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Farewell, Shale Institute: We Knew Thee Too Long and Too Well
by Buck Quigley
Satish K. Tripathi, president of the State University of New York at Buffalo, sent an email to all university employees Monday afternoon, announcing his decision to close the much-criticized Shale Resources and Society Institute at UB, less than eight months after its existence was revealed to the public in these pages.
Here’s Tripathi’s letter:
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 Shale Resources and Society Institute—or SRSI—became public on April 5, 2012, when it was first reported by Artvoice. Opposition to the institute grew after its first and only report was thoroughly debunked by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI). PAI’s critique was picked up by media outlets across the country, drawing increased scrutiny on a national scale. On top of this, a well-organized group of UB faculty, staff, students and concerned community members called the Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UB CLEAR) came together to keep the concern focused on academic integrity at UB.
Last week, PAI followed up with another report sent to SUNY Trustees, criticizing president Tripathi’s failure to disclose information pertaining to the founding and funding of SRSI. Over the weekend, an online petition calling for the closure of SRSI had collected over 10,000 signatures.
Now the institute—which was made up of individuals with ties to the natural gas industry, and whose only report was riddled with incorrect math—is no more.blog comments powered by Disqus
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