Features
Gonzalez: “I need to clear my name.”

Smoking gun

Education | Iowa State denied tenure to an ID-supporting scientist and then tried to cover up why

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 15, 2007

The message from Iowa State University remains unchanged-namely that last spring's denial of tenure to astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez stemmed from inadequate scholarly credentials, not his favorable view of Intelligent Design.

But internal university documents and emails, recently released in compliance with public records requests, tell a different story. Messages circulated among ISU faculty and administrators reveal hostility toward ID and consequent opposition to Gonzalez. What's more, these private communications betray an effort to conceal the true reason for denying tenure to an acclaimed and accomplished scientist.

"All these emails clearly show that faculty had prejudged my case based entirely on my ID views about a year before the tenure case came down," said Gonzalez, whose pioneering work in astronomy has appeared in such prominent journals as Nature, Science, and Scientific American.

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With a publishing record that includes 68 peer-reviewed articles and co-authorship of one of his department's textbooks, Gonzalez was bewildered at his denial of tenure earlier this year. His confusion turned to pain when colleagues and university officials began impugning his academic record to justify their decisions.

Suspecting foul play, the ID-advancing Discovery Institute, of which Gonzalez is a senior fellow, filed public records requests for ISU documents and emails pertaining to the case. Initially, the university resisted, complying only after the parties engaged in a game of litigation chicken. Upon receiving the documents, the Seattle-based institute hoped to submit them to the Iowa Board of Regents as part of an appeal in the tenure case. But the Board of Regents refused to consider them, driving Gonzalez to go public "to repair my professional academic reputation."

An independent source, the Des Moines Register, also filed a public records request and went public with the documents two days before the Discovery Institute press conference on Dec. 3. The newspaper reached a similar conclusion to Gonzalez, calling the material in the emails "contrary to what ISU officials emphasized" last spring.

Indeed, one 2005 email from physics and astronomy professor Bruce Harmon states that Gonzalez "is claiming ID is a proper branch of science, and so I think he opens it up in his tenure consideration. I would have thought an intelligent person would have at least kept quiet until after tenure."

Dozens of other messages mock Gonzalez and his ID work, lumping him with "idiots" and "religious nutcases." Others reveal a plan within the department to release an anti-ID petition meant "to discredit" Gonzalez. That petition fizzled after astronomy professor Steve Kawaler warned "it could be used to justify a legal claim of a hostile work environment" and it "works directly against our need to ensure and display a fair tenure review."

In response to Kawaler, physics professor John Clem wrote that he agreed with not publishing the petition for fear that it might help Gonzalez get tenure: "As for the unfortunate publicity we are receiving and the embarrassment we feel as a department, I think the best policy is to just grin and bear it for the next couple of years."

Physics and Astronomy Department chair Eli Rosenberg, who was included on several pejorative emails regarding Gonzalez and ID, appealed to such departmental bias in his recommendation to faculty that they vote against tenure: "The fact that Dr. Gonzalez does not understand what constitutes both science and a scientific theory disqualifies him from serving as a science educator."

With such clear anti-ID motivation still secret this past May, Rosenberg insisted in an interview with WORLD that ID "was not an overriding factor in the decision that was made at the departmental level."

University spokesman John McCarroll, who was present during Rosenberg's explanation to WORLD, says he cannot add to those comments. McCarroll also stands by the statement last spring from ISU president Gregory Geoffroy, who did not cite ID among the several performance-based factors he considered in denying Gonzalez's initial appeal.

The Iowa Board of Regents has yet to rule on Gonzalez's final appeal and will not convene again until February. "My chances of staying here now are pretty slim," the soft-spoken astronomer conceded. "But I need to clear my name."

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