Guillermo Gonzalez v. Iowa State University. Discrimination and Intelligent Design

July 31, 2007

Guillermo Gonzalez v. Iowa State University
Discrimination and Intelligent Design

Matthew C. Statler

Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez is an astrophysicist and assistant professor of Astronomy at Iowa State University (ISU). To Gonzalez’s credit, he boasts some 68 peer review articles, co-authored the standard astronomy textbook used even by fellow faculty members of ISU, was instrumental in the discovery of two new planets and his research has led to what is now known as the galactic habitable zone (GHZ). In fact, GHZ is a term coined by Gonzalez and as he puts it, “Our star, the Sun, is one of the few stars in the Galaxy capable of supporting complex life. The sun is composed of the right amount of “metals,” and its orbit about the galactic center is just right. Our solar system is also far enough away from the galactic center to not have to worry about disruptive gravitational forces or too much radiation. When all of these factors occur together, they create a region of space now known as a Galactic Habitable Zone.” However, despite Gonzalez’s impressive record, in April of 2007 Iowa State University (ISU) denied him tenure.

Why? Many are saying that the reason for the denial was because of a book co-authored by Gonzalez called “the privileged planet” in 2004, which is a position which supports intelligent design (ID) and is at odds with ISU’s evolutionary fundamentalism. Further support of the aforementioned allegation is that on the heels of the denial of tenure was a petition headed up by Hector Avalos the professor of religious studies and also an avowed atheist urging ““all faculty” at ISU to “uphold the integrity of our university” by “reject[ing] efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.” The petition had some 120 signatures from fellow faculty and staff. The amount of signatures is unfortunate since the review process for tenure is at many levels dependent upon recommendations from fellow staff.

Iowa State University’s Argument

In order to see where the Case is presently it must first be noted that Gonzalez has essentially exhausted his local remedies regarding Tenure. Tenure is a life time appointment granted by the university which is decided on by the university leadership, who must be convinced of the tenure candidate’s academic excellence. “The evaluation is based on the candidate’s record of teaching, service and scholarly research during the time of the candidate’s appointment at Iowa State, using standards and expectations set by the candidate’s faculty colleagues in his/her academic department. The review begins in the candidate’s academic department, where a recommendation on tenure and promotion is generated by a faculty vote. The process includes consideration of recommendations by reputable persons in the same area of study, but who are not at Iowa State.” The Process then, “in sequence, [is] the department chair, a college-level committee, the dean of the college, and the executive vice president and provost all conduct a review of the candidate’s record of teaching, service and scholarly research. They generate recommendations for the next level of review. The candidate’s dossier and all of the recommendations are presented to the university president, who makes a final decision.” After the denial of tenure for Gonzalez in the above mentioned process, he may then appeal that decision. To file an appeal, the “Faculty Handbook – 9. Faculty Grievance Procedures” states that “members who believe they have been treated unfairly with respect to salary, promotion, tenure, academic concerns, reduction in force, or other matters related to employment may have their cases reviewed formally through the procedures which have been developed by the Faculty Senate and approved by the administration. For purposes of definition, such a call for a review shall hereafter be called an appeal. It is brought by an appellant and is directed at the appellee. Appeals of administrative actions or actions to deny reappointment, promotion or tenure, should be based on grounds that improper procedures were followed, academic freedoms or constitutional rights were violated, policy was interpreted improperly, or arbitrary and capricious criteria were employed in recommending the action being appealed. Section determines when an appeal of a promotion or tenure decision may occur, and the information to be considered in such an appeal.” Accordingly the appeal may be taken either though administrative channels or through the “Faculty Senate Committee on Appeals” in which the end result was Gonzalez’s denial of tenure.

The current state of ISU’s argument then is put forth in a statement given by its president Gregory Geoffroy who has the final say in the appeal process. Geoffry states, “I appointed a member of my staff to conduct a careful and exhaustive review of the appeal request and the full tenure dossier, and that analysis was presented to me. In addition, I conducted my own examination of Dr. Gonzalez’s appeal with respect to the evidence of research and scholarship. I independently concluded that 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.”

Thus, according to ISU, Gonzalez’s denial of tenure was procedurally correct and fairly conducted.

Guillermo Gonzalez’s Argument

Gonzalez’s argument currently is that his denial of tenure is related to his belief in God and more specifically in his belief in intelligent design (ID). ID being that the universe came about through intelligence rather than chance and natural selection as in evolutionary theory. Since Gonzalez’s promotion for tenure is largely based upon recommendations from local faculty, some of whom no doubt signed the Avolas petition or at least agreed with it, then in effect, biased the committee into denying tenure for Gonzalez. To base Gonzalez’s denial on lack of academic excellence as alluded to by Geoffory is an absurd notion. Gonzalez has some 350 percent more peer review articles then required by the ISU standard and from “2001 to 2007 [his articles] rank the highest among astronomers in his department according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists” . Indeed to add insult to injury, the very text book used by the university staff in the Astronomy department is co-authored by none other than Guillermo Gonzalez. Further, Guillermo has stated that concerning his book “the privileged planet” which was “Supported by a research grant from the Templeton Foundation…has earned praise from such eminent scientists as David Hughes, a Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich…Cambridge paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris and shown on the PBS station” has never even been presented to his students in class. In fact Gonzalez’s involvement with “The privileged planet” has been kept separate from his life at the university. Yet, the university still considered the book when discussing Gonzalez evaluation at the university; Professor John Hauptman, another department colleague, honestly admitted that he voted against Gonzalez because of The Privileged Planet… conceded that the rejected professor “is very creative, intelligent and knowledgeable, highly productive scientifically and an excellent teacher.””

Despite Guillermo Gonzalez’s impeccable record, he was still denied tenure and as evidenced above, not for any lack of “academic excellence” but rather as a way for the University to disassociate themselves from the specter of intelligent design.

In Defense of Guillermo Gonzalez

Given the unfair bias and a decision that was made arbitrarily, capriciously, in bad faith, and the fact that the local avenues toward justice have been exhausted, Guillermo’s best chance lay currently in a constitutional argument . Under the Above scenario Guillermo’s 1st and 14th amendment rights have been violated and as such would pass muster for a challenge in the Supreme Court. If it can be shown that Guillermo was denied tenure based on his book “the privileged planet” then such issues as freedom of association, the free exercise clause and arguments for violation of procedural due process rights and equal protection maybe laid. In any case, Guillermo’s plan of action will start with the violation of his own rights and in the alternative, that a seemingly neutral set of rules like those involved with tenure, have a chilling effect on the exercise of the free exercise and or freedom of association clauses.

Because the issues involved arise from under the constitution the court would have subject matter jurisdiction since this case would present a federal question. Next, ISU is a state government entity who is funded by the federal government in many respects and where there is significant state involvement by the federal government it can therefore be said that ISU meets the threshold question of state action necessary for the constitutional protections of Guillermo Gonzalez.

1st and 14th Amendment Arguments

Gonzalez’s First Argument would involve a basic procedural due process violation as guaranteed by the 5th and 14th amendments of the constitution. The 14th Amendment provides in part “….No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” As argued above, Gonzalez denial of tenure was arbitrary and capricious and the culmination of a petition seeking to keep ISU from being identified as an ID school or in the words of Hector Avalos, “We certainly don’t want to give the impression to the public that intelligent design is what we [ISU] do.”. As such, it is argued that Gonzalez was denied tenure not for a lack of “academic excellence” but rather for beliefs held outside of the university in matters of religion and his position on intelligent design. Since Gonzalez view’s where separate from his work at the university and wholly within the sphere of his private life and indeed in terms of freedom of association, a fundamental right is there by implicated and as such is a liberty interest. The fact that a liberty interest is involved brings the issue within the purview of the 14th amendment. Ad Fortiori, to allow ISU to deny tenure based on freedom of association (since his views identify Gonzalez with a particular group), would thus create a chilling effect upon the exercise thereof. The implication of letting such decision go unchallenged would send a message that proponents of ID could not get a tenured position at ISU in particular and in general set a precedence that could affect ID proponents in all state schools across the free U.S. Finally it may be noted that in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, a similar case, in which the board of regents required their professors to sign regulations to the effect that the professors where not a part of the communist party, the court said, “Mere knowing membership without a specific intent to further the unlawful aims of an organization is not a constitutionally adequate basis for exclusion of persons from teaching positions in public school system.” Thus, if knowledge of an association with communism with possible unlawful aims is not a basis for exclusion, then what can be said of an association with ID in which there is no possible unlawful aim? In the end, the denial of tenure for Gonzalez smacks of an arbitrary application of the University rules and has not afforded him his “due” process of law as guaranteed under the constitution.

Running a close second to an argument for the violation freedom of association as indicated above, is a violation of Guillermo’s free exercise rights. The free exercise clause and the other bill of rights is made applicable by selective incorporation through the 14th amendment and as such is a fundamental right guaranteed to Gonzalez by the constitution. Under “Cantwell v. Connecticut” the court put forth that “government may not punish an individual by denying benefits or imposing burdens based on religious beliefs” . Yet, punishment is exactly what Gonzalez is getting in his struggle against ISU. Because of Gonzalez’s views as argued above, he is being denied tenure and as such is a burden placed upon the eminent scholar because of his private beliefs. It should be noted that although Cantwell applied to a city ordinance and its subsequent restrictions the rational with regard to the burdening of religion by virtue of the constitution should also be applicable here . A burden not explicitly stated but one tacitly implied by ISU in their determination.

Equal Protection Argument

Pleading in the alternative, it might be shown that the tenure system is arbitrary, capricious and lends itself to discriminatory application and thus violating Gonzalez’s equal protection rights and by extension, those with similar beliefs in creationism or ID. Under the constitution “…No state shall…deny to any persons…the equal protection of the laws”. Where laws affect some persons with respect to a specific activity an issue of equal protection may be raised. Here laws would in effect, encompass those laws which apply to tenure in state school systems and in this case effect ID proponents with regard to the specific activity of tenure in a state school.

In order to maintain an equal protection argument that triggers strict scrutiny however, it must first be shown that the laws are discriminatory and that they have a discriminatory purpose. In Yick Ho v. Hopkins, a facially neutral law can be applied in a discriminatory manner and where the challenger can show a discriminatory purpose, the law will be invalidated. Here Gonzalez can argue that the law is applied in a discriminatory manner, where on the face of the tenure system there is neutrality, but as argued above, it is being used to show that ISU does not adhere to ID and thus being applied in discriminatory manner. Furthermore, because the denial of tenure through the tenure system at ISU is being used to discriminate against an ID proponent and its associated message, the purpose is therefore also discriminatory. Thus assuming that the argument put forth is a valid one, strict scrutiny should apply. If strict scrutiny applies then the tenure system should be revamped and in such a way as to not lend its self to discrimination against Gonzalez and other ID proponents.


The tragedy of Gonzalez’s situation here is not that he was denied tenure based upon his ability to exercise his fundamental rights while in his professorship at ISU (as in the denial of a property interest with regard to tenure), but rather that his private life was used in the determination of his tenure-ship. Such a denial is equivalent to being denied tenure because of the church he attends or the color of his wife or even that he never left his private abode on Sundays and in the end is nothing less than outright discrimination. The violations against Gonzalez’s constitutional rights need be recognized and the rippling effect that it will cause should be feared as a matter of precedent.

Matthew C. Statler

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  1. If in his/her private life a mathematics professor wrote a book sincerely proclaiming that 2+2=5, should he/she be granted tenure in the mathematics department?

  2. Dave

    Of course! Your arithmetically challenged professor has obviously been granted tenure. But this person is unlikely to author an acceptable standard mathematics textbook. So beyond a rather lame attempt at wit, I don’t see your point.

  3. Is proclaiming that 2+2=5 religion?

  4. “If in his/her private life a mathematics professor wrote a book sincerely proclaiming that 2+2=5, should he/she be granted tenure in the mathematics department?”

    ….What???? If your going to use an analogy you should at least make sure there is some similarity between the two points..(: Or…. in the very least, you could just simply state your objections.

  5. Thanks for information.
    many interesting things

  6. Gonzalez’s supposed prolific publication, is mostly not lead by him, that matters. Also very little of it was done a ISU, which is the only place that matters as far as the tenure board is concerned.

    He also failed to bring in any significant research funding, and none of the Ph.D students under him had graduated, these are both significant metrics on the capacity and competence of a professor.

    Also note that his work with ID should effect his tenure application, because he was publishing ID books and doing ID PR instead of doing his job, which would have gotten him fired in any other occupation then professor.

  7. Did it ever occur to anyone that his students didn’t graduate because they agreed with Dr. Gonzalez and were, therefore, forced out of the university? It happened to me. I was a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa State. I was interested in doing multicultural research that involved religion. Although I was not particularly suppportive of ID or anything related to it, I was forced out. So were a couple of my friends. I had a major professor who was a complete idiot and she got tenure. She was having a mental breakdown when she was going through the tenure process! The culture at ISU is hateful and they should be sued and censored so that they know the real damage they have done to people they have harmed so deeply. Besides that, HE WAS A TEACHER. For that reason he didn’t fit their “survival of the fittest” pursuit of money. “In God we trust” should say “god” because it does not mean GOD. See also The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/459/ & Unmasking Administrative Evil

  8. I trust that none of the comments were presented by college-level students of ISU. The idea light of the person(s) seems to be turned on by someone with like perception. Old Adage, Rabbit trails!

    Impressive, recorded factors of a proficient professor, will also show through his/her students ablility to cope, when plunged into the reality of life in the real world.

    Hold to the context, G.V. Gonzalez / I.S.U

  9. Oh, please! How do you expect a grad student to stand up to the firing squad when the grad students advisor, an untenured professor, can’t stand up to them either? Please stop being so arrogant.

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