Now in its second decade, the Inuvik Petroleum Show or Inuvik, Church, NWT, Inuvik Petroleum Show, Photo by Dave Harbour“IPS” takes place every June in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.  Host to over 500 participants including delegates and exhibitors from across Canada and beyond , this three day tradeshow and conference is a must-attend event for the oil and gas sector.  (NGP Photo: author chaired 2002 oil & gas presentation.  Don't miss local restaurant specialties, surf and turf: musk ox and char!  The nighttime sing-alongs in lounges and friendly locals will make the trip memorable!)

North Slope Borough Charlotte Brower, North Slope Borough Mayor, ConocoPhillips, MOU, Emergency Responseand ConocoPhillips develop Alaska North Slope emergency response transportation process to safeguard village residents.  (Photo: NSB Mayor, Charlotte Brower)

Supporting Both Academic Freedom and The Right to Criticize Academic Activists

An Essay


Dave Harbour

Last Thursday, Brian Rogers, University of Alaska, Coal fired power, professors watershed assessment, epa, photo by Dave HarbourUniversity of Alaska – Fairbanks (UAF) Chancellor Brian Rogers (NGP Photo) addressed members of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance in Anchorage on the subject of the University's Fairbanks coal fired power plant.  (We have an interesting personal story to tell here for readers who may be interested.)

Following the presentation, a member asked Rogers about the policy of professors signing a controversial letter/petition "applauding" the EPA's assessment of a proposed Pebble mine project (here) — while identifying themselves with the University (For those interested, we explain the controversy here).  Rogers said that of the many who claimed a University of Alaska relationship, less than half were actual university professors.  The rest had honorary titles or persons who might have taught a class one time and one signer who was not affiliated with the University at all.

We have written extensively on the subject of the Pebble project's constitutional right to file for permits to operate on state leased lands–and the catastrophic effect on the public interest were activist organizations and federal agencies to preempt that project before it is availed the guaranteed right of due process.  We think the rule of law evaporates if due process can be denied in this case and that determined activism will have precedent for stopping all natural resource, construction, agricultural, industrial, or housing projects anywhere in America.  We also believe the EPA, with support from its supporters, has attacked the Constitution and Sovereignty of the State of Alaska by denying due process to a project lawfully granted leases on Alaska state lands.  And, we think that a citizen can personally oppose the Pebble project for any reason but strongly support our call to protect "due process".  

Underlying Principles:  

  1. Integrity.  Having served as a university vice president, a high school and university English teacher; a regulatory commission chairman; a spokesman for oil, gas, mining and pipeline companies; an Army officer and a Washington Post newspaper delivery boy, I would never have thought of hiding behind some supposed, "Free Speech" defense while trumpeting a political viewpoint and pretending to represent my employer.  Professors, like others, who use their official affiliations to give credence to their personal, political convictions have deviated from science and fact into the world of politics–at the expense of their own reputations and that of the institution(s) they presume to represent.  On the other hand, we respect the integrity of some signers of the attached letter who represented themselves as retired or who did not otherwise use current state or university titles to enhance the impact of their petition signature.  While we may oppose their politics, we do not criticize those who exercised their freedom of speech to sign the political petition–only those who seek to enhance their importance at the expense of their claimed affiliation.  (I have to insert that it seems really amazing how some Academics can so blithely create a double standard.  When one of them publishes a research paper, the "Academy" is expected to "peer review" it, to vigorously test it for scientific validity.  But when a politician writes a letter on an environmental subject, a professor who works every day demanding peer review of scientific methodology, doesn't hesitate to sign his or her name … even while invoking the unapproved use of his institution's name … even when he or she has a degree totally unrelated to the letter/petition subject … and even when he or she has not necessarily ever studied the topic in greater detail than skimming the contents of the biased letter/petition.  In my farewell remarks before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, I identified this same difficulty with other 'professionals', like regulators.)
  2. What's a governor to do?  Some suggest that university systems throughout the country are heavily influenced by leftist professors.  In fairness, others deny the allegation.  In any case, one observes that money motivates much human action, including the actions of professors.  Accordingly, one almost always finds it useful to "follow the money".  If, as UAF professors have testified, Alaska Arctic OCS oil, gas and other human development should be suspended for a decade or so, until they get funding to complete a base line inventory of Arctic coastal and ocean ecology, one sees at least one motivation for professorial researchers who oppose development.  It takes a great deal of money to prove or disprove the thesis that development should be permitted.  One can, therefore, sympathize with excellent university leaders going back to Dr. William Wood, and more recently, Brian Rogers, Generals Mark Hamilton and Tom Case and Pat Gamble.  How do they keep peace in the academic family and run an institution by taking a stand against activist professors who advocate under cover of university titles — and who, presumably, are inculcating their own version of "Science" to impressionable students?  Furthermore, the University of Alaska some years has leveraged about $6 in research grants from outside sources for every $1 of Alaska budget contributions.  This has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to the Alaska university systems and those benefiting from them.  This gives incentive to professors to support federal government and private granting agencies politically.  It gives perverse incentives to administrators to support professors who bring home the grant bacon.  In turn, Legislators' constituents and campaigns are partly funded by such activity.  And, what's a Governor to do?
  3. What we can do?  We note that several of the letter/petition signers profess to represent Alaska's private university, Alaska Pacific University (APU).  APU thrives on private contributions, particularly those originating from natural resource extractive industries and those affiliated or doing business with them.  We note that if University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University professor advocates named in the letter/petition got their way, there would be no money in Alaska to support either a public or a private university.  Therefore, truly, we also observe that while we do not oppose a professor's right to speak against Alaska's economic survival, we do not have to pay for his or her right to do so.   What can we do?  We can tell the public and private institutions when they come calling for donations that we do not support their anti-development activist professors whether they officially or unofficially represent the institution.  We can say, "Not this year".  We can suggest to Legislators and the Governor when university lobbyists go to Juneau that we do not want to give them funding for research that produces armies of Academics intent on destroying the economy.  We can say, "Not this year".  Lastly, we can be a little more courageous about telling it like it is.  All of us have the freedom of speech.  If someone or some institution is contributing to the economic death of Alaska, each one of us has the right if not the responsibility to object.   Right?


Personal comment: During the Great Eastern Blackout of 2003 your author was taking courses at the University of Michigan in Lansing NARUC BOOT CAMP, LANSING, UTILITY, PIPELINE, REGULATION, 2003, EASTERN BLACKOUT, PHOTO BY DAVE HARBOURon principles of utility and pipeline, economics and regulation.  On the late afternoon of August 14, classmates (NGP Photo, 8-8-03) were walking from the parking garage to our graduation dinner/ceremony when the lights all over town began going dark as the sun began to recede.  Everywhere … except where we were, in the middle of the University Campus.  Ironically, a day or two earlier, campus guides had taken us on a University tour, including a detailed briefing of the University's coal fired power plant.  The University was quite comfortable with having this facility on campus because as our guide said, "we can use the grid in an emergency, but if the grid has an emergency, we remain independently powered."  So on the related question of whether or not the University of Alaska should maintain an ageing coal fired powered plant on its far north Fairbanks campus, we would say: "the rationale for doing so is compelling, especially in view of the fact that the Campus is close to a nearly infinite supply of coal!"    -dh

Q.  Why is it so controversial for University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University Professors to 1) sign this attached letter/petition, and 2) to do so while using their own university titles, presumably without permission from their universities to do so?

A.  The letter/petition is controversial because professors advocating the EPA position are supporting a major violation of the American Constitution and of the rule of law; because they are doing so with the presumed support of the institution whose name they boldly use without approval; and, as Alaska educational service providers, the unlawful practice they condone erodes the economy of Alaska upon which their own and other great and small institutions and enterprises survive.

As we have explained, we support the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.  We further support the freedom of all citizens, including professors, to 'petition their government'.  We also agree that, citizens have the right to personally support and/or express opinions for or against projects, such as the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwestern Alaska.  

However, we also embrace other, traditional principles:

  • When an institution depending on public financing, permits activities designed to harm the public, the public has the freedom to withdraw financing of that institution.
  • When employees act against the interests of the employer or taxpayers, they may be censured or dismissed if they use unapproved titles, resources, time and affiliations of the employer.
  • When America's rule of law is threatened, all Americans are threatened and those threatening it, even while engaged in the act of speaking freely are subject to criticism and censure.
  • With freedom comes responsibility.
  • Those endangering the public interest must be willing to accept responsibility for loss of public support.

Note:  Some of Alaska's most influential leaders whose businesses and eleemosynary activity would be harmed by liberal and/or misguided professorial activism serve on the Alaska Pacific University Board of Trustees and the University of Alaska Board of Regents.   We sympathize with these public spirited, well intended citizens — many of whom are dear and respected friends — who also face difficult challenges when overseeing the policies of their institutions. 

From Dave Harbour's farewell comments at Regulatory Commission of Alaska public meeting, 3-3-08.

"I will observe a caution that I have for my colleagues regarding NARUC and urge them to watch the organization closely.  Look, the job of regulatory commissioners is to carefully adjudicate proceedings based on a legal record with an absence of tainting, tarnish, bias.  But somehow, when finding themselves in a public setting like a national organization, commissioners are sometimes led or tempted by a siren call of some group of Commissioners that wants the rest to take political positions based, not on a record, but on the emotional issue du jour.  And that is inappropriate in my view.  NARUC–just like a local Commission–ought to be taking positions based on a record even though it is a modified record."