Monday, October 26, 2009

Re-Post from February 13, 2009 - My Open Letter to UA President Hamilton

[In the interest of providing additional information about the Prof. Rick Steiner case, while so many are paying attention to it, this might be a good time to re-post the first part of my open letter to General Hamilton, originally from February 13, 2009. Part of the reason it is germane is that the contention of NOAA and UA throughout has been that Steiner, through advocating ANY point of view, became an ADVOCATE. I walk Gen. Hamilton through the speciousness of that argument.]

Dear President Hamilton,

I'm writing an open letter to you based upon recent disturbing developments directly related to the public responsibilities of your office.

The Attempted Gagging of Prof. Rick Steiner

Regard[ing] 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.”

Update - 7:30 p.m: The Mudflats has posted an article on these same issues. The article includes Prof. Steiner's letter to the National Association of Scholars. The NAS web site published some very unprofessional, snarky material on the Steiner case a few days ago, in an article titled Sustainability Skepticism Has Arrived. Their site published Steiner's reply today, and promises that a reply to his reply will come out soon.


alaskapi said...

In view of Sea Grant's stated purpose and Mr Steiner's letter as quoted here I am at a loss to understand how he was supposed to have done something other than 'foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources. '

Philip Munger said...


You're right.

My view is that Prof. Steiner, by doing what he did at the conference salvaged the mission of NOAA from the Shell-run pirate crew that had hijacked the purpose of any NOAA involvement in the conference.