Thursday, February 04, 2010

PEER Supports Steiner's Position

The title of this blog isn't just whimsical.  I am concerned about how people approach knowing 'the truth.'  Here's an exercise in that activity.  

Below is a press release.  I've read about some of this on Progressive Alaska, but I have no direct knowledge of what has happened.  I know that people react to something like this based on their predisposition toward the situation.  This situation is about a University professor in Alaska who has resigned after the University interfered with his funding apparently because of what they saw as inappropriate political speech.  He was doing work related to environmental issues and spoke up at public forums.  So, if one is disposed against 'intellectuals' or 'environmentalists' you might well dismiss this organization's statement as 'obviously politically biased.'  If you are a strong supporter of civil rights and environmental issues, you might just as uncritically bristle with indignation at the injustice you read. 

It's reasonable to read such things, from sources you don't know, skeptically.  It's what one should do, no matter what side of an issue you are on.  And then do more research.  I'm in the middle of doing legislative coverage and this is a bit of a distraction at the moment.  But I think it behooves us all, especially as the University of Alaska is searching for a new president, to pay attention to what is happening at the state's university. 

As a former grievance representative for the University faculty union, I know that grievants come with one thing in common:  they feel that they've been wronged.  Inevitably, there are parts of the story that have been left out.  After more research, it becomes clear whether they have a valid grievance (a. their problem is covered by the rules as a legitimate basis for a grievance and b. the violation has, in fact, taken place.)

I don't have enough information on the Steiner case.  Here we have PEER protesting the treatment of one of its members.  What is PEER?  From the PEER website:
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
An organization that does such work, has to carefully choose the battles that they fight.  There are plenty of disgruntled workers who have weak or no grounds for protest, who may themselves be the source of the problems.  Organizations like PEER, who take on unfounded cases will quickly use up their resources fighting losing battles.  This will decrease their membership and do harm to their reputations.  So we have to see what others say.

Charity Navigator rates them highly, which relates to their organizational effectiveness and capacity.  This doesn't mean they are right on this case, but it does suggest they aren't some rock throwing group that takes up the cause of every angry public employee working on the environmental issues.

On the other hand, in 2005 the Catholic League was disturbed by PEER's work:


March 30, 2005

Scott Bloch commands the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and has come under attack by a left-wing non-profit group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), for his policy decisions and hiring practices.  PEER, headed by Jeff Ruch, has protested publicly that Bloch has hired some graduates of Ave Maria law school.  His most recent criticisms came on March 25 in an interview he had on National Public Radio (NPR).  The host of the show, Bob Garfield, sided with Ruch.
But as I followed up on this story, I found a National Journal  story three years later that reports:  

White House Fires Special Counsel Bloch

Scott Bloch, the embattled head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, was fired today in a meeting with White House officials, according to several sources. Bloch is under federal investigation for possible obstruction of justice ...

I urge readers to do their own background research to satisfy themselves one way or the other on this report. 

All that said, here's the beginning of the press release.  You can click here or at the end, to read the rest.  I put this up, not because I've confirmed all the details, but rather to let people know, so they can educate themselves on the issue.

For Immediate Release: February 3, 2010
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
INTERNATIONAL SCIENTISTS CONDEMN PURGE OF PROFESSOR — Scientific Commission Decries Oil Industry Influence at University of Alaska
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 rest can be read here.

1 comment:

  1. Once again - Thanks, Steve.

    Rick is no more an "advocate" than are many people UA enthusiastically endorses. However, his advocacy doesn't fit the corporate agenda.

    I'm not sure the advocacy he has been accused of warrants being characterized as "political," though. The organizations that asked him to support them in opposition to the "advocacy" of the Shell Oil-sponsored conference on offshore development aren't political per se. The views he supported at that conference were from a conservationist viewpoint that might be endorsed more fully by the left than by the right, but the topics they sought to bring to the fore transcend politics.


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