Monday, November 19, 2012

UB Shut Down the Industry-Biased Shale Institute

By David Kowalski, UB CLEAR ~

On October 28, the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, UB CLEAR, sent the SUNY Trustees a comprehensive document detailing the many mis-steps made by the Shale Resources and Society Institute (a.k.a. Shale Institute) and the refusal of the UB Administration to recognize those mis-steps. The document urged the Trustees to close the Shale Institute.

Two letters to the editor were published by UB CLEAR members recently in the University at Buffalo newspaper, the UB Reporter. One on October 25 is entitled "Research integrity compromised in shale institute study" by David Kowalski and another on November 8 is called "Publicize shale documents" by Jim Holstun. 

On November 5, visiting Professor Cary Nelson lectured at UB on academic-industry relationships and didn't mince his words. In reference to the Shale Institute's first report, he said "I don't think that the Administrative defense of the report has been, by any means, proper or appropriate." 

On November 14, the Public Accountability Initiative informed the SUNY Trustees about a number of important omissions and obfuscations in the UB Administration's report on the Shale Institute in a detailed report with attached documents. “UB administrators have not been transparent with the public or with the UB community throughout this ordeal, and now they are not being transparent with SUNY trustees,” said Kevin Connor, PAI’s director.

On November 15, a UB CLEAR petition urging the SUNY Trustees to shut down the UB Shale Institute was launched through CREDO. It rapidly accumulated over 10,000 signatures!

Today, we at UB CLEAR were pleasantly surprised to learn that UB decided to shut down the Shale Institute!  

The Shale Institute website has been shut down, but the link to the controversial first report by the Institute is still active.

The UB press release is below.

UB Closes Shale Resources and Society Institute 

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a letter to the campus community, University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi today announced his decision to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute, effective immediately.

The decision follows an internal assessment of the institute by Tripathi, Provost Charles Zukoski and E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The university will continue to pursue research in the area of energy and the environment, leveraging faculty expertise across the university, but it will focus its research more broadly to establish "a comprehensive program of scholarship and education with appropriate breadth and complexity," Tripathi said.

Tripathi noted that UB's policies for disclosure of significant financial interests and sources of support are strong and consistent with federal guidelines. To further clarify UB's policies, the university has established a committee with participation of its Faculty Senate.

The full text of UB President Tripathi's letter is below:

Dear University Community:

Issues related to energy and the environment represent a critical, broadly defined area of inquiry in the 21st century, one of tremendous and growing scientific, social, and economic importance. There is therefore a vital need for the highest quality of research, scholarship, and educational initiatives in these areas.

Given our geographic situation as well as our extensive faculty expertise in issues related to energy, water, and the environment, the University at Buffalo is positioned to play a leading research role in these areas. Understanding and addressing these issues effectively therefore requires a program of sufficient scale to encompass the scope and complexities of this topic.

To fulfill UB's mission of academic excellence, it is imperative that our research is of appropriate scope, and that it has strong faculty presence. Moreover, conducting research that has such profound environmental, societal, public health, and economic implications requires that we adhere to the utmost standards of academic integrity and transparency. It must be remembered that the issues associated with natural gas production from shale are broad and complex, with extensive public implications. It is with these considerations in mind that we must assess the mission and practices of the Shale Resources and Society Institute.

After consultation with faculty and our academic administration, Provost Zukoski, Dean Pitman and I concur that:
-- Research of such considerable societal importance and impact cannot be effectively conducted with a cloud of uncertainty over its work.
-- While UB's policies that govern disclosure of significant financial interests and sources of support are strong and consistent with federal guidelines, these policies are in need of further clarification and because of this lack of clarity were inconsistently applied. (To remedy this, UB has established a committee with participation of the faculty senate with the goal of developing recommendations to strengthen and clarify our policies in these areas.)
-- The institute lacks sufficient faculty presence in fields associated with energy production from shale for the institute to meet its stated mission.
-- Conflicts-both actual and perceived- can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute's research.

The university upholds academic freedom as a core principle of our institutional mission. With that being said, academic freedom carries with it inherent responsibilities. The Shale Resources and Society Institute's May 15, 2012, report, "Environmental Impacts during Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies," led to allegations questioning whether historical financial interests influenced the authors' conclusions. The fundamental source of controversy revolves around clarity and substantiation of conclusions. Every faculty member has a responsibility to ensure that conclusions in technical reports or papers are unambiguous and supported by the presented data. It is imperative that our faculty members adhere to rigorous standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency, and the highest ethical conduct in their work.

Because of these collective concerns, I have decided to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute.

To leverage our university's considerable faculty expertise in the area of energy and the environment and to address these issues with appropriate breadth and complexity, UB will establish a comprehensive program of scholarship and education that addresses issues in this broadly defined area of research. Accordingly, I have asked Provost Zukoski to work with academic deans, the vice president for research and economic development, and the faculty researchers across the disciplines who have expertise in this broad field to create a faculty-driven process that provides appropriate scope and scale for UB's scholarship in energy and environmental sciences.

As a leading research university with a long history of leadership in sustainability, water, and energy-related issues, the University at Buffalo has the potential to be a leading voice in this national and global conversation. Across the disciplines, we have a number of faculty experts who are conducting vital research in these areas. We need to bring these faculty together and harness their intellectual energy in order to address these issues in an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and focused way. UB can be a key institutional leader in this critical field of energy and the environment. To do so, we need to be deliberate and thoughtful, with an eye toward the long-range implications of this research, which has tremendous local, national, and global impact.


Satish K. Tripathi

The above letter is entitled simply "A Letter from UB President Satish K. Tripathi" on the UB website. 

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