Gonzalez, tenure and academic freedom
Does it make anyone else's irony-bone tingle to note that so many who regularly argue against supposedly entrenched, partisan interests in modern academia are now complaining that one of their own has been denied entrenchment?
Okay, maybe not. But to the matter at hand.
If you keep up with the doings on the ID/creationism front you'll have heard of the Gonzalez tenure flap. If not, go here.
Yes, that's Guillermo Gonzalez, somewhat-less-than-prominent-but-still well-known ID spokesman, being denied a tenured appointment at Iowa State University. And of course the ID crowd is all abuzz and up in arms about this travesty of justice. Gonzalez' appeal of the decision is under consideration so there is little news on this coming from the university, leaving the less restrained world of the internet (and the even less-than-that restrained world of ID public relations-speak) free to ramp up the hysteria.
Surprisingly, the least hysterical aspect of all of this seems to be Gonzalez' research record. There appears to be little question that he meets, in fact well exceeds, these particular requirements for tenure at Iowa State. It is true that his name appears on a significant number of multi-author publications but the impression remains that he has met this part of the tenure criteria.
This has led to (yawn) cries of persecution on the part of the Discovery Institute shepherds and assorted ID sheep. The five most recent articles (as of this writing) at the DI's Evolution Wails and Moans all address this issue. "This is all about his position on ID," they whine (I paraphrase), "their taking away his academic freedom."
And you know what? They may be a wee bit right. But they're still way wrong.
There are other considerations involved in awarding tenure, some of them far less straightforward than collating and counting publication stats, that are important to understand. Consider this from the ISU site describing general tenure policies:
Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression and to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint. Academic responsibility implies the faithful performance of academic duties and obligations, the recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear that the individual is not speaking for the institution in matters of public interest.While this may at first seem to support the creationists' case that Gonzalez should have been granted tenure, a brief consideration of these ideas in depth will show how the ISU decision was the responsible one.
Tenure is the keystone for academic freedom; it is essential for safeguarding the right of free expression and for encouraging risk-taking inquiry at the frontiers of knowledge. Both tenure and academic freedom are part of an implicit social compact, which recognizes that tenure serves important public purposes and benefits society. The public is best served when faculty are free to teach, conduct research, provide extension/ professional practice services, and engage in institutional service without fear of reprisal or without compromising the pursuit of knowledge and/or the creative process.
"Academic freedom is the freedom to discuss all relevant matters in the classroom." Obviously the key word here is relevant. Now academic relevance is not equivalent with public and political relevance, at least not in science. Some of Gonzalez hypotheses, and certainly all of his arguments in favor of ID, are drawn from without the frame of methodological naturalism. They are not scientific, they are not relevant in the academic sense. As such, then, it is the responsibility of the university, indeed of any institution of learning, to restrict the scope of an instructor's curriculum to that which is appropriate.
In the consideration of possible tenure, ISU needs to (and I assume has), analyze the trajectory of Gonzalez' career and make an educated guess as to how much his theological proclivities might eventually distract from his academic obligations. They have every right, and responsibility to potential students, to do so.
"Tenure is the keystone for academic freedom; it is essential for safeguarding the right of free expression and for encouraging risk-taking inquiry at the frontiers of knowledge." "Risk-taking." Does this include the hypothesis that intervention by a transcendental designer might be somehow responsible for physical laws, or the current configuration of our solar system, or various biological structures? Is that what is meant by tackling the frontiers of knowledge? Of course not.
The only way to extend the frontiers of knowledge is to deal with falsifiable hypotheses. Postulation of intervention by a methodologically inaccessible entity is not risk-taking, it is risk-avoidance. It is an unwillingness to accept the possibility of a natural explanation because of personal preconceived ideas that may be deemed to be in epistemological jeopardy.
Gonzalez perspective is the very antithesis of the kind of academic freedom the granting of tenure is meant to ensure. It is the introduction of a detour from scientific inquiry: i.e., "If you need to know anything beyond this particular data point - consult (your favorite theological resource here)." This is not genuine intellectual risk-taking because it has no potential for delivering empirical understanding.
This is a seriously irresponsible position to adopt in the course of science instruction. And considering that Gonzalez, or any tenure applicant, might tend this way is a non-trivial part of the gamble ISU, or any university, takes when evaluating prospective awards.
"Both tenure and academic freedom are part of an implicit social compact, which recognizes that tenure serves important public purposes and benefits society." Any publicly employed instructor at any level who introduces ID (not conventional intelligent design from, say, archeology or forensics) breaks this implied social compact by attempting to promulgate his religion. Short of a signed statement from Gonzalez renouncing any professional association with ID and the ID movement there is no other course Iowa State could have responsibly taken.
There are universities where Gonzalez' ideas and affiliations might not only be accepted, but welcomed enthusiastically (Biola comes to mind). But any serious institution of higher education has a contract with its students, its community and the academic community at large to protect the honest and free pursuit of knowledge, not to pander to veiled religious ideology.
Despite the obvious necessity of this denial decision, it's clear it was not without political repercussions. Commendations to ISU for integrity in serving the social compact.