Friday, January 21, 2011

Stars Shine on Christian Researcher

This from Inside Higher Ed:

The University of Kentucky has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit with C. Martin Gaskell, a former University of Nebraska astronomer whom Kentucky declined to hire as director of its Lexington-based observatory.

After being snubbed for the directorship in 2007, Gaskell alleged that Kentucky officials had passed on him because of his Christian views -- a claim his lawyers say is supported by e-mails sent by members of the search committee, as well as sworn testimony given by the panel's members and other Kentucky faculty. The university will pay the spurned astronomer $125,000 -- roughly the equivalent of the extra money Gaskell would have made if he had held the directorship for two years, according to Francis Marion, a senior trial lawyer for the National Center for Law & Justice, which worked the astronomer's case pro bono. A district court judge had denied motions for summary judgment from both parties.

The bulk of Gaskell’s published work addresses the technical aspects of black holes. But he also made a hobby of criticizing the prima facie dismissal of Biblical assertions as irrelevant to scientific theory, while advocating for a view of natural history that rejects neither the Judeo-Christian creation story nor evolution. In a document published on his personal website -- which later became fodder for discussion among his would-be employers at Kentucky -- Gaskell criticized both creationists and evolutionary scientists for perpetuating bad science.

“It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory … and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses,” wrote Gaskell in an essay titled “Modern Astronomy, The Bible, and Creation.”


Anonymous said...

While I was at the University of Kentucky persuing a graduate degree in the 1980's, the subject of religion came up during a graduate seminar. One of the professors stated matter-of-factly,"Christianity has long been exposed as myth." That was not problematic for me, but in another discussion, I asked another professor in the same department,"Would you hire a professor who professed Christianity?" That professor, now a high ranking dean, told me, "That applicant would gather from the interview that s/he would not feel welcome here at UK."

Of course, I never thought much about until now. The University has damaged its image tremendously as a result of these hiring practices. Another nail in the coffin of Lee Todd's Top Twenty institition.

Richard Day said...

Hummm. Kind of a small n.

"Would you hire a professor who professed Christianity?" Well, somebody will. UK is full of Christians.

It sounds like somebody has a narrow definition of what it means to be Christian. I can certainly see where the scientific community might reject that small segment of Christians who believe the Bible to be a science text. But when hiring, it is foolish (and probably against university policy) to use a candidate's faith as the test for fitness.

Anonymous said...

UK is certainly full of mainline Christians, Richard, but when scholars allow their fundamentalist Christianity to taint their scholarship, red flags go up. I don't think most professors accept fundamentalist Christianity and expect those who profess to seek out positions at denominational schools.

At this point, we can only wonder how many fundamentalists were quietly turned away from UK (like Gaskell) because of their religious views.

I'm sorry UK employs people in the Department of Biology who send such damning emails. I think all my colleagues will now be more careful to censor their views about potential hires in university-generated emails.

Richard Day said...

Fair points.

This seems to be a case where professors lacked the administrative accumen to handle their selection in a professionally acceptable manner. If emails did revealed the selection committee's acknowledgement of Gaskill as best qualified, right along side their religion-based reasons for denying him the position, UK had no choice but to settle.