Little grant money a factor in tenure denial
Little grant money a factor in tenure denial
An Iowa State professor pulled in far less than his colleagues.

By LISA ROSSI - June 1, 2007 Des Moines Register Ames Bureau
Ames, Ia. - An Iowa State University professor who advocates say was denied academic tenure because he pushed the theory of intelligent design raised significantly less research grant money than his peers who achieved tenure.

Iowa State University has sponsored $22,661 in outside grant money for Guillermo Gonzalez since July 2001, records show. In that same time period, Gonzalez's peers in physics and astronomy secured an average of $1.3 million by the time they were granted tenure, which is basically a lifetime appointment at the university.

"Essentially, he had no research funding," said Eli Rosenberg, chairman of the physics and astronomy department where Gonzalez is employed. "That's one of the issues."

Outside grant money pays for research, which includes everything from supporting graduate students to lab equipment to travel.

It's becoming more of a factor in tenure decisions across the university, Rosenberg said.

"At all levels of the university it has gotten more intense to look at that," he said. "In order to survive doing research, (you) have to support graduate students and travel. You have to generate that money yourself."

It is not uncommon for universities to use outside grant money as a criterion in tenure decisions, particularly in the sciences, said Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure at the American Association of University Professors.

"The competition has become stiffer and fewer projects are being funded, and so the individuals are now being turned down to tenure because they are not able to get the funding," he said.

Advocates for Gonzalez have noted he authored more peer-reviewed papers than what his department had said was needed for someone of his rank to achieve tenure.

"The overarching and the most important thing is really my publication record," said Gonzalez, who said he's published 68 peer-reviewed papers during his career.

He pointed to ISU's physics and astronomy tenure policy, which said promotion to an associate professor requires potential to achieve a national or international reputation, a standard demonstrated by the publication of 15 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Gonzalez has appealed the tenure decision. ISU President Gregory Geoffroy has until June 6 to respond.

Tenure decisions in the physics and astronomy department are based on a variety of factors beyond grant money. Those include a record in research, teaching and service, according to the department's tenure policy.

Gonzalez said neither teaching nor service were factors in his tenure denial.

"So what I can confirm is tenure denial has something to do with the research aspect," he said.

The intelligent design theory supports the notion that an "intelligent designer" was involved in the evolution of life. Critics say the theory is a repackaged version of creationism.

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization that supports discussing intelligent design in science classes, said Gonzalez received a grant, before his tenure was denied, from Discovery for $50,000 for five years to study observational astronomy.

Gonzalez said of using research money in tenure decisions, "I'm sure it was a concern among department members, but it's not actually a requirement in any of the documents of the department or the university that I have to bring in outside funding."

Rosenberg pointed to the university promotion and tenure policy, which said a document called a position responsibility statement is a key element in the tenure review process.

That statement in the physics and astronomy department, which Rosenberg declined to share, is signed by each faculty member and addresses the importance of seeking or obtaining money to support research, he said.

Reporter Lisa Rossi can be reached at (515) 232-2383 or