I'm writing an open letter to you based upon recent disturbing developments directly related to the public responsibilities of your office.
1. The Attempted Gagging of Prof. Rick Steiner
The first regards actions taken against Professor Rick Steiner, another University of Alaska educator, resulting from his participation in an open letter to you.
On March 18, 2008, several parties, interested in the long-term viability of Bristol Bay area ecosystems noted serious conceptual flaws in the North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Initiative, being implemented by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and Alaska Sea Grant. These concerned citizens, administrators, educators and science professionals noted that the Initiative's premise was flawed by its open advocacy of offshore oil development in Bristol Bay, and by accepting a partnership in the Initiative from Shell Oil.
One of the signers of the open letter, University of Alaska Prof. Rick Steiner, was bound by the standards of Sea Grant Program Neutrality Guidance procedure to criticize the fault. It was within his rights to write the open letter. Those procedures state, in part:
Advocacy of one position alienates those on the other side[s].
The Initiative, by advocating the position of Shell Oil, obligated Prof. Steiner to seek a remedy.
University of Alaska Dean of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Denis A. Wiesenburg, completely misread Steiner's obligations. Instead of lauding Steiner for his concern about Sea Grant neutrality credibility, Dean Wiesenburg began attacking Prof. Steiner.
On May 8, 2008, in an e-mail to Sea Grant administrator Paula Cullenberg, Wiesenburg appears to have appended the agent manual I have cited from above, taking an opposite view of Steiner's obligation on March 18, 2008. He was beginning to build a case against Prof. Steiner.
On May 7, in Silver Springs, Maryland, at a National Sea Grant meeting, Wiesenburg had been approached by National Sea Grant College Program Deputy Director Jim Murray. Murray stated to Wiesenburg that, "they had an 'issue with Rick Steiner.'"
On July 9, 2008, Dean Wiesenburg related this "problem" to University of Alaska Labor Relations Director, Kris Racina, in an e-mail that clearly indicated Wiesenburg was preparing to cut the Sea Grant fund to Steiner in the future.
On December 2, 2008, in an astoundingly unprofessional move, Dean Wiesenburg took the opportunity of using a 3rd Year Dean's Review Post-Tenure Review to characterize Prof. Steiner's participation in what clearly was Steiner's obligation under Sea Grant guidelines, as an "attack."
Wiesenberg's review concludes with a quote from UNAC CBA provision, section 6.2, which states:
"Academic freedom is accompanied by the corresponding responsibility to provide objective and skillful exposition of one's subject, to at all times be accurate, to exercise appropriate restraint, to show respect for the opinions of others and to indicate when appropriate that one is an institutional representative."
A. Academic freedom is accompanied by the corresponding responsibility to provide objective and skillful exposition of one's subject - Dean Wiesenburg, by characterizing Prof. Steiner's concerns about the Bristol Bay Initiative's neutrality as an "attack," failed to be either skilled or objective in his review.
B. to at all times be accurate - in all the correspondence on this yet made public, Dean Weisenburg has yet to observe the objective nature of Prof. Steiner's initial stance in the March 18, 2008 Open Letter.
C. to exercise appropriate restraint - Dean Wiesenburg's characterization of Steiner, Kelly Harrell, Bob Shavelson, Whit Sheard, Terry Hoefferle, the Chief Executives of Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC), Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), Bristol Bay Housing Authority (BBHA), and Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation (BBAHC) as "publicly attacking Alaska Sea Grant program activities," is quite inflammatory. Statements such as this by the dean do nothing positive to help craft working relations between UAF and the Alaska Native community.
D. to show respect for the opinions of others - the open letter concluded with:
We write this letter in the spirit of cooperation and sincerely hope that we can work together to devise solutions to our very valid concerns with the initiative.
E. and to indicate when appropriate that one is an institutional representative - Prof. Steiner signs off thus:
Rick Steiner, Professor
University of Alaska
Dean Wiesenburg has behaved unprofessionally toward a person many regard as one of Alaska's most distinguished citizens. Not only has Dr. Wiesenburg maligned Prof. Steiner, his funding cut-off request, combined with the extremely prejudicial Post-Tenure Review is not in keeping with your public statements regarding freedom of expression on our campus.
Here is what Prof. Steiner wrote about this and other ecological issues, just this week:
“The present crisis in our nation’s marine and coastal ecosystems requires a clear and urgent national response. But instead of responding to the ocean crisis, this new de facto gag order from NOAA Sea Grant will have a chilling effect on scientists who want to advocate for greater ocean protection and restoration.”
2. Dr. Steve Aufrecht's Investigation into the BP-ARCO Merger Charter Agreement and the University of Alaska
University of Alaska Professor Emeritus Steve Aufrecht has been trying to determine whether or not the so-called "Merger Charter Agreement" that enabled the formation of the entity now known as Conoco-Phillips is legally enforceable, or is a mere scrap of paper. If the agreement is enforceable, it appears quite likely that Conoco-Phillips owes the University of Alaska money. A lot of money.
Recently, Dr. Aufrecht has been getting assistance from Alaska Rep. Berta Gardner. He posed the following questions to her:
- Who monitors these contributions to be sure that they are making the contributions required?
- How do members of the public find this out?
- Are they contributing what they are required to contribute?
- Are they contributing more than they are required to contribute?
- If not, can either company seriously claim to make charitable contributions? This was simply a business deal, a required cost of doing business in Alaska and not really charitable donations. (Well, I wasn't exactly expecting a technical answer to this one.)
- Who is on these boards and are the meetings announced and public?
Prof. Aufrecht received the following from Rep. Gardner yesterday:
I think you'll be interested to know that in the University budget subcommittee meeting today, Pete Kelly, the legislative liaison, mentioned the loss of Charters funds from the oil industry. When I asked him about that he said he understood that the donations were not mandatory, that the Charter agreement did not have the force of law.
My question to you, President Hamilton, is that if the Charter Agreement's provisions regarding funding to the University of Alaska to enable that merger are not enforceable, why not? At the time of the merger, the people of Alaska were led to believe that the higher education funding provisions of the Charter were legally enforceable. I've been unable to find any statements by you in the past, regarding enforceability of the merger charter agreement.
3. Your Comments Last Week to the House Finance Committee
In the item, #2, above, I made reference to University of Alaska legislative liason Pete Kelly, who doesn't feel the Charter Agreement with CP is "enforceable."
According to Juneau Empire reporter, Pat Forgey, his brother, Fairbanks Rep. Mike Kelly, thinks UAF students have an unwarranted sense of entitlement:
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said some of the students who visit the Capitol looking for money are openly anti-development.
"They come down here and rail against anything that brings in the very bucks that they come down here and tell us that we owe them," he said.
Hamilton urged the committee not to hold some students' views against the entire university system, and said they may well change as they age.
"You can hope, as I do, that these students will mature over time," Hamilton said.
You and Rep. Kelly went on:
Kelly said some in the Legislature were opposed to the university.
"There's somewhat of an anti-university bias somehow in the walls here. I'll call it what it is; I've been here long enough to figure it out," he said.
Kelly urged better training for the students lobbying for more money so as to not raise the ire of his fellow legislators.
Hamilton said he was asked to help fund a Conference of Young Alaskans meeting, and he did so on the condition that they spend an hour studying the economics of the state of Alaska.
"I not only agree with you, but I've demonstrated that agreement," Hamilton said.
I'm disturbed that you feel either unwilling or unable to be more articulate in defining just what young people in our university system might be looking for, as far as their futures in Alaska might hold.
In instance #1 of this open letter, you appear to be either incurious or abetting the activities of a dean who is punishing a climate and ecosystems expert for not overtly backing the questionable activities of Shell Oil Company.
In instance #2 of this open letter, you appear to not have ever articulated a University stance on what may be a source of millions of dollars to the school from Conoco-Philips Oil Company.
In instance #3 of this open letter, you appear to be incurious, ineloquent, unimaginative and overly cautious in describing the minds of young people to members of the most anti-education legislature in the United States, or, one might even argue, in the industrial world.
By themselves, these are not new observations of your conduct, from my point of view. But, put together, they may represent a portrait of a seriously flawed university presidency.
Hopefully, you can find the courage to put things in better shape at the University of Alaska.