This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.
Letters
Published: August 23, 2012

Transparency urged
for shale institute

An open letter to the UB administration:

On April 5, 2012, UB announced its creation of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, which will focus on natural gas extraction through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” This is a timely topic meriting serious study and debate.

But a number of questions have been raised about whether the institute was really intended to provide independent academic inquiry. The institute’s corporate appeal seeks over $1,000,000 in funding, announces the creation of a “corporate membership” category and offers “founding members” such “benefits” as privileged access to research and the power to “Participate on the Institute’s Advisory Board.” Its first, industry-friendly report, released only weeks after its founding, engendered an enthusiastic press release from UB containing, among other things, the false claim that the report was peer-reviewed. Since then, questions have been raised about the report’s unacknowledged duplication of material from an earlier publication, about the authors’ relationship to UB (none of the four co-authors is a full-time, regular UB faculty member) and about the report’s silence on the authors’ long-term connections to the oil and gas industry. Still other questions have been raised about whether the formation of the institute violates UB’s academic procedures for creating centers and institutes.

The controversy about the institute has received considerable media attention. It has generated an AP story, an article in the New York Times, two blog follow-ups in the Times, several statewide public radio interviews and coverage in local media. Although UB spokesmen have responded to criticism of the institute by saying that faculty enjoy the academic freedom to pursue research on any topic, this argument simply avoids the objections being raised. Nobody is trying to prevent scholars from publishing findings or pursuing the truth as they see it. But the troubling evidence about the founding of the institute, the solicitation of funding from an industry that has a huge financial stake in the outcome of any research, UB’s rush to publicize the institute’s first report and its misstatement that it was peer-reviewed—all this raises serious concerns not about individual academic freedom, but about the institutional independence of the university itself.

The stakes are considerable. Will cash-strapped public universities, eager to curry favor with potential corporate funders who may stand to gain from certain research, surrender their historic independence in return for possible corporate financial support? The dangers posed by corporate money to free, independent scholarly inquiry are discussed eloquently in an exhaustive recent report by the American Association of University Professors. If we at UB can have an open debate, based on the full disclosure of all the facts about the creation of the institute, we can contribute to a vital national discussion now under way about university-industry partnerships.

The controversy over the institute has tarnished UB’s hard-won reputation and credibility as a major research university. To prevent further damage and regain public trust, we must do the right thing and honor the highest value of academic life—open inquiry. We call on the UB administration, the UB Foundation, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Geology to make public all the documents they generated or received that bear upon the founding, funding, staffing, operation and governance of the institute. Only complete transparency can dispel the shadow now cast over UB—an institution for which we all have an abiding regard.

Letter composed by:
Jim Holstun, professor, English
Martha McCluskey, professor, Law
Steve Halpern, professor, Political Science

Letter endorsed by:
Adeline Levine, professor emerita, Sociology
Alan H. Lockwood, professor emeritus, Neurology and Nuclear Medicine
Alfred Price, professor, Urban Planning
Anna Kay France, professor emerita, Theater and Dance
Arthur Efron, professor emeritus, English
Brian Morse, instructional associate, Lockwood Library
Carrie Tirado Bramen, associate professor, English
Charles M. Lamb, professor, Political Science
Christopher V. Hollister, associate librarian
Daniel J. Kosman, UB and SUNY Distinguished Professor, Biochemistry
David Herzberg, associate professor, History
David Johnson, associate professor, Comparative Literature
David Shucard, professor, Neurology, Pediatrics and Psychology
Deborah Reed-Danahay, professor, Anthropology
Domenic J. Licata, instructional support technician, Visual Studies
Donald A. Grinde Jr., professor, American/Transnational Studies
Elizabeth Otto, associate professor, Visual Studies
Erik Seeman, professor, History
Frank Zagare, UB Distinguished Professor, Political Science.
Frederic Fleron, professor emeritus, Political Science
Frederick Stoss, associate librarian
Gail Radford, associate professor, History
Graham Hammill, professor, English
Hank Bromley, former associate professor, Educational Leadership and Policy
Harry Delano, Computer Science and Engineering, retired
Irving Massey, emeritus professor, English
Jack Quinan, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Visual Studies
Janet L. Shucard, clinical associate professor, Neurology
James B. Atleson, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus, Law
Jean Dickson, associate librarian emerita
Jeremy Bruenn, professor, Biological Sciences
Jim Lawler, professor, Philosophy
Joan Copjec, UB and SUNY Distinguished Professor, English and Comparative Literature
Joel S. Rose, software development manager, CIT, retired
John Dings, associate professor emeritus, English
John E. Roberts, associate professor, Psychology
John Ellison, associate professor emeritus, Library and Information Studies
Jonathan D. Katz, associate professor, Visual Studies
Jonathan Dewald, UB Distinguished Professor of History
Joseph Masling, professor emeritus, Psychology
Josephine Anstey, professor, Media Studies
June License, assistant to the chair, American Studies, retired
Kalliopi Nikolopoulou, associate professor, Comparative Literature
Ken Dauber, professor, English
Kristin Stapleton, associate professor, History
Leah Doherty, undergraduate academic adviser, Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences
Lorna Peterson, associate professor, Library and Information Studies
Lynn Mather, professor, Law and Political Science
Malcolm Slaughter, professor, Physiology and Biophysics
Marc Böhlen, associate professor, Media Study
Mark Gottdiener, professor, Sociology
Mark B. Kristal, professor, Psychology
Mary Bisson, professor, Biological Sciences
Michael Frisch, professor, American/Transnational Studies
Michael R. O’Brien, clinical instructor, Medicine
Millie Chen, professor, Visual Studies
Murray Brown, professor emeritus, Economics
Murray Levine, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Psychology
Paul Vanouse, professor, Visual Studies
Paul Zarembka, professor, Economics
Peter Horvath, associate professor, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
Rachel Ablow, associate professor, English
Reinhard Reitzenstein, associate professor, Visual Studies
Roger DesForges, professor, History
Ruth Mack, associate professor, English
Ruth Meyerowitz, associate professor emerita, Transnational Studies
Sandra Q. Firmin, curator, UB Art Galleries
Scott Meier, professor, Counseling, School & Educational Psychology
Stefan Fleischer, associate professor emeritus, English
Steve Kurtz, professor, Visual Studies
Susan Cahn, professor, History
Susan S. Baker, professor, Pediatrics,
Susan Udin, professor, Physiology and Biophysics
Suzanne Hildenbrand, professor emerita, Library and Information Studies
Tamara Plakins Thornton, professor, History
Tim Dean, professor, English
Vesna Danilovic, associate professor, Political Science
Victoria Wolcott, associate professor, History
William Scheider, research assistant professor, Social and Preventive Medicine
Y. Lulat, associate professor, Transnational Studies

Reader Comments

Shonnie Finnegan says:

I would also like to support the open letter to the UB administration composed by Jim Holstun et al requesting full disclosure of the facts surrounding the formation of the Shale Institute, its funding, and the dubious report which proved not to be independent and peer- reviewed as initially claimed. It seems to me to be a travesty of UB's long and honorable record of academic freedom to assert such protection for research and publication if it is principally influenced by partisan and commercial interests.

Posted by Shonnie Finnegan, University Archivist Emerita, 09/30/12

Traver Detras says:

Totally appalling report, so transparently influenced by industry interests. Comforting however, to see the faculty unite against it. Please undo this wrong, UB.

Posted by Traver Detras, Freshman Student -Environmental Geosciences, 08/31/12

Daniel Schweitzer says:

Especially in reference to the recent response by UB Administration, it seems appropriate to recall Yevgeny Yevtushenko's words: “When truth is replaced by silence,the silence is a lie.”

Posted by Daniel Schweitzer, Student, 08/31/12

Jim Holstun says:

Two more stories partly on this story:

DiNatale, Sara. “Campus responds to disputed fracking claims.” UB Spectrum 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Aug. 2012. http://www.ubspectrum.com/news/campus-responds-to-disputed-fracking-claims-1.2888498#.UD32_aPF98E

Robison, Daniel. “Controversy still simmers over SUNY Buffalo Shale Institute.” WBFO/WNED. 30 August 2012. http://news.wbfo.org/post/controversy-still-simmers-over-suny-buffalo-shale-institute?ft=1&f

Posted by Jim Holstun, Professor of English, 08/30/12

David Gerber says:

I am sorry to see my name was omitted from the list of signatories of this letter. I was under the impression that I had signed it. Under any circumstance, I am pleased to have the opportunity to become the 84th signer, especially after reading the inadequate recent effort to defend the circumstances of the creation of this institute that appeared in The Spectrum on Thursday, August 30th .

Posted by David Gerber, University at Bufalo Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, 08/29/12

Jim Holstun says:

Bloomberg News has published the following news story about the open letter: Efstathiou, Jim, Jr. “Fracking Institute’s Independence Questioned by SUNY Professors.” Bloomberg News 27 August 2012. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-27/faculty-question-suny-buffalo-about-fracking-institute.html>.

Posted by Jim Holstun, Professor of English, 08/27/12

Adam Drury says:

It is remarkable (or is it ironic?) that this letter appears in the same issue of the Reporter that features the article, "UB adopting tighter PHS conflict-of-interest policy for researchers". Citing Mr. Leonard: "There have been a number of high-profile instances at other universities in which there have been appearances of conflicts of interest and these have created a perception that scientists can’t be trusted,” he says. “That [conclusion] is untrue and unfortunate.” Might Mr. Leonard revise his statement upon viewing the 83 signatures gathered here? As long as the UB admin. refuses to comply with this absolutely legitimate call for transparency and disclosure, I see no reason at all to trust SRSI's "scientists".

Posted by Adam Drury, Student, 08/25/12

Jim Holstun says:

For a timely related story, see the following in this issue of THE REPORTER

UB ADOPTING TIGHTER PHS CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST POLICY FOR RESEARCHERS “There have been several examples within the past five years of prominent researchers at major universities who either FAILED TO DISCLOSE THEIR FINANCIAL INTERESTS or underrepresented their income from other sources. . . . ‘There have been a number of high-profile instances AT OTHER UNIVERSITIES in which there have been appearances of conflicts of interest and these have created a perception that scientists can’t be trusted.’” (emphasis added; http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/2012_08_23/phs_guidelines)

Posted by Jim Holstun, Professor of English, 08/25/12

Daniel Schweitzer says:

Given the number of faculty who have signed this, does anyone know of a legitimate reason why the administration would refuse to give an honest answer?

Posted by Daniel Schweitzer, Student, 08/23/12