AAUP and ACLU Ask UVA to Resist AG's Attempt to Subpoena Records of Climate Science Professor

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
May 6, 2010 12:00 am

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Groups say academic freedom will be chilled if school doesn’t stand up for teachers

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Charlottesville, VA — The American Association of University Professors and the ACLU of Virginia have asked the University of Virginia to fight demands from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for documents related to the research of a global warming expert once employed by the school.

According to news reports, Cuccinelli believes that former UVA professor Michael Mann may have violated the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act when seeking state funding for his research. Mann, now employed by Penn State University, used his research at UVA to assert a scientific basis for global warming.

Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors, said, “The breadth of Attorney General Cuccinelli’s request suggests that it is meant to intimidate faculty members and discourage them from pursuing politically controversial work; it’s a shot across the bow to all public universities in Virginia. Cuccinelli’s injection of politics into the academic arena is profoundly counter not only to the interests of scholars in climate science but to the interests of the state’s flagship institution in academic excellence and dispassionate inquiry and to the public interest as a whole in vigorous debate.”

“If the Attorney General is merely trying to discredit a scientist with whom he disagrees on climate change, that’s a shameful abuse of his office and a real threat to academic freedom in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.

“But even if the Attorney General’s concerns about fraud are sincere, the University should still ask a judge to determine which, if any, of the documents must be turned over,” added Willis. “To simply roll over whenever an AG demands information sets a bad precedent that could chill university-based scientific inquiry of any kind in Virginia now and in the future.”

While the Attorney General may seek records through a “civil investigative demand” when he has reason to believe that fraud against the state has been committed, Virginia law also gives the University the right to petition the circuit court to modify or set aside the demand.

In their letter to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, AAUP General Counsel Martha S. West and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg write:

The nature of scientific research is to generate debate both within and without the scientific community. Scientists within a field frequently disagree about methodological questions such as how data should be collected, which data are relevant, and how data should be analyzed and interpreted. If scientists refrain from novel methodological approaches because they may be characterized as “fraudulent,” then scientific research, and, by extension, society as a whole, will be the loser.

A copy of the letter can be found online at: acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/20100506ACLUAAUPUVALtr.pdf

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