Wednesday, September 08, 2010

On Enstrom Firing, FIRE Asks UCLA: How Can It Be that Environmental Health Research Falls Outside the Mission of the Environmental Health Department?

In a September 2 press release, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has questioned the academic freedom and scientific integrity at the UCLA School of Public Health, in particular, in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, asking how the Department could possibly have voted to terminate Dr. Enstrom's long-standing employment at UCLA on the basis that environmental health research falls outside the mission of the environmental health sciences department.

In the press release, FIRE writes: "The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has temporarily halted its violations of the free expression rights of an environmental health sciences professor. The faculty of Dr. James Enstrom's department refused to reappoint him after Enstrom had engaged in successful whistleblowing against a member of the departmentand after many years of disagreement between Enstrom and some of his colleagues over research on air pollution. After UCLA told Enstrom he was being let go because his controversial research failed to accord with the department's "mission," Enstrom turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help."

"For now, UCLA has granted Dr. Enstrom an eight-month reprieve while he seeks justice in his case," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "But UCLA still has a lot of explaining to do. How is it possible that environmental health research is outside the mission of the Environmental Health Sciences department?"

"Enstrom has worked at UCLA as a researcher and professor since 1976, being rehired consistently each year. Since 2004, he has been rehired in UCLA's Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS). Over the years, he and a few of his colleagues have sometimes disagreed strongly about research on environmental health issuesfor example, on the extent of the threat to public health posed by certain air pollutants, a topic of Enstrom's research which has been the subject of intense debate in California. Enstrom also was a successful whistleblower whose activism led to fellow EHS faculty member John Froines being replaced on a panel for the California Air Resources Board. Several members of the panel had been serving beyond the three-year legal limit on their terms of office, and Enstrom's whistleblowing provided part of the grounds for a lawsuit on the issue." ...

On June 9, 2010, however, Enstrom learned of further retaliation after the EHS faculty (including Froines) voted not to rehire him because "your research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department." ... "Because of Enstrom's research and his activism against prominent advocates of stricter environmental regulations in California, UCLA seemingly has decided to silence him any way it can," said Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program. "Had he kept his mouth shut, it appears that Enstrom would have had none of these problems."

FIRE also sent a letter to the UCLA chancellor expressing its concern about threats to freedom of speech, academic freedom, and due process posed by the non-reappointment of Dr. Enstrom on the grounds of his research not being aligned with the department's mission, even though it is environmental health research. FIRE writes that "all signs are that UCLA would not have made its non-rehire decision but for the apparent animus felt by many of his peers as a result of Enstrom's research and his whistleblowing-all instances of protected speech. As a public university, UCLA is both legally and morally bound by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of expression and academic freedom."

The Rest of the Story

I reiterate that the issue with Dr. Enstrom's non-reappointment is not the fact of his not being reappointed, but the faulty reasoning provided. His research on environmental health effects of fine particulate matter clearly fits into a department whose mission is to examine the health effects of environmental pollutants and whose research includes many studies of the effects of fine particulates on human health. Therefore, the only way to reconcile the stated reason for Dr. Enstrom's termination with the facts is to interpret the Department as viewing the findings, rather than the substance, of Dr. Enstrom's research as not aligning with the Department's mission. This is troublesome, as it threatens both academic freedom and scientific integrity.

No comments: