SUNY releases Shale Institute’s report
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
On Friday, SUNY released the report UB sent to the SUNY Board of Trustees regarding the founding and operation of the controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).
On Sept. 12, the SUNY Board of Trustees passed a resolution to investigate the heavily contested institute. UB was required to send the trustees a full report. That report is now public. The report was delivered to the Trustees on Sept. 27.
“The Board reserves comment at this time as it continues to review and analyze the Shale Institute report. The Board may discuss further responses or related actions at a future public meeting,” according to the official statement released by SUNY through its Director of Communications David Doyle.
The report notes the College of Arts and Sciences has been the only source of funding to the institute, again reiterating the institute has received no industry funding.
The $177,442 in annual funding for the institute through the College of Arts and Sciences comes from the UB Foundation, which handles all donations made to the university. Where the money came from before going through the foundation is not specified within the report.
“President Tripathi continues to ignore seriously and repeatedly raised questions about the corruption of UB by corporate money,” said James Holstun, English professor and founding member of the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UBCLEAR), in an email.
He questions if the university is “using the UB Foundation to launder oil and gas company contributions to the Institute.”
University officials continue to emphasize no industry funding has gone into the institute, but they expect the institute to generate support for research through grants, philanthropy and industry.
In the Oct. 2 Faculty Senate meeting, Senate Chair Ezra Zubrow said he was organizing a public debate with members of UBCLEAR and members of SRSI. While UBCLEAR was considering the invitation, members now feel “a debate would be beside the point” because the trustees’ ongoing review, Holstun said.
Much of the UB report echoes comments made by Provost Charles Zukoski in the last Faculty Senate and UB Council meetings earlier this month. Especially SRSI’s first report – the start to all the controversy – followed all the university’s ethics and conflict policies.
Holstun doesn’t think SRSI’s report is accurate.
He agrees with the counter report, by a public watchdog group, issued in May against SRSI by Public Action Initiative – a public watchdog group – which states SRSI’s calculations are inaccurate. He believes the data shows major environmental events per drill didn’t decline like the SRSI report states, but its data shows they increased.
SRSI stands by the calculations, and the UB report states the “relevant scientific community” has raised no concerns.
UB’s report notes there were two inaccuracies in the SRSI report, but it states the two editorial errors were corrected and don’t affect the overall accuracy of the report.
“[President Tripathi] has joined Provost Zukoski and Arts and Sciences Dean Pitman in standing behind the fundamental and elementary mathematical errors that undermine the Shale Institute’s first report,” Holstun said.
In a UB press release, Zukoski said it is not the role of the university or the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty researchers. He continues to defend the institute with academic freedom – something Holstun feels the institute’s critics never threatened.
“Faculty sometimes undertake research in areas that are the subject of significant public debate, which is the case with regard to the Shale Institute,” Zukoski said. “These activities are supported on the basis of academic freedom and as an essential part of the research mission of our university.”
Holstun said people have their right to their own opinions but not their own facts.
“And if the UB administration is willing to mislead the people of New York State when the facts are ready [at] hand, why should we trust their many unsubstantiated claims?” Holstun said.
The SUNY Board of Trustees’ next meeting is Oct. 26.