Washington, DC — A prestigious international scientific body today sent a blistering letter to the University Alaska protesting the influence of the oil industry in the treatment and funding of academic researchers. Released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the letter condemns the University’s decision to revoke federal funding for a marine conservation specialist in retaliation for his protests of bias in University-sponsored programs promoting drilling in Arctic waters.
The February 3, 2010 letter from the Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) takes the University to task for its actions against Professor Rick Steiner, who has resigned from its faculty (effective this past Monday, February 1, 2010) following its removal of any further National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant funding this past fall:
“CEESP members have become increasingly concerned at the way in which Prof. Steiner has been treated by your University. They believe that the University of Alaska administration has engaged in what is known as “constructive dismissal” of Prof. Steiner. From the documents we have seen, it is clear that Prof. Steiner was punished for publicly expressing his expert perspective on one particular offshore oil and gas proposal in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and for criticizing a University of Alaska / Shell Oil conference on the matter which he felt was biased toward a pro-drilling decision. This was not just his right to do so, it was his job to do so. Academic freedom and the responsibility of academics to be the public conscience are cornerstones of being a credible academic.” [Emphasis in original]
The CEESP is a global network of conservation researchers, principally faculty members from universities all over the world. The letter was signed by CEESP chair Aroha Te Pareake Mead of New Zealand. The CEESP letter, one of several international protests filed with University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton over the treatment of Prof. Steiner, warns –
“We believe that this case will become known widely around the world as a classic example of public administrators pandering to powerful industrial interests, while sacrificing the very ideal of their institution…As much as a university administration must stay neutral on such policy issues such as oil development, it also must protect the right of its faculty to freely express their perspectives and concerns on such. Otherwise, your public and students will lose confidence in the objectivity of your faculty.”
“Unfortunately, American government agencies are gaining a well-deserved international reputation for bending science to support politically powerful industries,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization has filed a rulemaking petition with NOAA demanding that its grants not be used to silence scientists. “The U.S. is plunging headlong to open up some of the most important and sensitive marine areas on the planet to petroleum production without a clear idea of the real environmental and economic costs. That is the reason that it is so important that experts such as Rick Steiner are allowed to work without obstruction.”