Astronomer Loses Job over Intelligent Design Views, Advocates Charge

By Pete Winn | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - An Iowa State University professor was denied tenure last April because he is a well-known advocate of intelligent design (ID), the Discovery Institute, a conservative organization based in Seattle, Wash., claims in its defense of the professor. He also apparently was the target of a secret, organized effort to oust him concocted by fellow faculty members.

Intelligent design is a theory that life exhibits signs that it was designed and didn't just spring into being out of nothing.

Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez is being defended by attorneys as well as the Discovery Institute, and they asked the Iowa State University Board of Regents Monday to reconsider the university's refusal last summer to grant the assistant professor of astronomy a lifetime appointment on the faculty.

The attorneys for the astronomer joined with Discovery to present the regents with evidence they say bears out the charges.

"It has come to light that e-mails were sent more than a year before he even applied for tenure that the professors in his department were going to try to sabotage his tenure request," attorney Chuck Hurley told Cybercast News Service.

Casey Luskin, a program officer for the Discovery Institute, said a cache of e-mails was discovered through a freedom of information request his group made seeking any public documents surrounding the decision on Gonzalez' tenure.

"What we found was basically an orchestrated plot to oust him from the university because they did not like the fact that he supported intelligent design," Luskin told Cybercast News Service.

Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the co-author of "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery," which presents the case that the unique conditions that allowed intelligent life to develop on Earth are no coincidence and that this planet was essentially made to be discovered.

"We found there had been secret tenure deliberations where many faculty members expressed their blatant intolerance toward ID and discussed the fact that they wanted to get Gonzalez out of the department because they believed that his support for ID would cause them embarrassment," Luskin said.

Officially, Gonzalez lost his chance for a permanent job at Iowa State because he "simply 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," said Gregory Geoffroy, the university's president, last June, after Gonzalez appealed the original decision.

John McCarroll, executive director of university relations at Iowa State, repeated that Geoffroy had not even considered the scholar's views on intelligent design.

"President Geoffroy has said the only considerations he had were scholarship and research," McCarroll told Cybercast News Service.

But the contents of the e-mails repeatedly refer both to ID and Gonzalez' views as "intellectually vacuous" and fit for "idiots" and "religious nutcases." One e-mail even urges fellow professors to pressure the scholar to leave before he could apply for tenure.

"Our open statement signed and put in a visible place will show to GG that this is not a friendly place for him to develop further his IDeas," the e-mail reads. "He may look for a better place as a result."

Moreover, the e-mails document efforts to suppress what Luskin called "the evidence of a hostile work environment they knew existed," because the professors became afraid of a possible court case.

Hurley, meanwhile, also challenges Geoffroy's assessment that one reason why Gonzalez wasn't worthy of tenure was because he had lacked success in "attracting research funding and grants."

A former Iowa lawmaker, Hurley pointed out that the university's written standards for tenure say nothing about bringing in research dollars.

"They do have one objective standard - and that is at least 15 peer-reviewed articles," he said.

Gonzalez, he said, has published 350 percent more than that, more than 500 articles on non-ID related topics.

"He should have passed tenure without any problem, according to the objective standard," Hurley told Cybercast News Service. "But once the university was outed on this bad deed, they then began to grasp for straws. One of those straws was, 'He doesn't bring in as much funding as we would like.'"

Iowa State considers the matter closed, according to McCarroll, but the Board of Regents, which is considering the appeal, has the authority to overrule the university's president. A decision is expected in February 2008. Unless it is reversed, Gonzalez has until May to find a new job.

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