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Secret Emails Reveal How ISU Faculty Plotted to Deny Distinguished Astronomer Tenure

ISU’'s tenure process and official explanation in the Gonzalez case exposed as a sham.

Des Moines, IA — Iowa State University faculty secretly plotted to deny tenure to a distinguished astronomer, as revealed in private emails written by faculty and administrators at ISU.

Discovery Institute is making public a record of secret emails exchanged among faculty at Iowa State University about noted ISU astronomer Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez.

The emails demonstrate that an orchestrated campaign was organized and conducted against Gonzalez by his colleagues, with the intent to deny him tenure because of views he holds on the intelligent design (ID) of the universe, expressed in his 2004 book The Privileged Planet. In spite of his distinguished publishing career, Gonzalez was denied tenure by ISU in the spring of 2007.

Faculty involved in the tenure decision were well aware of Gonzalez’s support for ID. More than one year before his tenure evaluation was scheduled, one ISU professor wrote an e-mail that left no doubt that Gonzalez’s tenure application would never receive a fair evaluation.

“He will be up for tenure next year,” wrote the professor. “And if he keeps up, it might be a hard sell to the department.”

Contrary to his public statements, and those of ISU President Gregory Geoffroy, the chairman of ISU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dr. Eli Rosenberg, stated in Dr. Gonzalez’s tenure dossier that Dr. Gonzalez’s support for intelligent design “disqualifies him from serving as a science educator.”


Click to download ID Was the Issue After All (including e-mail quotes)
Click to download Backgrounder on Guillermo Gonzalez Story
Click to download Q&A on Guillermo Gonzalez Story


“Dr. Rosenberg misled Dr. Gonzalez, the public, and the media when he said ID barely played a role in the decision,” said Casey Luskin, Discovery Institute’s attorney for public policy and legal affairs. “In fact, a third of his own statement in the tenure dossier focused on Gonzalez’s views on intelligent design, where he instructed faculty that support for ID as science should be a litmus test for denying tenure to Dr. Gonzalez.”

ISU faculty have claimed that ID was not discussed as often as other subjects during the tenure deliberations, but that “is only because at secret and inappropriate tenure deliberations held via e-mail a year before the official process started, they decided that they wanted Gonzalez out of ISU because he supported intelligent design,” said Luskin.
In secret e-mails, Gonzalez’s colleagues privately deliberated about his tenure and collaborated to express their intolerance toward him by asserting that ID is “intellectually vacuous,” and “more than just vacuous,” and that “embalming is more of a science” than ID.

They also wrote that Gonzalez should be lumped with “idiots” and “religious nutcases.” They mocked Gonzalez’s ID work, saying they would study it “[u]nder medication.”

His own department members drafted—and nearly released—a petition against ID with the avowed purpose “to discredit” Gonzalez and “give Gonzalez a clear sign that his ID efforts will not be considered as science by the faculty.”

Members of ISU’s department of Physics and Astronomy wanted Gonzalez to know “that this is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas” and thus hoped “he may look for a better place as a result.”

“Faculty in the department knew they were treading on dangerous ground,” explained Luskin. “They repeatedly expressed their fear that their e-mails were, in effect, ‘secret meetings’ on Dr. Gonzalez’s tenure.”

One faculty member wrote in e-mails that “[i]n view of an upcoming tenure decision, secrecy in the department may equally be interpreted as prejudging the case as making a statement” because “[i]f it becomes clear that there were efforts to write such a statement and that the statement was not made only to avoid the impression of a hostile environment, isn’t this strong evidence for secrecy in the department[?].” Another stated, “I don’t think talking behind Guillermo’s back is quite ethical.”

“Their concerns ultimately centered around outward appearances of fairness for legal purposes, not true protection of academic freedom,” added Luskin.

“The emails prove that Dr. Gonzalez lost his job because of views on ID, not because of his job performance,” said Luskin, adding that this “is a clear First Amendment case.”

On December 4, the Iowa State Board of Regents has its next scheduled meeting.

“Like the ISU administration, the Board has ignored the significance of such a gross breach of academic freedom and professional misconduct by some faculty,” said Luskin.

“By denying requests to include these e-mails from the record in Gonzalez’s case, the Board has refused to acknowledge most of the evidence uncovered in the open records request in an apparent attempt to keep it from the public,” said Luskin. “It is extremely disconcerting that they are closing their eyes to the fact that Gonzalez was a victim of academic persecution, since they will ultimately issue a final administrative ruling on this case.”