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ISU President Geoffroy and the Elephant in the Living Room

The President of Iowa State University, Gregory Geoffroy, has issued a statement defending his denial of the tenure appeal of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez. In the statement, Geoffroy claims that he concluded that Gonzalez "simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy."

Ah, yes, President Geoffroy has such high standards of excellence that only the most outstanding professors are allowed to achieve tenure at ISU.

Geoffroy's high standards must be why he approved 91% of the tenure applicants at ISU in 2007 (and why the tenure approval rate has gone up each year at ISU for the past five years).

Geoffroy's high standards are presumably also why he promoted to full professor this year Hector Avalos, the ISU faculty member who argues in his "scholarship" that the Bible is worse than Hitler's Mein Kampf. Yes, according to President Geoffroy's exalted standards, only the best and brightest are allowed to stay at ISU!

But there's more.

Geoffroy adds that he based his decision on Dr. Gonzalez's

refereed publications, his 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 most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy.

Let's look at the three most important factors identified by Geoffroy:

"Refereed publications." Refereed publications are supposed to be the primary standard for excellence in research according to Gonzalez's own department's tenure and promotion policies. So how did Gonzalez perform according to this primary criterion? He published 68 refereed articles in science journals--350% more than the 15 articles his department regarded as the normal standard for demonstrating research excellence. Even if one only looks at articles published by Gonzalez after he arrived at ISU, he still produced 25 since 2002--which again is significantly more than the 15 articles that "ordinarily" are supposed to demonstrate research excellence according to his department's standards. In addition, according to the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System, Gonzalez has the highest number of "normalized citations" to his work among the astronomers in his department for articles published between 2001 and 2007. If President Geoffroy really considered Gonzalez's refereed publications, the answer as to why Gonzalez deserved tenure should have been obvious.

"Research funding and grants." Although Gonzalez has received enough funding to maintain a strong record of publications, he has not brought in big bucks to his university. So what? Research funding is not even listed as a standard in his own department's tenure and promotion policies. It is also difficult to believe that the 91% of applicants approved for tenure this year at ISU were mega-fundraisers. As previously reported, we have been trying for two weeks to get grant and publication data for all of those considered for tenure by ISU, but the university has stonewalled our open records request. It now claims it will start to deliver the requested information next week. Once we get the data, we will see whether grant funding is truly a required criterion for tenure at ISU. If it is, ISU needs to revise its own published policies on tenure and promotion. If it isn't, ISU's effort to use fundraising as a reason for denying tenure to Gonzalez is clearly a sham. Regardless, Gonzalez exceeded his department's stated criterion for research excellence--refereed publications--and he should have been evaluated on that basis.

"Overall evidence of future career promise." Surely the main evidence of an academic scientist's future career potential is his ability to generate refereed publications as well as the impact of those publications on his discipline. Yet it is clear that Gonzalez stood out in both areas.

Which brings me to the proverbial elephant in the living room that Geoffroy's statement conspicuously avoids: intelligent design. As previously reported, at least two members of Gonzalez's department (including his department chair) have publicly acknowledged that intelligent design played a role in the tenure denial. Two additional department members have been tied to a national statement denouncing intelligent design as "creationist pseudoscience." This is in addition to the 2005 petition in which more than 120 ISU professors argued that all faculty at ISU have a duty to repudiate intelligent design, thus imposing an ideological litmus test at ISU. Yet Geoffroy in his statement is completely silent on the controversy over intelligent design at ISU. He acts as if it doesn't exist. When pressed to comment by the Ames Tribune, Geoffroy reportedly insisted that intelligent design played no role in his decision. What about in previous evaluations of Gonzalez at the lower levels of ISU before the tenure application reached Geoffroy? Can Geoffroy assure the public that ID was not considered at these lower levels when ISU faculty have stated otherwise? And how can Geoffroy expect people to believe that his own decision was not tainted by the anti-ID prejudice among faculty at ISU, especially when his decision seems contrary to ISU's published standards for tenure?