[asa] Muggings and the tenure process

From: <SteamDoc@aol.com>
Date: Mon May 14 2007 - 18:19:33 EDT

While I suspect that Ted is right about the viewpoint discrimination in this
tenure decision (at least it smells bad, especially given the way some other
faculty have "targeted" him), some correctives need to be made with regard
to some of the numbers and assertions being thrown around. Attempts to defend
somebody's scholarship don't help anybody if they use misleading numbers.
 
While I am in government research, not academia, I have ties to many
academics and have been close to academia almost my whole life (my late father was a
Professor and eventually Department Chair in an engineering department).
From this perspective, I think the following things should be pointed out:
 
1) The Discovery Institute is either being deliberately misleading or (more
likely) simply doesn't understand the process in claiming that the publication
 benchmark (15) was exceeded by 350%. While a publication record of 68
papers was mentioned, only 25 of those had been done since Gonzalez arrived at
Iowa State. So 25 is the relevant number -- previous publications when in
junior positions could just be due to working with a prolific senior person, so
universities don't typically put much if any weight on grad school or postdoc
publications -- just the publications once the person is in the faculty role
and presumably leading the research. Of course 25 still seems like a good
number in this context.
 
1a) One can't just look at 25 as a bare number. I have a couple of
publications where I'm on the author list but I only did about 1% of the work. A
good tenure committee will cull out such papers and only count the ones where
the person has taken a leadership role in the research.
 
2) At most universities these days, in science and engineering departments,
good publications are not enough. You have to bring in research dollars, the
more the better. While schools may not admit it, bringing in outside money
has in many places become at least as important as published "scholarship".
This is perhaps especially the case with state schools that have seen
precipitous drops in the amount of funding they get from the state government --
there is big pressure to bring in outside money to make up the shortfall.
I did not see anything about how much outside research money Gonzalez
brought in. *IF* that amount was near zero, then a denial of tenure would not be
surprising, regardless of how good his teaching and scholarship were, and
independent of any viewpoint discrimination. It's lamentable in my opinion that
outside funding carries so much weight, but that's the reality these days in
most science and engineering departments.
 
3) The statistic that only 3 of 60-some candidates at Iowa State were denied
tenure is meaningless. The astronomy department at ISU is fairly
prestigious (after all, Van Allen was there); I suspect more prestigious than most
other departments on campus. The more prestigious the department, the more
difficult it is to get tenure. Therefore, the number that would really be
meaningful would not be the campus-wide number, but rather the numbers of tenures
granted and denied in that particular department, say over the past 20 years.
 
4) Lots of people come out of the tenure process feeling "mugged",
regardless of viewpoint. The people who have it worst are the conscientious teachers
and scholars who, because of personality or humility or other reasons, are
not very good at "hustling" to bring in outside funding. I often thank God
that circumstances pushed my career in a somewhat different direction, because
had I gone down the academic path I was originally aiming for, I probably
would have been in that category.
 
Let me reiterate that this denial of tenure smells fishy to me also, based
on what little I have read. But let's not be too quick to assume. I think
Christians in the U.S. are way too quick to trumpet claims of persecution --
leading to a "boy who cried wolf" effect that makes it harder for those who are
legitimate victims to gain credibility. Maybe Gonzalez is in that
legitimate victim category, but if so those defending him need to be judicious and
accurate in the things they say.
 
Allan
---------------------------------------------------------------------
Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado | SteamDoc@aol.com
"Any opinions expressed here are mine, and should not be
attributed to my employer, my wife, or my cat"

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Received on Mon, 14 May 2007 18:19:33 EDT

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