Saturday, June 02, 2007


The Deed Is Done

Guillermo Gonzalez's appeal of the decision to deny him tenure has been decided:

Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy has upheld the university's decision to deny tenure to a professor who has advocated a controversial concept called "intelligent design."

Geoffroy, in a statement Friday afternoon, said the professor, Guillermo Gonzalez, "did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy - one of our strongest academic programs."
Geoffroy denies that Gonzalez's advocacy of ID was a factor in his decision to turn down Gonzalez's appeal.

"I based my review strictly on what he submitted himself as part of his dossier when he requested tenure," Geoffroy said. "I did not consider any of the issues that have been circulating around about intelligent design." ...

Geoffroy said he considered refereed publications, Gonzalez's level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and the overall evidence of his future career promise in the field of astronomy.
Now the interesting stuff begins.

Gonzalez can, of course, just move on and see if he can still get hired by any reputable university or agency. Obviously, he will have to overcome the fear that he will be more of a headache than he is worth, especially given no shortage of bright young astronomers in the job market.

Or he can try to sue. The law applicable in such cases is rather complex and not worth going into unless Gonzalez actually starts a suit but some preliminary things can be said.

There is no Constitutional right to tenure. There is a general contractual right not to be denied promotions and tenure without reason but the courts, reluctant to become involved in academic decisions, won't get involved unless the denial was "arbitrary and capricious," a very hard standard to meet and clearly one Gonzalez can not demonstrate in this case.

On the other hand, denying promotions and tenure, especially (but not exclusively) by a state institution, based on gender, color or creed, is actionable under various Federal laws. The first problem with his taking that course is whether Gonzalez can show that he was denied tenure based on his religious beliefs.

If he admits that ID is a religious belief rather than a scientific one, that might well get his foot in the illegal discrimination door. However, promoting a religious belief as if it science may well run afoul of the university's ethics policies. Not to mention that such a position may not sit particularly well with the Discovery Institute.

An interesting possibility would be a claim that he was discriminated against based on a bias against his perceived religious beliefs. But taking that line would pretty well require a showing that ID is science, and we know how well that turned out for the IDeologists the last time. And, even if they convince the judge of that, it would tend to support the university, since denial of tenure based on a scientific dispute is not a basis for a discrimination suit.

The one thing that is sure is that a promising young astronomer has chosen to spend his time, one way or the other, proselytizing his religion rather than doing science.

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