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CULTURE DIGEST: Tenure denied Iowa State prof because of Intelligent Design beliefs;…

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Though he exceeded the requirements, an astronomy professor at Iowa State University was denied tenure possibly because his personal views on Intelligent Design conflict with the widely held beliefs of his colleagues.

Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, filed an appeal of the tenure denial in early May, and proponents of Intelligent Design say the treatment he has received at the university is more evidence of an attack on scholars who believe the earth’s existence is more than a coincidence.

“The denial of tenure to Dr. Gonzalez is a blatant violation of both academic freedom and free speech,” John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, said May 14. “The denial of tenure is all the more incredible given the fact that Dr. Gonzalez exceeds by 350 percent the number of peer-reviewed journal publications required by his department to meet its standard of excellence in research.”

Gonzalez said he does not teach Intelligent Design in the classroom, and any support of it he has expressed has been outside the realm of his employment with the university. A senior fellow with the Discovery Institute and an open Christian, Gonzalez co-authored a book titled “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery” in 2004.

His academic achievements include writing 68 peer-reviewed scientific articles, authoring a college-level astronomy textbook published by Cambridge University Press, and organizing the research that led to the discovery of two new planets. Gonzalez is well-known in his field for developing the concept of a Galactic Habitable Zone, and journals such as Nature, Science and Scientific American have featured his work, according to World Magazine.

“The basic freedom of scientists, teachers and students to do scientific research and question the Darwinian hegemony is coming under attack by people that can only be called Darwinian fundamentalists,” West said. “Intelligent design scientists are losing their jobs, and their professional careers are being torpedoed by these extremists.”

In a statement released May 14, the university said tenure is a complex process that is never taken lightly. “Outside of academia, however, there is little shared understanding of tenure, its rigor and significance,” the statement said in part. Anika Smith, a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute, said the statement dodged the issue by dismissing criticism of the school’s decision as naïve.

Gonzalez told World he was surprised and a little depressed over the tenure denial.

“I almost decided not to turn in an appeal, but several friends convinced me to do so,” he said. “This might have precedent, so it was important for me to go through it for the sake of others who might go through this in the future.”

Gregory Geoffroy, president of Iowa State, has until June 6 to decide on Gonzalez’ appeal.

KANSAS BOARD REVERSES CONSERVATIVE STANDARDS — The Kansas Board of Education, which returned to moderate control by a 6-4 majority in January and in February repealed science standards backed by conservatives, now has reversed the progress conservatives thought they had made on another front.

The board May 8 voted 6-3 to replace a sex education policy stressing abstinence until marriage as well as a policy urging school districts to get parental permission before exposing children to classes on human sexuality, the Associated Press reported.

Instead of requiring schools to promote abstinence, the board voted to allow district officials to choose their own curriculum and to decide whether parental permission should be required for sex education classes, The Kansas City Star reported. The new standards encourage “comprehensive” sex education, which conservatives say places a strong emphasis on contraception and hardly mentions abstinence.

Kathy Martin, a conservative board member, said most parents preferred the abstinence-only curriculum. “Abstinence until marriage is the best message we can send our kids,” Martin said, adding that abstinence-only sex education “emphasizes self-control over birth control.”

Earlier this year, the moderate majority voted to rewrite the science standards for public schools for the fifth time in eight years, this time refusing to allow room for questioning the theory of evolution.

MORE THAN 10 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ABUSE DRUGS — According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, more than 10 percent of adults in the United States admit to abusing drugs or becoming addicted to drugs including marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines some time during their lives.

Based on interviews with more than 43,000 people, researchers concluded that men were more likely than women to abuse drugs, and drug problems were more common among younger people starting around age 20, Reuters news service reported May 7.

Whites were more likely than blacks or Hispanics to report drug problems, researchers said, and marijuana was the most commonly abused drug. Just 8.1 percent of drug abusers and 37.9 of those who were addicted said they received treatment for their problems.

The study’s lead researcher said the costs to society when people abuse drugs include increased crime, illness and family discord, and less productivity.

JAIL TO HIRE MUSLIM IMAM — Claims of discrimination have led a New York jail to hire a Muslim imam and provide ritually correct food to inmates.

A Christian minister who serves as the jail’s chaplain has been suspended after she distributed booklets featuring cartoons condemning Islam and after local Muslims claimed she treated them unfairly when they wanted to minister to inmates, according to The Journal News in White Plains. The county has opened an investigation.

Jail officials have said the imam will work one day per week at $22 per hour and as needed for special cases, which is the same treatment given to the jail’s priest and rabbi, the newspaper reported May 9.

William Clark, the jail’s chief, said the facility previously did not employ an imam because the funds were not available, and he said the jail had served religiously appropriate food in the past until the vendor who supplied the food went out of business.

The Journal News said local law enforcement officials are using the flap to establish trust and understanding with the surrounding Muslim community.

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  • Erin Roach