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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tenure: A dull dog's idea of heaven?

ID-friendly astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, who is appealing his tenure denial at Iowa State to the Iowa State Board of Regents, may have some ammunition in the form of an article in The Scientist by Frank L. Douglas, "Discrimination in Academia", blasting the tenure process.

Gonzalez, the ID-friendly astronomer associated with the Privileged Planet hypothesis, was denied tenure under circumstances that many have seen as viewpoint discrimination. Now, the editor says on behalf of Douglas,
Editor's Note: Frank Douglas resigned from senior positions at MIT earlier this summer, in the wake of the Institute's controversial denial of tenure to James Sherley, who staged a hunger strike in protest in February. In this piece, which will run in the October issue of The Scientist, Douglas describes his reasons for resigning, which go beyond the Sherley case. We're publishing it early online to spark a discussion of diversity on university campuses.

Readers are invited by The Scientist to comment on the case. In his own right, Douglas says,
On June 3, I resigned from faculty and administrative positions at MIT, effective June 30. I did so because I perceived an unconscious discrimination against minorities and because my colleagues and the institute authorities did not act on my recommendations to address these issues. The timing was such that many of my colleagues thought I was resigning over the case of James Sherley, who was denied tenure in 2004 and went on a hunger strike earlier this year in protest. But my decision was based on the complex, insidious nature of discrimination in a university context.

Not to worry, Frank. Lots of people would understand. But here's something really interesting:
A key player in starting the mischief was Nancy Hopkins, about whom I wrote last year,
In an analogous situation, Larry Summers, a key project backer, lost his own presidency last year for nothing more than pointing out that women are not as well adapted to the hard sciences as men.

That fact is massively overdetermined by evidence, but what does evidence matter in the face of a demand to demonstrate a politically correct proposition rather than a factually based one?

Indeed, one phase of Summers' difficulties over his remarks on women in science provides a sobering lesson as to what to expect from the Harvard OoL project.

Biology prof Nancy Hopkins walked out of Summers' talk, proclaiming that his remarks made her sick. Specifically, she told The Globe ,that if she hadn't left, she "would've either blacked out or thrown up."

Now, ... what if a hard science guy announced that challenges from his colleagues cause him to nearly black out or throw up unless he can just walk out on them? Should he be given a demanding chair? For that matter, which of the ID theorists is having a nervous breakdown because of remarks made by the adult toddlers over at the Thumb? People do not have to be tough in order to survive (it often pays better to be nice, actually), but they do have to be tough in order to survive certain types of positions.

I guess American academics need to decide if they want to live on their knees, and if the latter, to kneel to just everyone who gets sick or throws a fit?

(Note: I also wrote a series on peer review, why it often comes to be dominated by mediocrities whose mission in life is to swat down new ideas. A number of proposals for reform are under discussion.)

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