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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Expelling astronomer Gonzalez called one of Iowa State's "Missteps"

In an encomium on Iowa State University in the DesMoines Register today, retired accounting prof Gary Maydew lists some missteps, among them:
- Abridgment of academic freedom. In the early 1940s dairy farmers in Iowa wanted to forbid the publication of a report that oleomargarine was just as nutritious as butter. Ted Schultz, an agricultural economics professor, insisted that the report be published in the name of academic freedom. The administration did not support him. He eventually resigned in protest and went to the University of Chicago, where he had a stellar career, winning the Nobel Prize in 1979.

More recently, ISU failed to grant tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, though his research record was solid. Failure to attain tenure is a familiar occurrence at strong research universities. However, the circumstances surrounding his tenure denial were troubling. Gonzalez stirred controversy by advocating the study of intelligent design, which theorizes that the complexity of life suggests the existence of a higher being.

Great universities need to support academic freedom and encourage thinking outside the box, regardless of whether faculty subscribe to prevailing wisdom. ISU's refusal to grant Gonzalez tenure creates a perception that academic freedom at ISU applies only to those holding main stream religious or agnostic beliefs.

Actually, the existence of a higher being IS a "main stream religious" belief, but never mind. Gonzalez had to go because he knew facts that do not support atheism.

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