Professor Rick Steiner has been outspoken about the oil industry for years in Alaska. Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill he has been complaining about the “irresponsible actions’ of the oil industry. I think it is a clear  sign of problems when they recklessly put a storage facility at the base of a volcano. The University of Alaska at Fairbanks has been trying to silence for years. Now his National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant has been taken and they did not speak up against NOAA for academic freedom. They have moved his office to an undesirable location and it appears the university has been applying pressure on him for a long time to stop speaking out about the oil industry. This is very alarming to me. These tactics are very typical maneuvers done in the education field by administrators to shut professors up who anger their donors. It is workplace bullying in acadamia and it can get really ugly at universities.

Most of the scientists/professors don’t have the courage to stand up to them due to fear of loosing their jobs and having to live with the workplace bullying. I call any scientist who does stand up to them a hero. They are fighting to keep true science and truthful research in the universities. Are we still living in the George W. Bush era? These professors need support from the public. Do not underestimate the amount of pressure they are under.

There was a great hero in the Katrina, New Orleans story, Ivor Van Heerden a former professor at the University of Louisiana. He had been telling the government for years that the disaster that happened when Katrina just skirted the city in 2005 was going to happen for years. Part of the reason was poorly constructed levees, but a huge part of the story is the damage to the environment by the oil industry. I know he was complaining about the problems with the levee and the damage to the wetlands around New Orleans because I had read about his story years before the disaster. I had assumed the government was working on the problem. Naivety strikes again. The man was telling anyone and everyone about it and they just ignored him. Then when Katrina struck they were relieved the hurricane missed New Orleans.  The white house was informed by the corp of engineers that the levees had cracked, but did not tell Van Heerden or anyone else about this so they did not get the people out of the city and 1500 people died. He was very outspoken about that too.

The decision has been brewing ever since van Heerden agreed to head the forensic investigation team in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, he said. Within days of the team's formation, van Heerden was frequently quoted in national newspaper and television reports, and most of his comments were highly critical of the Army Corps of Engineers' levee and floodwall construction policies and designs.

In November 2005, he was called to a meeting with two LSU assistant chancellors who van Heerden said told him to stop talking to the press, because it threatened the university's ability to get research dollars from the federal government.

Here is how it starts.

Former LSU Vice Chancellor for Communications Michael Ruffner, now an official at the University of West Georgia, in a June 2006 letter to The Times-Picayune, gave a different version of the discussion.

"During fall 2005 an issue with Professor van Heerden arose relating to his technical and professional expertise to comment on levees and construction matters because he is trained in geology and botany, and not civil engineering, " Ruffner wrote.

Geologists and botanists do understand the problems with the soil and the peat which was the foundation of the levees. They also understand how plant life and water interact with soil and peat. I am sure he also at that point had read the original plans for the levees and found out they were built shorter than they were suppose to have been built as well as other problems. In fact if he had just a degree in civil engineering only he probably would not have been able to put the whole picture together of the how the environment and problems with the levees would play out.

"At the request of the Dean of Engineering and other members of the engineering faculty, we discussed this with the author and gained his assurance that he would not speak on matters for which he has no professional credentials or experience, like civil engineering."

The letter appeared soon after the May 2006 publication of van Heerden's book about Katrina titled, "The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina -- The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist." In the book, van Heerden described what he called attacks on his academic freedom by the LSU administration.

They keep it up and work on the professors like slow torture. They keep them stressed out and play games with their work environment, teaching assignments, and more.

A review of Steiner's employment history found that on numerous occasions he had accused someone of infringing on his academic freedom, Brunner said in his decision.

Just like nurses who are bullied in the workplace, professionals in education are just there to do their jobs to the very best of their ability. Others who are resentful of them looking good when they warn the public or publish controversial information will begin to start the rumor mill. The pressure from the outside may begin to change how the administrative staff at the university thinks of the professor. It gets uglier and uglier over time.

"My job as a faculty member is to seek and teach the truth without fear and without favor and that is what I am doing," Steiner said. "Either you have complete freedom to speak your truth or you don't. Unfortunately what we have learned here is I don't."

 University of Alaska system spokeswoman Kate Ripley said Steiner is wrong.

"We just don't believe his academic freedom or his freedom of speech has been infringed,"
she said.

Go ahead say whatever you want, use your first amendment rights, but we will take your funding for your research. This is just the beginning, over time it gets worse and worse. In the face of oil companies which donate huge amounts to the university the administration will buckle.

Mark Hamilton, president of the University of Alaska system, appointed lawyer Roger Brunner to handle the grievance decision. In his decision, Brunner wrote Steiner's claims appear to be a continuation of past attempts to "free himself from supervision and to have the university create a different job for him which would be more to his liking."

Steiner received the money as an extension agent in NOAA's Sea Grant program.

Mark Hamilton has an extensive military background which I am sure clouds his view of the world. He has announced his retirement as president of UAF. He can be contacted by email sypres@alaska.edu or phone 907-450-8000 (fax 907-450-8012). http://www.alaska.edu/OrgCharts/president-mark-hamilton/

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington, D.C.-based group that Steiner belongs to, he assumed a public profile in 1989 as a university marine adviser in Cordova responding to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

After that, the university administrators began applying pressure to prevent Steiner from making public statements regarding oil and environmental issues in general, PEER says.

He was told by administrators at one point to stop being an advocate and refrain from publicly criticizing the university, PEER says.

Against his wishes, Steiner's office was moved into the main Marine Advisory Program office even though he considers that to be a hostile work environment, PEER says.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, was confirmed as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator on March 19, 2009. She pledged to lead with the "best science as our guide".

They do not make contacts easy to find at NOAA:

Silver Spring Metro Center, Bldg 3, Rm 11458
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Alaska contact:

Brian Allee
Alaska Sea Grant
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Wells Fargo Building
794 University Avenue, Suite 238
Fairbanks, AK 99775-5040
Phone: (907) 474-7949
Email: allee@sfos.uaf.edu

Update:On the blog Progressive Alaska, Phil Munger discusses how Rick Steiner may be leaving the university. The reputation of UAF is stained. This is why I go to research done in other countries when I want to know the truth. When filtered through the dollar the truth turns into lies.


1 comment:

Prison Abolitionist said...

Just wanted to let you know I dropped by. You still rock, Celia! Give us a holler if you need some back up on something. We'll try to help spread the word - you're not alone.

In Solidarity from Phoenix - Peg