Backgrounder to Robert Marks’s lab shutdown: Baylor revokes Dembski’s research fellowship 2006
|September 3, 2007||Posted by O'Leary under Intelligent Design|
On Thursday (12.07.06) I learned it was definite that Baylor University was revoking a postdoctoral fellowship that I held in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Last month (11.06) I was appointed as Senior Research Scientist in that department to work on a project in information theory with Prof. Robert Marks. That project was funded through a grant that he procured specifically for me to work with him. Here are the facts:
(1) Robert Marks , Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, procured a small grant from the LifeWorks Foundation so that I could work with him on the Baylor campus. The grant was to extend for two years. Robert Marks and I have been working on a project in information theory since the spring of 2005.
(2) This grant and the invitation to work with Prof. Marks was entirely at his initiative. I had worked at Baylor from 1999-2005 as Associate Research Professor in the Conceptual Foundations of Science. During that time my work on intelligent design was continually vilified at Baylor and I personally was ostracized from much of the Baylor community. Nonetheless, during that time I always found the engineering faculty congenial, who invited me regularly to give special lectures on intelligent design to their students. In the past, I’ve had postdoctoral fellowships at MIT, Princeton, University of Chicago, etc. At these institutions, I always found that senior faculty members can hire any qualified person to work with him, no questions asked. Thus, despite my controversial history at Baylor, I felt that my place in engineering and Robert Marks’s lab would be secure. Hence my willingness to accept Prof. Marks’s offer to work with him back at Baylor.
(3) Having procured the grant from Lifeworks, Robert Marks had it processed through normal administrative channels. At no point in the process did the Baylor administration raise any flags. The documentation on the grant clearly specified the work to be done and my role (by name as a third-party beneficiary) in it. Ultimately President John Lilley of Baylor signed off on the grant, sending a letter with his signature to the Lifeworks Foundation thanking them for it (I have a pdf scan copy of that letter).Ã‚Â
(4) My appointment as Senior Research Scientist in Baylor’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering began November 2006. The dean and department head were aware of my presence in the department and for one month raised no objection. I was given a small windowless office in the engineering building (Rogers 305A), which I planned to use once or twice a week. I had no teaching duties — this was strictly a research position. Also, I had access to the Baylor library and online journals.
(5) My day-job is as Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary , from which I derive my salary and benefits. I commute to Ft. Worth for that job two to three times per week. In procuring a grant for me to work with him, Robert Marks was fully aware of that position at Southwestern. Moreover, my immediate superior in Southwestern’s School of Theology, Prof. Douglas Blount, was aware that I had this appointment at Baylor. Neither saw any conflict of interest in my being at both Baylor and Southwestern (more on this in point (9)).
(6) On Monday (12.04.06), I was called into Ben Kelley’s office (the dean of Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science) at 7:00am in the morning. Robert Marks attended the meeting. Dean Kelley informed us that there were concerns with my being again on campus (I had been on faculty at Baylor from 1999 to 2005) and that I might need to be let go “for the good of the School of Engineering and Computer Science.” Dean Kelley declined to answer who was raising these concerns (Robert Marks pressed him twice on this point). Nor did Dean Kelley elaborate on the nature of the concerns, though he did mention that resources to the School of Eng/CompSci might be cut on account of my presence there. At no point did he bring up my connection with intelligent design (ID) as a reason for concern. Nor did he question my qualifications to work in the engineering school (in fact, he commended my mathematical sophistication).
(7) On Tuesday (12.05.06) there was a meeting of Baylor’s Faculty Senate — President John Lilley and Provost Randall O’Brien were in attendance. At that meeting, President Lilley remarked that my appointment was to be revoked and that the grant Robert Marks procured for me to work with him would be returned to the LifeWorks Foundation. The reason given was that a “technicality” had been missed in the processing of the grant (no elaboration at that time of what this technicality was). On Wednesday (12.06.06) , Dean Kelley confirmed that Baylor would be refunding the grant to LifeWorks and that Provost Randall O’Brien concurred with this decision.
(8) On Thursday (12.07.06) Robert Marks and another distinguished professor of engineering at Baylor, Walter Bradley, met with Dean Kelley in one last effort to persuade him not to pull the plug on my appointment (earlier in the week they had written forceful detailed letters urging that I be permitted to remain in the engineering school). The “technicality” that had been missed in the processing of the grant was at this meeting finally divulged: Dean Kelley and Jim Farison (the head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) had not been properly notified that I would be joining the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. But they had not raised any objection the whole prior month (my name and title were prominently displayed on my office door as well as in front of the suite of offices of which it was a part). Moreover, when Robert Marks offered to “reprocess” the grant, Dean Kelley informed him that this was not an option and that I was too great a “liability” for Baylor. He did not elaborate on why I would be a “liability.”
(9) On Friday (12.08.06) Baylor claimed finally to have found a good reason to remove me, namely, a policy that forbids postdocs from having full outside employment (which I do with my job at Southwestern Seminary). On examining the BUPP (Baylor University Personnel Policy and Procedures — http://www3.baylor.edu/BUPP), one finds no such policy. Regardless, whether this was a formal or informal policy, the president of the university had signed off on a grant which listed me as a third-party beneficiary. The university had a legal obligation to honor its commitments (my attorney indicated that I could sue Baylor it didn’t). Instead, the university decided to return the money for the grant simply so that I would no longer be associated with Baylor.
(10) Later on Friday (12.08.06) I received an email from Dean Kelley indicating that he needed to talk to me about clearing my desk and returning my keys. I asked him to send me a formal letter to indicate when my appointment officially ends and the reasons for its ending — I received such a letter as an email Monday, 12.11.06, stating that I had been terminated Friday 12.08.06 but giving no reasons for my termination.
(11) On Saturday (12.09.06), prior to any official notification that my position with Baylor was over, my Baylor ID card no longer worked to take my family to the cafeteria. Also, on that day, my Baylor email address (William_Dembski@baylor.edu), which had worked since 1999 (it had never zeroed out even in my year-long absence from Baylor since June of 2005) now yielded the following response to people who attempted to send email to it: “Recipient address rejected: Account Disabled.” I had been erased.
(12) Sometime in December or January, Baylor sent back to the LifeWorks Foundation the entire amount of the grant that Robert Marks had procured for me to work with him. Question: Has Baylor throughout its history ever returned grant money and, if so, under what circumstances?
(posted by Denyse O’Leary for Bill Dembski)