Court Rules Case of Academic Freedom vs University Politics Can Move Forward

If you have ever believed that colleges and universities were all about academic freedom and the quest for knowledge, you’ve been wrong for centuries.  Ever since the time of Galileo, university politics has played a major role in the advancement and suppression of knowledge.

I know of a number of universities today that would boot your butt out the door quicker than Obama would head to the golf course or take another vacation, if you did anything to rock the politics of the school’s elite.  Many secular universities won’t grant a graduate degree in science to anyone who advocates a young-earth biblical creationist view.  In at least one case, a major university actually tried to rescind a Ph.D. degree that had been awarded to one man after they found out that he was a creationist.

University politics comes into play in other areas as well, as Professor James Enstrom will testify.  After 34 years of outstanding achievement, UCLA fired him and confiscated thousands of dollars from his research account because he stood for the truth and real science over politics and fake science.

It all started when the California Air Resources Board decided to target buses and trucks with diesel engines.  Based on a research paper by Dr. Hien T. Tran, there are nearly 2000 premature deaths each year attributed to particle emissions from diesel engines.  Dr. Enstrom conducted his own research, which at the time was the most detailed on the subject and he found that there was no evidence at all to support the claims of Dr. Tran.

Upon further investigation on Enstrom’s part, he discovered that Dr. Tran falsified his credentials.  He had claimed to have a Ph.D. from UC Davis, when in fact it was from an online diploma mill that granted the degree for a fee of $1,000.  Enstrom went to the CARB board with the information, showing that he not only falsified his credentials but that the science used in his report was false and inaccurate.  All the board did was suspend Tran two month’s pay.

Also during Enstrom’s investigation, he discovered that CARB board members only had limited terms of office, yet some had remained in their positions for over 20 years.  One of those guilty of this just happened to be the most powerful person in the same department at UCLA where Enstrom was employed.  After this was made known, Enstrom was informed that his position at UCLA had been terminated and that they no longer had the funding for him or his position.

Enstrom contacted the American Center for Law and Justice who filed a lawsuit on his behalf, claiming that he had been wrongfully fired under the Whistle Blower Act.

The importance of this case is not just about academic freedom and whistleblowing, but the livelihood of many thousands of Californians may also rest in the balance.  Based upon the false science in Tran’s report, CARB has imposed a number of regulations that could essential shut down thousands of businesses along with the transit system.  The results would be tens of thousands of people out of work and a shortage of many goods in stores throughout the state.

UCLA officials named in the lawsuit filed for a dismissal on all charges.  Last week, the US District Court Central District of California denied most of the requests for dismissal.  On those that were dismissed, the ruling stipulates that Enstrom may file a Third Amended Complaint within 14 days in which he can correct those areas that were dismissed.  On all of the other charges made against UCLA, the court ruled that Enstrom has provided sufficient evidence to warrant the case move ahead for trial.  This in itself is a victory for academic freedom.

The question then lies with whether or not anything can be done about the new regulations made by CARB.  Hopefully, someone will step forward to challenge the regulations since they were based on false and erroneous information while at the same time rejecting valid scientific evidence that undermines the need for the regulations.

The second case involving academic freedom involves Professor Mike Adams at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.  Adams is also a columnist.  When it came time for Adams’ promotion, he fully expected to be granted it based upon his performance record.  According to David French, the lead attorney for Adams and Dr. Enstrom:

“The university denied Adams’s promotion to full professor despite the fact that he was an award-winning teacher (often receiving the highest marks in the department), had more scholarly publications than the vast majority of his colleagues and more publications than his current and previous department chair at equivalent stages in their careers (indeed, no one with a similar publication record had ever been rejected for promotion), and had rendered service to the university sufficient to win one of the university’s most-coveted service awards.”

“As part of his promotion application, Adams submitted his peer-reviewed publications to satisfy the ‘research’ component of the promotion, also submitted a book that was a compilation of his essays, and noted that he performed ‘service’ to the university and community through his public speeches and columns. In response, his colleagues unleashed a torrent of bile (in writing) regarding the viewpoints in his columns while considering his promotion application. Additionally, the chancellor of the university herself had initiated a secret investigation of Adams for his alleged ‘transphobia.’ When explaining the promotion denial to Adams, his department chair indicated that one reason for the denial was that his colleagues found his ‘service’ had undefined ‘negative effects’ on members of the department.”

In 2009, the trial court dismissed Adams case claiming that his speeches and writings or were not constitutionally protected because they were work-related. However, the Fourth Circuit Court reversed that decision allowing the case to proceed. UNC-Wilmington appealed the fourth Circuit Court’s decision, moving the case before the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Southern Division. This court upheld the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court thus sending Adams’ case to trial later this year. As in the case with Dr. Enstrom, the District Court’s ruling is considered to be another victory for academic freedom along with the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In the words of attorney David French:

“In an academic community that supposedly prices dissent and free speech, intolerance for conservatives and conservative speech is often the rule, not the exception. I will note, however, that Enstrom’s treatment was so egregious that UCLA’s Academic Freedom Committee — hardly a bastion of conservatism — expressed unanimous concern about his treatment, and the First Amendment’s defenders are certainly not confined to the right side of the ideological aisle. The defense of free speech should (and, fortunately, often does) transcend ideological boundaries.”

Perhaps there is some hope for academic freedom and the First Amendment right to free speech after all.