CSU San Marcos Rejects Geology Endowment : Education: Criticized for gift’s link to investigation of a theory rejected by academics, the new university’s president reverses himself.
The president of Cal State San Marcos hastily gave back a controversial endowment for a geology chair Wednesday, citing public criticism and conceding that his faculty would have found the conditions attached to the $250,000 endowment unacceptable.
President Bill Stacy said his decision was based on a Times article Wednesday, in which professors and education officials said the conditions in the endowment agreement would be unacceptable to most legitimate scientists and universities. The agreement would have committed the endowed professor, whose salary would have been paid with taxpayer money, to study the theories of the lifelong Carlsbad farmer and rancher who gave the money, who has no academic credentials in geology and whose ideas are widely regarded as outlandish.
Stacy’s decision, after a proud announcement of the endowment last week, put the first embarrassing stamp on the state’s newest public university, which opened its doors to students Monday.
The agreement between the university and Allan O. Kelly was scheduled to be signed this week. But Stacy said Wednesday that he will not sign the agreement because his infant university cannot afford the appearance of impropriety.
“It’s crucial to avoid any further embarrassment to befall the university,” Stacy said. “It’s not just my neck, my shoulders; I want to make sure this university is squeaky clean in its perception and images.”
At the same time, Stacy acknowledged that his staff would have drawn the same conclusions that educators and scientists voiced in the article--that a proper endowment cannot force a professor to study a specific theory, whether or not that theory is held by the person giving the money.
In saying that, Stacy also was conceding that his faculty would not have seen the endowment the way he did. On Tuesday, he had defended the agreement, saying it was legitimate because the endowed professor could have studied other areas in addition to Kelly’s theories, which hold that many of the Earth’s features as well as the biblical flood were caused by external impacts from other cosmic bodies.
Stacy said he had informed Kelly of his decision Wednesday morning.
“He’s feisty and somewhat miffed, but he’s a very gracious gentleman in every regard,” Stacy said.
Kelly was unavailable for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, he had said that, if he gives the money, he should be able to see it used to further his work.
However, in a statement released Wednesday, the 89-year-old descendant of pioneers said he was disappointed that the endowment had been rejected “as a result of a controversy caused by a few individuals challenging the honest intent to provide for scientific investigation to find the truth.”
The endowment also would have named the holder of the chair the “premier professor” of arts and sciences, and required the geologist who filled the job to submit an annual report to Kelly on the research into the layman’s theories.
Scientists and educators had called the terms “ridiculous” and “academically irresponsible,” saying they infringe on a professor’s right to study what he or she feels is proper.
Geologists find Kelly’s theories ludicrous--although they said they would find nothing wrong with establishing a geology chair in the general area of impact theory--and they believe no legitimate scientist would have accepted a position under those conditions.
“After reading comments in today’s press, it is likely that the CSU San Marcos faculty review of the position at the time of program-faculty search would have likely reached the same conclusion,” Stacy said.
Stacy insisted Wednesday that the conditions of the chair “did not shackle the academic freedom of the future holder of such a chair. He or she would have been free to pursue it as they saw fit.”
He added, however, that, in retrospect, he “would not have allowed a condition to be associated with the professorship. It seems like being a little bit pregnant.”
“I don’t want the energy of the president or the institution focused on that propriety and whether or not that was useful in any way to the study of geology,” said Stacy, who had consulted with a geologist he had known in Missouri when negotiating the terms of the endowment. “That is simply an area where, given the number of things we have to do, it’s not high on my list.”
Stacy’s action met with approval from earlier critics.
“Based on what I have heard, I think that this is a wise decision,” said Albert Johnson, vice president of academic affairs at San Diego State University.
Johnson said the newness of the university may have contributed to the first decision to accept the endowment.
“It’s new and small, and procedures haven’t been worked out yet,” Johnson said. “The headiness of a new experience may blur your judgment, that’s all.”
“A quarter-million-dollars, that would make anybody excited,” said Pat Abbot, professor and former chairman of the SDSU geology department. “I’m guessing that, in their excitement, maybe they went public with (the endowment) a little too soon.”
Johnson said SDSU has an informal procedure whereby an endowment would be subject to review by the dean and faculty of the appropriate college and by himself and the president before it would be accepted.
Ellis McCune, acting chancellor of the Cal State system, said the endowment would have been analyzed by system officials before final approval. Cal State San Marcos “hadn’t really had time to look into all this and go through the necessary approval process,” McCune said. “The rules would require that any gift of this sort be referred to the chancellor’s office before final acceptance. They hadn’t gotten to that point with this one.”
Most gifts that are offered unconditionally may be accepted by the president of the individual institution, McCune said.
Stacy said that a policy-making body to address issues such as endowments for the Cal State San Marcos campus has not yet been formed, although one is planned.
“As we continue to develop with our academic policies and curriculum design, (endowments) will be an item that will get into a faculty handbook that does not yet exist,” Stacy said.
Kelly, a self-taught geologist, has contended that the geological community rejects his theories because he does not hold any university degrees. He also acknowledged that his motive behind the endowment was to ensure that his theories were fully investigated.
In essence, Kelly believes that many very large asteroids and meteors have struck Earth up until recent times--causing, for example, the end of the most recent Ice Age and the biblical flood of Noah’s time.
Kelly also believes an asteroid 300 miles in diameter struck the Carolina coast about 11,000 years ago. Mainstream geologists say that the largest asteroid ever to have struck the Earth was at most 60 miles in diameter.
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