On Friday, June 1, I informed Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, of my decision to deny his tenure appeal.
As part of this decision process, I appointed a member of my staff to conduct a careful and exhaustive review of the appeal request and the full tenure dossier, and that analysis was presented to me. In addition, I conducted my own examination of Dr. Gonzalez's appeal with respect to the evidence of research and scholarship. I independently concluded that he simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy -- one of our strongest academic programs.
Because the issue of tenure is a personnel matter, I am not able to share the detailed rationale for the decision, although that has been provided to Dr. Gonzalez. But I can outline the areas of focus of my review where I gave special attention to his overall record of scientific accomplishment while an assistant professor at Iowa State, since that gives the best indication of future achievement. I specifically considered refereed publications, his level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy.
I know extremely well how to assess the qualifications of a candidate seeking tenure. Over the past two decades -- as dean of Penn State's College of Science, provost at the University of Maryland and as president of Iowa State -- I have reviewed and passed judgment on close to 1,000 faculty promotion and tenure cases. And while I have not worked in Dr. Gonzalez's field of astronomy, I have a significant understanding of the field and far greater experience than most university presidents. At Penn State, I worked closely with the astronomy faculty in advancing the department, and I reviewed many promotion and tenure dossiers in astronomy. I have also had more than a decade of service on national astronomy boards and committees, where I advised and led groups building telescopes, oversaw personnel appointments in astronomy and astrophysics, and frequently attended research presentations on the current and future directions of astronomy and astrophysics.
The tenure review process at a university like Iowa State must be handled with great care, because granting tenure guarantees a lifetime appointment to the faculty member who receives it. That's why the standards for tenure are very high. Before tenure is awarded, the university must be extremely confident that the faculty member will continue to achieve at a high level of excellence and with significant impact in his/her research specialty. In conducting that evaluation, we carefully examine the candidate's record of accomplishment, with a primary focus on what the candidate has accomplished during his/her appointment as an independent faculty member at Iowa State, since that gives the best indication of the candidate's future success. Over the past 10 years, four of the 12 candidates who came up for review in the physics and astronomy department were not granted tenure.
Denying tenure is never an easy thing to do. But for the sake of our students and the university, we must get it right. Recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty who are leaders in their fields is the most important way that Iowa State can improve the rigor and reputation of our academic programs and can increase the number of research programs that are among the very best.