Saturday, December 11, 2010

The University of Kentucky's "Gaskell Affair": Further adventures in intellectual "Diversity" at UK

Expect anytime now to see the following lines chiseled in stone on the wall outside the University of Kentucky's Ministry of Truth building:

Uniformity is Diversity
Favoritism is Equality
Bigotry is Tolerance

If you are a left-wing ideologue applying for a faculty position at the University of Kentucky, you have a comfortable and welcoming place awaiting you in the "Gender and Women's Studies" department. But if you have what the University of Kentucky thinks look suspiciously like, ... ahem, a religion, you might just be refused a job.

At the university that preaches "Diversity" at every available opportunity, a leading candidate was turned down for the position of Observatory Director at UK when, after seeing a discussion on a personal website, UK officials determined he was "potentially evangelical." The University was sued for religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

UK denies it discriminated based on religion, but the judge points out that the "record contains substantial evidence," said the judge, "that Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position until the issue of his religion (as Gaskell calls it) or his scientific position (as UK calls it) became an issue." And it is pretty clear, from the evidence, which of the two--religion or his scientific position--it is.

A paper he wrote religion and scientific issues and a similar talk he gave at UK started a discussion among search committee members about how his religious beliefs might affect his scientific views. Even though Gaskell nowhere indicates he is a creationist (and in fact gives indications that he at least believes the commonly accepted scientific evidence about the age of the earth), several committee members and other staff decided, on the mere basis of talking about science in the context of religion, decided he was.

Sally Shafer, one of the committee members sent colleagues a set of websites and links having to do with Gaskell, concluding, "clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with--but potentially evangelical." Several others admitted that it was factor or a "theme" in the decision, which is prohibited in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, even the search committee chair was exercised over this. Here is the text of an e-mail sent by Professor Thomas Troland, to Professor Michael Cavagnero, the chair of UK's department of physics and astronomy, before the decision was made:
It has become clear to me that there is virtually no way Gaskell will be offered the job despite his qualifications which stand far above those of any other applicant. Other reasons will be given for this choice when we meet Tuesday. In the end, however, the real reason why we will not offer him the job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties specified for this position ... If Martin were not so superbly qualified, so breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience, then our decision would be much simper. We could easily choose another applicant, and we could content ourselves with the idea that Martin's religious beliefs played little role in our decision. However, this is not the case. As it is, no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any other basis than religious.
The judge mentions that Troland "subsequently retracted these comments to some extent," although he doesn't explain in detail. But he does say that these comments "remain direct evidence if religious discrimination." And, anyway, the remaining evidence would probabloy be sufficient to prove it in court.

That's how "Diversity" works at the University of Kentucky. If has Gaskell had only had posts on his website about "Queer Theory" or "Black male-bodied drag queens" (a particular favorite down the road at the University of Louisville), he could have passed the Diversity test at UK.

41 comments:

Art said...

So, Intelligent Design is religion, and not science.

Would that all ID advocates were up-front about the true nature of their, um, profession.

Martin Cothran said...

What does Intelligent Design have to do with it?

Art said...

Um, Martin, it is quite likely that all of the perceived "weaknesses" that Gaskell sees in the theory of evolution come straight from the ID playbook.

But, if we are to take Gaskell at his word, his objections would seem to be grounded in religion and not science.

These court proceedings are going to be rather amusing.

Art said...

From some of the court documents:

"His actual beliefs are that the universe is -13 billion years old (he has published papers measuring this), that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but that life was put here 8000 years ago. It turns out that Alan Sandage, a Very Famous Astronomer, holds this belief too. It is called "old earth creationism" and there is a wikipedia page on it:

http;//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qld_Earth_creationism""

I can see why some biologists would be, um, interested. When it comes to the history of life on earth, if this quote is accurate, then Gaskell is pretty far out there, way beyond the Green Monster, even past the Turnpike .....

Singring said...

If Gaskell has produced sound, peer-reviewed literature of high quality then I see no reason for denying him the position, even if he believes Mars is the egg of a giant purple Mongoose.

As an Old-Earth Creationist he does strike me as woefully incompetent in Biology,, but if it doesn't impinge on the quality of his work or his lectures in Astronomy, I see no problem.

I guess its up to the court to decide whether or not this is the case and I do agree with Art that having an ID adherent publicly and under oath finally come out and state that ID is a religious belief would be fantastic.

One Brow said...

I don't like religon per se being used as a reason. However, if the reason was that he is an old-earth creationist, that I can understand. I'm not sure that was the case here.

Martin Cothran said...

So do you all support the hiring of someone with fewer credentials, less expertise, and less extensive experience in what this scientific job requires on the basis of his stated beliefs?

Singring said...
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Singring said...
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Singring said...

In fact I said the exact opposite, Martin.

If martin Gaskill is the most qualified candidate he should get the job. That is, unless he holds positions or publicly stated beliefs that are at odds with those qualifications.

For example, I would think that an electronic engineer who believes that electricity is created by pixies and can be directed by psychic powers, no matter how qualified, should not expect to get any job, let alone one in electronic engineering.

If Martin Gaskill believed that the earth was 6,000 years old or that the universe was 10 million years old I would think that would disqualify him as an astronomer.

From what I have read on his webpage and the articles in which he is quoted he does NOT seem to believe that the earth or universe are young. Beliefs he holds contrary to Biological and Geological science are of littel to no relevance for an Astronomer (at least in his area of astronomy).

Therefore, I don't think it would be justified for UK to deny him the job for his beliefs on evolution. Whether or not they did that is going to be decided in trial.

Personally, I think he's either ignorant or deceitful regarding Biology and Geology and would be ashamed to have someone like him teach at my university, though.

One Brow said...

I can understand it. I'm not sure whether I support it or not. It depends upon the nature of his position.

For example, if Gaskell's position were that the science supporting evolution was not disputed, that he understood his position was supported by science, and that while acting as a scientist and public speaker for UK, he would support what the science said, I don't see any reason to avoid hiring him. On th eother hand, if he stated the science horribly flawed, dredged up pseudoscience, etc., then not hiring him is probably justified.

Anonymous said...

He was interviewing for a job to run the student observatory. This position involves a lot of public outreach and involvement in science education both on and off campus. If he thinks life has been on earth for only 8000 years, he has to ignore a tremendous amount of science and would have great difficulty relating new ideas about astrobiology, the role of asteroid or comet impacts in extinction events, and planetary geology to students and the public.

Joe_Agnost said...

Anon wrote: "If he thinks life has been on earth for only 8000 years"

He's actually an OLD earth creationist (~slightly~ less crazy than the young earth variety).

I saw a great quote about this very story from Shelly Steiner (a geology prof at UK):

"UK [University of Kentucky] should no more hire an astronomer skeptical of evolution than a biologist who believed that the sun revolved around the Earth."

She's got a good point too!

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

So it's okay to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if the person is an old earth creationist?

Art said...

Some corrections (of mistakes that are in the press reports and the various interweb discussions):

Shelly Steiner is a he (we don't want to be mixing up genders on Martin's blog), and a biology professor (not a geology professor).

Art said...

So it's okay to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if the person is an old earth creationist?

The 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect one from religion-based incompetence.

Of course, Martin's handlers at the Discovery Institute think otherwise. They're all about entitlements for anti-evolutionists. It doesn't matter how inept someone is - if they are an anti-evolutionist, then they deserve special considerations.

Martin Cothran said...

Religion is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (See Civil Rights Act)

Intelligent Design is religion (Art's earlier comment)

Therefore, Intelligent Design is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Inference from premises)

This, of course, is the position Art's assertions lead to, not mine. But it puts him in a rather difficult position, doesn't it?

Art said...

Religion is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (See Civil Rights Act)

Intelligent Design is religion (Art's earlier comment)

Therefore, Intelligent Design is protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Inference from premises)

This, of course, is the position Art's assertions lead to, not mine. But it puts him in a rather difficult position, doesn't it?


Not any more than, say, the Catholic Church, that, in Martin's world, must hire Muslims to be deacons, priests, and bishops (LOL - Pope Osama). Or, say, Highlands Latin School, that finds itself compelled to hire pagans to teach Latin (yeah, the language of Rome will get an interesting treatment from the religions it abused). Or the Creation Museum, that suddenly finds it can no longer use its statement of faith to keep Hindus from working at the place. Or your friendly neighborhood mosque, that must now hire Baptists to perform the call to prayer (as well as, likely, burning down the mosque; but, hey, according to Martin, that's their legal right).

Back in the real world, religiously-based incompetence is not protected by statute or the Constitution. Sorry 'bout that, Martin.

Anonymous said...

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not a protection against not being hired because of incompetence. For example how would the astronomer explain the asteroid/comet impact theory for the KT mass extinction 65 million years ago if he believes dinosaurs were not in existence before 8000 years ago? Or what about the three probable impact structures in Kentucky that occur in rocks with abundant fossils? A large portion of the job he is suing over involves public education and outreach to teachers. The current person in the position organizes public lectures, many of which involve biology as well as astronomy.

One Brow said...

Martin,

In addition to other examples, I add this one, which I think may be more directly relevant. There are occasionally doctors that become Jehovah's Witnesses. As such, they can no longer authorize blood transfusions. Shoud a hospital be allowed to consider that the doctor, for religious reasons, will never authorize a blood transfusion regardless of circumstances, when deciding to hire said JW? When deciding to continue empoyment? Does it matter if the doctor is a surgeon, as opposed to a podiatrist?

Martin Cothran said...

One Brow,

What is it about Gaskell's background, experience, or beliefs that would prevent him from meeting the qualifications set forth by the University?

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

On what basis do you say that the job would involve outreach involving biology issues? The director of the search committee said specifically that it did not involve outreach in biology. And even if it did, do you know of any evidence that this was a problem before at the University of Nebraska where Gaskell served in a similar position?

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

Are you aware of the specific exemption in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for religious organizations? Is UK a religious organization? And can I assume you do not contest the conclusion of the argument based on your prior assertion? That Intelligent Design should fall under the protections of the Civil Rights Act?

Anonymous said...

Martin Cothran said...
"Anonymous,

On what basis do you say that the job would involve outreach involving biology issues? The director of the search committee said specifically that it did not involve outreach in biology. And even if it did, do you know of any evidence that this was a problem before at the University of Nebraska where Gaskell served in a similar position?"

Many modern ideas in astronomy are intertwined with biology and geology. The relatively new field of astrobiology is a good example. His claim to accept the earth and universe are billions of years old while claiming life originated ~8000 years ago are simply bizarre.

Gaskell gave a talk at UK in 1997 that displayed his incompetence in biology and managed to anger many in the Biology Department. He apparently gave similar talks at universities across the country. This could not have reflected well on the University of Nebraska.

Art said...

Martin, try as you might, you cannot convince anyone that UK is compelled to hire someone who, say, thinks 8000 = 3 billion, based on his/her religious beliefs. Highlands Latin School will hire such a person, since this sort of numeric perfidy is taught at the school. But UK, or for that matter any for-profit establishment that depends on a modicum of mathematical and scientific sanity to stay in business, cannot be compelled to hire such a person. Not by Pat Robertson's theocratic think tank, the DI, AIG, or anyone. And certainly not by any court of law.

Anonymous said...

Btw the current person that runs the observatory has brought in several talks on astrobiology to the observatory's seminar series. These are usually Thursday evenings during the school semester.

Anonymous said...

3 astrobiology talks in the last year. See:
http://www.as.uky.edu/academics/departments_programs/PhysicsAstronomy/PhysicsAstronomy/MacAdam/Pages/default.aspx

Martin Cothran said...

Art,

Try as you might, you cannot convince anyone that your reasoning leads to the conclusion that Intelligent Design in protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It is a very strange position to have to live with, and I understand your frustration. It's a hard thing to live down.

One Brow said...

Martin,

As I have said all along -- I don't know if it is relevant. I have already laid out a scenario where it would not be relevant at all, and another contradictory scenario where it would. I do not have the resources to say if either applies.

However, unless you are making the claimthat religious believ can never be relevant (i.e., that the hospital should hire a JW surgeon), then how do our posiitons disagree? Because you think old-earth creationism is a viewpoint compatible with science? It isn't, but there ar volumnes on this already.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

It seems to me that Mr. Gaskell is a serious Christian believer. And like all such persons he wants to figure out how best to think through issues of Scripture, theology, and secular disciplines. Because he comes out of an Evangelical Protestant tradition, his options are rather limited. For this reason, I don't think he's thinking through the issues quite right. Nevertheless, he is thinking through them in a fashion that is respectable: he is not disguising his views, or pretending as if his theological beliefs are false.

I just don't see why a university like Kentucky would not want such a thoughtful person on its faculty.

Moreover, much of the criticism of Mr. Gaskell comes from those who don't have a clue on what it means to think through such important questions. Take, for example, the charge of ignorance hurled at Mr. Gaskell. Why the suppose ignorance is bad? One reason could be that the human being's acquisition of knowledge and wisdom is a real good that contributes to the person proper end. But such language is the language of final causality, something that the materialists insists is not discoverable in nature. But Mr. Gaskell is part of nature.

Notice, none of this requires believing in irreducible complexity, intelligent design, and so forth. In fact, such ideas confuse rather than illuminate these sorts of issues, as I argue in a recent piece I published earlier this year in the University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy, "How to Be an Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate." You can find it here: http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/USTJLPP.pdf

Martin Cothran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Cothran said...

Art,

Your quote about Gaskell believing that the earth if 4.5 billion years old but that he believes that life began 8,000 years ago comes from the e-mail of a member of the search committee.

Has Gaskell ever said this publicly or in anything he has published?

Anonymous said...

Martin Cothran said...
"Art,

Your quote about Gaskell believing that the earth if 4.5 billion years old but that he believes that life began 8,000 years ago comes from the e-mail of a member of the search committee.

Has Gaskell ever said this publicly or in anything he has published?"

The person who wrote that went to school with Gaskell and was the one who invited him to UK.

Art said...

Try as you might, you cannot convince anyone that your reasoning leads to the conclusion that Intelligent Design in protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That's what Gaskell is trying to argue. He, like you, Martin, hopes to establish that all manner of rank and total incompetence, if grounded in religious "reason" (talk about an oxymoron), is protected by statute and the Constitution.

Thomas said...

"Not any more than, say, the Catholic Church, that, in Martin's world, must hire Muslims to be deacons, priests, and bishops (LOL - Pope Osama)."

This is a terrible analogy. Groups that have a message to express are protected under the First Amendment from having to admit dissenters. A public university does not have that protection.

Joe_Agnost said...

Thomas wrote: "Groups that have a message to express are protected under the First Amendment from having to admit dissenters. A public university does not have that protection."

Care to explain why you think this is true?

Are you saying that a University ~doesn't~ have a "message to express"?

You really need to explain your thinking here Thomas...

Thomas said...

As to freedom of association: Roberts v. Jaycees.

As to a public university not being the same as private institutions that wish to express a message, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that public universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech, where speech is to be unfettered. See Sweezey v. New Hampshire:

"Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

Joe_Agnost said...

@Thomas:

Thanks for posting your rationale... I hope this doesn't apply because it could result in alchemists teaching chemistry, astrology to counter astromony and demons instead of germ theory - so many bogus beliefs, under the guise of 'religious belief', could make their way into the university system.

And lets face it - American universities are hurting at the moment. Once proudly holding the title of best universities in the world American universities no longer hold that claim. They're slipping fast.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

It's crystal clear that Dr. Gaskell was not offered a position at the University of Kentucky because he considers his theological tradition an intellectually serious enterprise that has to be reconciled with the deliverances of other disciplines. Other scholars do this all the time. For example, suppose a biochemist tells you that he cannot find moral properties under his microscope or even by means of the naked eye, and then concludes, there must be no moral properties. But suppose you point out to him that he does believe that murder is wicked, ignorance is to avoided, and virtue ought to sought for its own sake. You then have shown him that his "science" does not match his "philosophical anthropology." What is he to do? He can engage in philosophical reflection, perhaps concluding that biochemistry has no authority outside of its narrow focus, and that issues in philosophical anthropology have different methods and approaches that do not touch biochemistry. In that sense, he would be far wiser than Richard Dawkins who sees everything as a nail and always offers a hammer as the solution.

In any event, trying to reconcile theology with astronomy (if there is even a conflict, mind you) is no different than trying to reconcile biochemistry with philosophical anthropology (if there is even a conflict).

So, what's the big deal about Dr. Gaskell?

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

Every one of your examples had to do with positions having directly to do with particular disciplines. What position has Gaskell taken that is outside the mainstream of the discipline of astronomy?

And in it any case, it seems a rather strange way for people who claim to be non-dogmatic to advocate resolving academic questions by enforcing official academic positions.

Anonymous said...

There were at least two issues about hiring Gaskell, by all measures a fine astronomer. One of them has been discussed, and to be clearer about it, apparently Gaskell is a proponent of "theistic evolution" -- basically evolution helped along by some supernatural agency. That is a problem, IMHO, for someone with a position involving a lot of public outreach and science education, where the topic may well come up.

The second issue is that the Observatory Director position isn't a research position, and in many ways Gaskell is overqualified. He's written a hundred papers that have garnered thousands of citations. There were concerns that he might not be energetic, enthusiastic, or ambitious about his job, preferring to steal time from it to do research. His last job was a faculty job, while this one doesn't even require a PhD.