Endowed Geology Chair Hastily Withdrawn : Academia: The president of Cal State San Marcos cites public criticism of donor’s conditions. He says faculty also would have found the arrangement unacceptable.
The president of Cal State San Marcos hastily withdrew a controversial endowed chair in geology 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 on 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 professor hired for the chair to study the theories of the Carlsbad farmer and rancher who gave the money. Allan O. Kelly, the chair’s donor, has no academic credentials in geology and his theories are widely regarded as outlandish.
Stacy’s decision was an embarrassing misstep for the state’s newest public university, which opened its doors to students Monday.
The agreement between the university and Kelly was scheduled to be signed this week. But Stacy said he would not sign the agreement because his new university could not suffer 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 it perception and images.”
At the same time, Stacy acknowledged that his staff probably would have concluded that the endowment restrictions were improper because they required a professor to study a specific theory.
On Tuesday, Stacy had defended the agreement, saying that it was legitimate because the endowed professor could have studied other areas in addition to Kelly’s theories, which hold that many of Earth’s geological features as well as the Biblical flood were caused by impacts from other cosmic bodies.
Kelly, 89, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, he had said that if he was giving the money, he should be able to see it used to further his work.
Stacy said he had informed Kelly of his decision Wednesday morning and that “he’s feisty and somewhat miffed, but he’s a very gracious gentleman in every regard.”
The endowment also would have named the professor 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 his theories.
Scholars had called the terms ridiculous and academically irresponsible, saying that they infringe on the 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 one 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 . . . 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.”
But he added 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 reversal met with approval from academics who had criticized the conditions of the endowment.
“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 that the newness of the university may have contributed to the earlier 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 chair of the San Diego State geology department. “I’m guessing that in their excitement, maybe they went public with (the endowment) a little too soon.”
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