Friday, October 23, 2009

UAF Prof. Rick Steiner, Stabbed in the Back by Gen. Mark Hamilton, May Be Leaving the University

In the first 48 hours of the Exxon Valdez oilspill, a lot of people went nuts. As a former Crowley Maritime mariner, I was called early in the morning and asked if I was available for work. I wasn't.

The guy who called me at 5:00 a.m. then flew over from Anchorage to Valdez on that Good Friday morning to meet with a planning group about the "response." When he got back to Anchorage in the mid afternoon, he called me back. He was in tears. He told me that there was no response.

He also told me that flying with him on the plane over to Valdez were oil company attorneys and three people dressed in flannel shirts and Carrharts who had been hired by one of the oil companies to pose as environmentalists. Their job, as much as my friend could surmise, was to pose as environmentalists. They were going to object to the use of dispersants to deal with the spill, because their employers - the oil companies and Alyeska - didn't have enough to do the job. Not just in Alaska, but anywhere.

Thank God they didn't.

Other people had better plans on how to deal with the oil immediately, even though Alyeska, the State of Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard and everyone else connected with real responsibility didn't have a fucking clue.

One, Cordova fisher Tom Copland, may have had the best idea of all. He was from the Skagit River valley in Washington, and had connections with the farming community. (He still does. He owns a bamboo farm.) What Tom suggested was that a large number of silage bags be flown up from Washington state. They could be trucked to Bellingham airport and packed onto C-130s and flown into Valdez. Cordova and Valdez-based seiners and tenders could be sent over to Valdez with their fish-sucking pumps. Each bag could hold about 200,000 gallons of oil and water. His idea was to get the stuff isolated and contained quickly, dirtily, before any spring winds would inevitably disburse the oil. Nobody in the response community listened. Copland's ingenious, perhaps brilliant idea perished.

Others in Cordova knew that the currents on Prince William Sound, should an initial response fail, would drive the oil stream straight toward the new fisher-owned hatchery at Sawmill Bay on the Southwest Sound. Perhaps the most influential among those concerned about saving the Sawmill Bay fish was Rick Steiner, who then ran the Cordova Sea Grant program. He led the team that organized and won the "Battle of Sawmill Bay."

They had materials flown into the hatchery complex. They made their own pollution control booms. They manned them for days as he oil slopped itself against, under and over their system. It wasn't perfect, but it worked far better than any other system deployed during the spill as a preventive or mitigating tool.

Rick Steiner continued to be right about just about everything he has done in the Alaska Sea Grant Program in the succeeding 20 years.

Between February 2009 and this week he has received his reward.

The University of Alaska, and - now, his union - have abandoned the fight to have at least one organization associated with him inside of Alaska stand up for his rights in his battle against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have their part of the funding for his UA position retained.

As of Friday, Steiner is contemplating resignation:

I just had a call from the faculty union at UA, and they are dropping my case, and not proceeding to arbitration...It seems their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the university is extraordinarily weak on issues of faculty rights.

So, this seems to be the 'end of the road' for me and the university. I pleaded with them at the union's Executive Board meeting today, but this was their decision entirely.

That the faculty union cannot protect faculty from such violations, is an ominous development. Obviously, their CBA is worthless on faculty rights. It is little more than the Alyeska contingency plan prior to Exxon Valdez.

So, I will be resigning from this institution soon. I will not compromise my professional ethics, integrity, nor compromise my work nor free expression to stay in this environment. But what I truly worry about is the cloud this leaves over this institution.

Thursday morning, as I drove to work at UAA, I spotted several work crews in the area between the new Conoco-Phillips Integrated Sciences Building and the library. They were carrying away downed trees, broken tree limbs and other natural debris from one of the open areas of remaining natural forest copses there. The reason was that within a few hours the grand opening of the science building was going to happen. Among the very important people attending would be Gen. Mark Hamilton, the President of the University of Alaska. Back in 2001, Hamilton was the recipient of a national award for his support of freedom of expression on his campuses.

When Gen. Hamilton received the award, he was lauded for his stance. I praised him then, and dedicated The Skies Are Weeping to Hamilton.

The organization that awarded him the honor, the National Association of Scholars, may not be the best org to credit Alaskans for their efforts though. Recently they posted an article called Sustainability is a Waste - 10 Reasons to Oppose the Sustainability Movement on Your Campus.

Here are their main points:

1. Sustainability is deceptive.
Sustainability is not just about practicing good stewardship of the environment. It is also a tool to advance progressive politics and ideology. The sustainability movement is a way for people with a hugely unpopular political program to get into positions of influence so that they can advance their cause despite lack of public support. On many campuses sustainability is marketed to students as saving energy and improving the environment, but turns out to involve projects that have nothing to do with the environment.

2. Sustainability is coercive.
Sustainability advocates assume that no one can legitimately disagree with their message. They therefore have no qualms about imposing their politics on students, faculty, and staff. If someone does disagree, they attack that person’s motives and ignore his actual points.

3. Sustainability is closed-minded.
Sustainability advocates put their hands over their ears and refuse to listen to people who point out contrary facts or who have different arguments. Sustainability in this sense is an ideology: it shuts out or explains away whatever doesn’t fit with its premises.

4. Sustainability is a pseudo-religion.
Some sustainability advocates tip over the edge of ideology into apocalyptic religion, complete with end-of-the-world scenarios, calls to repent, a new eco-morality, and worship of the Earth. This is a religion that misappropriates the ideas of “ethics,” ‘justice,” “social mandate,” and “the right thing” to shame people into compliance.

5. Sustainability distorts higher education.
Sustainability advocates don’t want to just add sustainability to the curriculum; they want to make it “thefoundation of all learning and practice in higher education.” How exactly does sustainability help you learn calculus, read Homer, or score well on the LSAT? College is also about preparing for adult responsibilities. How does making sustainability the foundation of higher education prepare you for those aspects of life not encompassed by recycling, green grocery bags, and compact fluorescent light bulbs?

6. Sustainability shrinks freedom.
Sustainability advocates don’t like free markets or personal liberty. They believe markets ignore long-term costs and people typically make bad choices. Instead of liberty, sustainability advocates praise “social justice” and “equitable distribution of resources” as the foundation of a sustainable society. These terms may sound nice but they point to governmental control over everyday life. Ultimately, the sustainability movement is about taking away your right to think and act for yourself.

7. Sustainability tries to program you.
The proponents of sustainability aim to have “all students engaged as effective change agents in our sustainability challenges.” This is another way of narrowing your education. Can’t students simply be students? What if your goal is to learn something about the world before attempting to change it?

8. Sustainability is anti-rational.
Some sustainability advocates—we call them sustainatopians—want to instill in students an emotional way of knowing the world that is “separate from the rational.” Many of them believe the industrial revolution was a mistake and would like to move beyond reason and science in favor of a combination of intuition and empathy. That runs counter to the basic purpose of higher education.

9. Sustainability bypasses the faculty.
Historically, college teachers have made the key decisions about what they teach. The sustainability movement on campus, however, took off when college administrators decided to push it. So far, 650 college presidents have signed a commitment to combat global warming and infuse sustainability into the curriculum.

10. Sustainability is wasteful.
Sustainability advocates pride themselves on taking the long view and minimizing waste. In fact the movement has a long history of extravagant and false predictions about natural resources, environmental perils, and the consequences of human actions. These predictions have resulted in vastly wasteful expenditures and diversions of human time and talent. Convincing college students to squander their opportunity for a real education is only the most recent example.

I love it when the Orwhellians claim to be fighting Owellianism.

The defenders of UA's and his union's refusal to support Steiner's plea to NOAA will probably claim that his salary wasn't reduced and that his office move might have been a cost reduction move, or some other diversionary screed. They'll say that his impending protest resignation is theater, or "guerilla theater."

The reality, though, is that a person who has contributed immensely to Alaska's true wealth and sustainability has been screwed.

Back in 1989, the year that Steiner helped win the Battle of Sawmill Bay, I wrote Sphinx Island Elegy for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. It was about the Exxon Valdez spill. The concert at which it premiered in October 1989, was introduced by Don Cornett, Exxon's Alaska head and their chief local liar during the response period. In his introduction, he promised Exxon would fulfill the vow they had made back in March and April to Cordovans in the shocked town's high school gym, to "Make you whole."

What Rick Steiner is now being brought through isn't unique in Alaska or elsewhere. It hasn't been covered well yet by Alaska media or blogs, though. I've wondered why. Rick's case is compelling.


Anonymous said...

Yep, higher education is controlled by the big money donors and the university presidents who lie prostrate to them. I work for one of the largest private research institutions in the U.S. and can say that what UA is doing is pretty typical. Faculty who make waves are shut up and pushed out by moving their offices to broom closets in the basement, being assigned freshman-level intro courses, and removing their funding. Some of them deserve it, but many don't. Steiner should find a job at another institution that will support and value him. What a shame.

Polarbear said...

You would think the University of Alaska system would be a prime location for arctic research. In reality, most leaders in various fields of arctic research have chosen to conduct their work from other universities. The problem is the political intrigue which stymies free thinking in the UA system. Talented arctic researchers usually touch base with the University of Alaska system early in their careers, thinking that a university in such close proximity to their field of interest might be a good research base. They quickly find out their assumption is not true. "The Firecracker Boys" only scratched the surface, and now we have another episode with Rick Steiner, the latest in a long line of talented faculty abused by the university administration. The UA system just does not tolerate truly original thinking and academic freedom.

Thoughtful families who watch these dramas are sending their children outside Alaska to other universities. We did. Our family has set up a family-wide fund to ensure our young men and women are able to attend private schools outside Alaska. I encourage other families who are serious about higher education to do the same.

The problem for Alaska is, we have some tough, resistant problems to address, but such problems usually require courage to address. The University of Alaska should be a resource, and is not. Our tough, resistant problems require original thinking and approaches which, typically, ruffle feathers in vested power structures around the state. If you have an insightful approach to solve a problem, do not waste time taking it to the UA system. Your fate will inevitably be the same as that of Rick Steiner and many others.

Anonymous said...

It is going to be a loss. I've had my issues with the university, so has Diane B. We know the tide will continue to roll and the winds will blow, but the trail never ends.

NOAA funding, as it funnels down thru NMFS AK Region is a messy trail. More often than not, it is a political directive.

As for the university, still pissed of at Ulmer for voting against subsistence back in 92. She has been asked about that, but hasn't owned up to it.

Chin up Rick, no matter what trail you choose. Chin up. The trail already forged, is embedded in the minds of many young folk.

Quyana for the read Phil.

Anonymous said...

Hamilton has never supported academic freedom on *rural* campuses. He upheld non-renewal of faculty on the basis of "secret" info (not in file) and because the faculty member spoke in faculty meetings about misfeasance of administration towards students. Union appealed on the basis of the contract, which was not relevant to issue of academic freedom and faculty quality.

Another result was that UA computer system (and everyone who was once in the system throughout the state) was vulnerable to identity theft for 5 years, after said rural faculty reported the break-ins and theft of faculty files.

This was 2000-2001. Rural campuses matter; if they get screwed so will the main campuses, to the loss of all of us.

Celia Harrison said...

I added a link to your post today to the post I made about Rick Steiner and Ivor van Heerden on 10/22.

Philip Munger said...

Thanks for the supportive comments and links.

I'll be writing about this more today.

Anonymous said...

Those who don't think that 'sustainability' is the most important aspect of continuing life on this ailing world, need to go find some other planet to ruin. Unfortunately big corporations fund colleges, and exposing the truth doesn't fit into that pesky capitalist notion of enriching those at the top of the corporate pyramid, even if it means destroying the planet...makes sense? just where are they planning to go to next I wonder?

Ashley Thorne said...

The National Association of Scholars has written about Steiner's situation at the University of Alaska here:

alaskapi said...

Actually Ms Thorne has written about Mr Steiner's situation...

It's a silly 2-dimensional obscurantic take on important issues ...
As is the rant about 'sustainability' folks... also under same byline...
How does a communications director get to call themselves the NSA?

Anonymous said...

was his iddy biddy widdle feelings hurt? aaaaahhhhhahahahahahwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Anonymous said...

Rick Stiener is a big baby! Quit whining we are sick of you.

Hank Kroll said...

I was born in Alaska, fished king crab 20-years, raised five kids and have 11 grandchildren.

The EXXON valdez spilled 22-million gallons not 11-million. I have the original tanker literage reports to prove it. I am trying to get a copy to Rick Steiner. Soes anybody know his address??
Send it to

The State took a 900-million dollar bribe to underestimate the EXXON valdez oil spill. There was a gaping 3-foot wide hole in the bottom of the ship. The tankers that came up alongside to remove the oil were pumping a lot of sea water along with the oil. When they unloaded the amount that they took to Honolulu and Anacortez, WA