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UB Faculty and Staff Call For Transparency

Last Thursday, August 23, the UB Reporter website published an open letter to the UB administration, signed by 83 members of the faculty and staff at the state school, calling for university leaders to come clean about the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).

During the summer break, the institute was the subject of many local and national news stories that questioned its impartiality. From the faculty letter:

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.

In the week since the letter appeared, the closest thing to a response has come from the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Bruce Pitman—replying to Sara DiNatale, senior news rditor of the UB Spectrum. Pitman told DiNatale that there will be a response to the letter, but not yet. Pitman did not return our calls requesting clarification.

SRSI’s first report, “Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies,” appeared on May 12. A week later the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI), a local watchdog group, unmasked it as shoddy science authored by gas industry shills. The PAI report triggered the avalanche of bad press the UB institute is mired in today.

Artvoice sent a Freedom of Information Law request to UB Records Access Officer Brian T. Hines and UB President Satish Tripathi on July 12, requesting records pertaining to SRSI. Since then, we have received two replies from Hines’s secretary—each one putting off the release of any documents “because of the complexity and difficulty in retrieving the information requested, and the need to review the documents to determine the extent to which they must be disclosed.” They are also exploring ways the Personal Privacy Protection Law might be invoked to avoid the release of records. The next response from them is due September 13.

Meanwhile, a group of faculty, students, and alumni calling itself the Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UBCLEAR) has been meeting and collecting hundreds of signatures urging Jeremy M. Jacobs (chair of the UB council), John P. Martin (director of SRSI), Pitman, Satish Tripathi, and Charles Zukowski (UB provost and vice president for academic affairs) to suspend funding SRSI until documents are released, an independent investigation has been completed, and an open forum has been held to address myriad concerns.

For now, the only thing transparently obvious about SRSI is how the UB administration is twisting and turning like a sick child, afraid to take its medicine. Which is sad, because the remedy is nothing more than plain old sunshine.

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