Saturday, June 23, 2007

Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy: Tenure Machine?

In light of the recent debacle at Iowa State University over the denial of tenure to acclaimed astronomer Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, a number of very interesting facts concerning the one who denied Gonzalez tenure—Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy—have been revealed.

In a public statement on the issue, Geoffroy stated:

I know extremely well how to assess the qualifications of a candidate seeking tenure. Over the past two decades -- as dean of Penn State's College of Science, provost at the University of Maryland and as president of Iowa State -- I have reviewed and passed judgment on close to 1,000 faculty promotion and tenure cases. And while I have not worked in Dr. Gonzalez's field of astronomy, I have a significant understanding of the field and far greater experience than most university presidents.

One thousand faculty promotion and tenure cases? And only over the past two decades? Let’s look at the math. President Geoffroy has been reviewing tenure cases for two decades, which is 20 years. In these 20 years he has supposedly reviewed 1,000 cases. This means he reviews on average 50 cases a year. At that rate, he reviews one case a week, taking only two weeks off every year for summer vacation, winter vacation, Thanksgiving, spring break, national holidays, personal days, and sick days. This is not to mention the other duties he had at Penn State, the University of Maryland, and now has at Iowa State. Quite impressive, if you ask me. It seems that President Geoffroy is a tenure machine.

Given Geoffroy’s expertise in this area, let’s look at his assessment of Gonzalez’s tenure. Geoffroy writes:

I specifically considered 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.

As has been mentioned on this blog before, Gonzalez has a very impressive referred publication record. While ISU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy (which Geoffroy calls “one of our strongest academic programs”) requires “the publication of approximately fifteen paper of good quality in refereed journals,” Gonzalez has nearly 70 such papers, exceeding his department’s requirements by over 350%.

And concerning the “most important” factor—the future promise of Gonzalez in the field of astronomy—the facts are overwhelming. Gonzalez is the author of Observational Astronomy, a textbook published by Cambridge University Press and used in Iowa State University astronomy classes. His work had been cited nearly 1,500 times by the year 2005 and, besides the nearly 70 peer-reviewed papers, he has served as a referee for a number of the world’s leading astronomy journals, such as Astronomical Journal, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Astrophysical Journal, Icarus, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Nature, Naturwissenschaften, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Origins of Life and Evolution Biospheres, and Science.

In addition, Gonzalez has produced research which has led to the discovery of two planets and he is currently building technology to discover extrasolar planets. He has also served on the NASA Astrobiology Institute Review Panel (2003) and on the National Science Foundation Advanced Technologies and Instruments review panel (2005).

All of this was accomplished before the age of 45. To ISU, however, only one thing mattered: Gonzalez book The Privileged Planet, in which he advocates that our universe is the product of intelligent design. This was made more than clear by the quotes of a number of faculty in the department where Gonzalez has his appointment. Other faculty at ISU (including one in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and one whose spouse teaches in the department) have signed onto “Project Steve,” an anti-ID list of people named “Steve” produced by the National Center for Selling Evolution Science Education. As if all this wasn’t enough evidence of the antagonism against Gonzalez, John Hauptman, a physics professor at ISU who voted to deny Gonzalez tenure, wrote concerning Gonzalez’s case:

a physics department is not obligated to support notions that do not even begin to meet scientific standards.

This is all very telling considering the fact that ISU grants tenure to 91% of its applicants. And so is Iowa State President Gregory Geoffroy against academic freedom? It doesn’t seem like it. Geoffroy hired as his vice-president and provost at ISU Elizabeth Hoffman, the former president of the University of Colorado. Why did Hoffman leave Colorado? Because her time there was marred with scandal among both students and professors. Most notably, Hoffman defended the academic freedom of Ward Churchill, the professor of ethinc studies at the University of Colorado who referred to many of those who died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11/2001 as “technocrats” and “little Eichmanns.” After Hoffman’s defense of Churchill, Geoffroy found her to be qualified in being the vice-president and provost of ISU.

In sum, the “tenure machine” Geoffroy seems to be nothing more than a tyrannical president and an embarrassment to Iowa State University, the Big XII, and academia everywhere.

No comments: