Is the University of Virginia biased against professors that challenge the idea of global warming?

Amanda Carey Contributor
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For months, the University of Virginia has been involved in a legal battle with state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli over an investigation into government grants given to a university professor who allegedly used the money to falsify research supporting climate change. Now, some are also accusing the university of treating a professor whose views do not exactly accept the mainstream view of man-made global warming unfavorably.

At issue are the documents and research materials of two former university professors: Pat Michaels and Michael Mann. The university received Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for research materials from both professors, but its response to the respective requests has left some accusing the school of bias.

When Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall submitted a request for the research materials of Mann, he was told by university officials that the documents had been destroyed because the professor was no longer an employee.

When Greenpeace, a national environmental advocacy organization, requested the same materials for Michaels, university officials promptly began the process of complying with the FOIA and told the organization how much the fee would be.

But in an interview with The Daily Caller, Michaels said that when he found out about the disparate treatment, he called the school but it “became pretty obvious they did not want to talk to me.”

Michaels and Mann were both employed by the environmental sciences department, both did extensive research in the climatology field, and both left the university within just a couple years of each other.

Mann’s research focused on analyzing global temperature trends. His work ultimately resulted in what became known worldwide as the “hockey stick” – a graph that showed a sharp uptick in global temperatures in the 20th century. The graph became an important article of evidence buttressing the global warming theory.

Its validity, however, was called into question during the “Climategate” scandal of 2009 when some of Mann’s e-mails were leaked to the press. The most damaging showed him conspiring with Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia, to delete files that had been requested under a Freedom of Information Act request concerning a U.N. climate change report.

Other e-mails showed Mann planning to blacklist scientific journals that challenged the idea of man-made global warming and keep similar reviews and papers from being published altogether.

Michaels, conversely, is a global warming skeptic and one of the most notable scientists challenging the global warming theory. It’s not something he hides either. His latest books is titled, “Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.”

The Climategate scandal opened Mann up to numerous investigations, which is why it was no surprise that Marshall became concerned about the use of taxpayer money to support Mann’s work and requested the relevant research materials from the university in December 2009.

“They said they had no documents at all,” Marshall told TheDC about his FOIA request. “But they did have Michael Mann’s, they just didn’t want to tell me.”

It was only after Cuccinelli got involved and university officials were compelled to testify under oath that it was revealed the school did indeed possess Mann’s materials.

Then Marshall tried again, only to be met with a massive fee.

“Once U.Va no longer said they didn’t have Mann’s records, it would cost him [Marshall] $8,300 to look because, gee, their recordkeeping is just so all over the place,” Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told TheDC.

“U.VA’s conflicted history is one of saying okay to politically sympathetic types, and no to others,” added Horner.

But this latest example in the wake of Climategate isn’t the only time the University of Virginia has so overtly politicized what should be an apolitical academic community.

Michael Garstang, a research professor in the school’s Department of Environmental Sciences who worked with both Michaels and Mann, told TheDC that disparate treatment is commonplace at the university.

“It was totally disparate treatment of Michaels versus Michael Mann,” said Garstang. “Both were a clear case of academic freedom. Both individuals had legitimate and credible research, but there was absolutely no support or cries of foul in the case of Michaels.”

But according to Garstang, it’s not just the provocative Pat Michaels who received questionable treatment. “There’s little or no support given to those who do legitimate research who support ideas against liberal opinion of [global warming],” he said.

When asked about Mann specifically, Garstang told TheDC the university was unusually quiet when Climategate broke.

“At no point and nowhere did the university or faculty rise up and express their displeasure or alarm or any other adverse view on that kind of behavior,” said Garstang. “There was just silence.”

He went on to say, “In the case of Michaels, it was never asked, ‘how legitimate is his work?’ And that’s really the only big question – is he doing legitimate science or is he not? And the answer is yes he is.”

But the hostility toward Michaels in particular was evidenced even back to 2007 when, according to Michaels, some colleagues were opposed to renewing his contract. Their reasoning was because in a newly published book, Michaels wrote a chapter arguing that professor tenure was one of the reasons universities held on to paradigms in science long after they should have been abandoned.

A spokesperson for Cuccinelli’s office, which became involved after Marshall’s initial request to obtain Mann’s government-funded research, told TheDC he could not comment on the investigation or the FOIA requests.

And after responding initially, Elisabeth Wilkerson, a university official involved with the FOIA requests, ultimately did not reply to questions submitted by TheDC through e-mail.

As for what happens next, it’s hard to say. Greenpeace put their FOIA request on hold, presumably to soften the attacks against the university for biased treatment. And Marshall has refused to pay the $8,300 fee to carry out his FOIA. It is now up to Cuccinelli to ensure the university eventually complies with the FOIA requests.