their case against Iowa State.

"We had a very delicate situation [at the time], and we tried to handle it as delicately as possible," Clem said. "[The Discovery Institute] still came at us with guns blazing. It didn't do any good."

Clem said the decision to deny tenure to Gonzalez was "absolutely not" based on ID.

John Hauptman, professor of physics and astronomy, who wrote an op-ed piece for The Des Moines Register printed on June 2 about the tenure decision, said he has always felt that Gonzalez is a "bright and creative individual" that he has enjoyed working with, and an atmosphere of academic freedom has always been afforded to everyone in the university, meaning that Gonzalez has the right to research ID.

"When you hire an assistant professor, they can do anything they want to do," Hauptman said. "The university has to protect its professors."

Hauptman said his tenure decision was "absolutely not" based on Gonzalez's research into intelligent design and the petition circulated by Avalos "should not have been done - it was reprehensible."