|My Tenure Denial
E. Norbert Smith, Ph.D.
Let me give an account of my own tenure denial. As with so many others, it marked the end of my professional teaching/research career in biology. The job market is always tight for graduating zoology students. A little known academic fact is that many students who continue their education by accepting a postdoctoral position do so because more lucrative teaching/research positions were unavailable. They applied for teaching positions, but failed to get an offer. Like most last semester life science doctorial students, I applied for over 100 teaching/research positions and did not even get an interview. I was offered two postdoctoral positions, but with a wife and two children to support, I turned them down and continued applying for jobs. I also had experience and a background in electronics and knew I could return to a promising career in that discipline. Still, due to my love for biology and research, I continued looking for a teaching/research position in academia. As graduation approached, I grew more and more concerned. When offered a biology-teaching job at Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, I accepted without hesitation. I had a heavy teaching load and many lectures to prepare. Without release time for research, it looked like my research aspirations would have to wait.
With many job applications still lurking about, at the last minute I was also offered a summer teaching job at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. They wanted me to teach a non-majors field-oriented course in biology. Again, I accepted without hesitation. I LOVED outdoor biology and had many bills to pay. The summer job went well and I enjoyed sharing my love for outdoor biology with the students and the students responded to my unfettered enthusiasm for all things living.
I still had a large amount of unpublished alligator data from my dissertation research. I knew some of heating and cooling heat flow measurements indicated changes in blood flow, but I did not know how to make the necessary conversions. I ventured into the physics department and introduced myself to Lou Caplan. I showed him some of my alligator data and explained what I needed. I think he knew how to make the calculations, but knowing it would not be easy, chose instead to introduce me to his friend, an unsuspecting Stan Robertson. That meeting was one of those all-too-rare life-changing events. On a napkin in the cafeteria, Stan started deriving equations he would later use for calculating blood flow. Stan and I instantly connected and eventually published several technical papers together about alligator thermoregulation. We have remained friends for nearly four decades and still occasionally work on papers together.
By summer’s end the biology chairman at Fort Hays seemed impressed with my teaching and student evaluations and offered me a permanent teaching/research position. Unfortunately, I had already committed to teach at Rochester Institute of Technology and soon headed northeast. Stan and I stayed in touch and, in that pre-Internet era, often exchanged letters of a dozen or more pages…all hand written. He was eventually able to calculate the skin blood flow I needed, but it proved harder than expected. Perhaps his friend Lou was wise in passing me on to Stan.
Teaching in upstate New York was an adventure. Being the newest faculty member, I got the least undesirable office. My view was a brick wall 10 feet outside my office and during the long, dark winter, it was very cold in my office. On more than one occasion, a half full cup of hot coffee left on my desk during a 50-minute lecture, would have ice on the top when I returned. This was with an electric space heater operating under my desk. Besides the severe winter, there were also huge cultural differences. As a private institution, tuition was high and most of the students were from wealthy families. I grew up poor in a farming community and no doubt, they considered me a country bumpkin. To make matters worse, at least once a week I would find myself in a verbal dead end and my only escape was to utter those dreaded words, “You all.” Without fail, the entire class would break into laughter. Still, it went well and I again had outstanding student evaluations. They also had an excellent research grant writing office and helped me secure research money from the King Ranch in Texas for continuing my alligator research the following summer. Toward the end of my first year, the Dean was so pleased with my work, that he offered me the Department Chairman’s position if I stayed 5 years. That was a surprising and attractive offer and I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I had to turn it down. My wife hated New York. She was from Maine and the long cold winter reminded her of her unhappy childhood. In spite of my teaching success, she gave me an ultimatum, “Get a job in the South, or I will divorce you.” I felt I had no choice and once again began franticly applying for another teaching/research position.
With a year of teaching experience and excellent letters of recommendation, the job search went better. Soon I was invited to interview for a tenure track teaching position in the biology department at Northeastern Oklahoma State University in the fall of 1977. The Biology Department Chairman was out of town, but the Dean of Science met me at the airport and we got along splendidly. My research seminar went well and I was offered the position and accepted on the spot. They encouraged research and would give release time, if I could secure grant money.
Soon we returned to Oklahoma filled with anticipation for a happy future. Our celebration was premature as it ended poorly five years later. The second week at my new job, my new boss and chairman of the Biology Department, Everett Grigsby called me into his office and told me he would NEVER have hired me because he knew I was a Creationist. That is NOT a good way to start a new job, but soon I was immersed in teaching and busy writing research proposals. Within a few months, I helped secure a 5 million dollar grant to help Native American students prepare for graduate and professional schools and it came with release time for research. I was happy to again be teaching biology courses and starting several research projects. It also felt good to be in my own Oklahoma culture where I knew the language. Almost, instantly I seemed to attract a large flock of excellent research students and began some serious research with the heart rate response of wild animals to fear. Soon I was again using radio telemetry systems I designed and doing outdoor research with wild animals. The biology department owned a large pontoon boat to which I had access and by spring, I begin rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, and woodchuck studies on a small island in beautiful nearby Tenkiller Lake. My research flourished and life was again good.
My scientific publications were growing explosively. With a group of 25 or so excellent research students, I was working on several different research projects and most led to publications in peer reviewed scientific journals. I was publishing technical papers in three distinct disciplines: reptilian thermoregulation, design and application of sophisticated multichannel radio telemetry systems, the cardiovascular response of wild animals to fear. I also continued publishing Creation and Flood related studies in the Creation Research Society quarterly and was writing children’s articles for magazines such as Highlights and Ranger Rick. I continued writing popular electronics articles for hobbyist magazines such as Popular Electronics and other popular magazines.
My first summer back in Oklahoma, I was given an invitation to study alligators at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and accepted. I was able to study the thermoregulation of a 750-pound alligator and several smaller ones weighing a few hundred pounds. The values Stan and I had previously published proved valid. Science is fun! During the summer of 1978, the British Broadcasting Company filmed my alligator studies for a TV documentary, A smile for the Crocodile describing major crocodilian research around the world. Two portions of the film were devoted to my ongoing alligator research. Due in part to the airing of the film, I was invited as keynote speaker to a major biotelemetry conference at Oxford University in England the next year and was able to take along three of my research students. Two of the students were offered post-doctoral research positions abroad, but had to decline. They were only sophomores. I was also nominated for the prestigious Who’s Who in Science and my alligator research was featured in Science News. My woodchuck studies attracted national attention and I was interviewed on the national Today morning TV show. After helping secure the major grant, I even had a reduced teaching load and could devote still more time to research and writing.
Perhaps it was the arrogance of youth, but I never gave tenure any serious consideration because I knew I was conducting good research and publishing more scientific articles than anyone else in the department. Again, I had outstanding student evaluations and worked with dozens of students who were also conducting publishable research on a variety of topics. This was virtually unheard of at the undergraduate level. At one Oklahoma Academy of Science meeting, my own students completely filled the entire afternoon session. My students and I were soon giving papers at major scientific meetings all over the United States and I had the honor of chairing several sections at these prestigious scientific meetings. Finally, I was doing the work of science and enjoyed it immensely.
My last two years at Northeastern, I was selected to teach medical physiology in the newly formed school of optometry. This was highly motivating. The students were bright and highly motivated and we pushed them very hard. If we professors heard them talking about watching a Sunday football game, we redoubled out efforts. We had to give up TV as graduate students…and so would they. As a side issue, I had always given a one-hour lecture in my other classes about scientific evidences of creation. I did not use Bible references, but simply discussed some of the evidences for creation and the weakness of the evidence supporting evolution. Some of my optometry students heard about these lectures and asked me to share that information with them. I felt it improper because the course work in this graduate level professional program was tightly organized. I did not feel I had the freedom or the time to digress for an entire hour of lecture on a topic not central to human physiology. At their unrelenting insistence, I scheduled the lecture for 7:30 on a Saturday morning, thinking no one would show up and I could continue my research. The entire class came and the discussion lasted until noon. The response was insightful for students to get the evolution side of this important debate and seemed hungry to hear the opposing view.
After five outstandingly successful years at Northeastern, I was once again called into Everett Grigsby’s office. I was totally unprepared for what he had to say. He told me my tenure had been denied and I needed to seek employment elsewhere. Certainly, I had options and could have challenged my tenure denial, but did not want to work where I was not wanted.
Shocked and devastated, I returned, defeated, to the family farm. Unable to earn a living farming, I worked in the oilfield as a rough neck and eventually worked at a variety of other jobs. Due in large part to my loss of professional employment and salary, my wife of 31 years left and took most of my possessions. My professional career was over due to my open acceptance of Biblical Creation. I became a truck driver for the next 12 years and finally earned enough money for retirement a couple of years ago. Sadly, this episode has been repeated over 100 times and over 200 promising graduate students have been denied access to graduate schools for doubting Saint Darwin. Our battle is real; our Enemy unscrupulous, yet the public is largely unaware such religious persecution still exists in the United States. Indeed, it is widespread in universities both secular and Christian where freedom of speech and academic were once celebrated. Neither exists today and the public needs to be aware of this ongoing travesty of justice.