Thursday, June 15, 2006

Don't think academic tenure is important? Someday your life may depend on it. | Opinion | Our Views: Do not silence scholars at LSU:
"Universities should be devoted to the free exchange of ideas, even — and especially — when those ideas stir debate.

With that in mind, we don’t think that LSU administrators should be in the business of managing what scholars on campus have to say about matters of public policy.

But that’s what seems to have happened in the case of Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of LSU’s Hurricane Center, which studies the effects of powerful storms on communities such as those buffeted by Hurricane Katrina.

Van Heerden’s specialty is environmental management, and long before Katrina, he warned about what a big hurricane might do to Louisiana’s compromised coastline and communities farther inland. In the wake of last year’s storms, van Heerden became a media darling. That led to his new book, co-authored with professional writer Mike Bryan, called “The Storm: What Went Wrong During Hurricane Katrina — The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist.” It recently was published by Viking and promises to get van Heerden even more national attention.

His conclusion, that the federal government is largely to blame for the failure of New Orleans area levees, is shared by a lot of people, experts and nonexperts alike.

Even so, some at LSU were not happy with van Heerden’s frank opinions. He recently told The New York Times that in November, Michael Ruffner, a vice chancellor over LSU’s external affairs, and Harold Silverman, a vice chancellor who oversees the university’s Office of Research, brought him in for a meeting. Van Heerden said it was suggested that he not talk to the press because it could hurt LSU’s chances of getting federal funding. Van Heerden told The Times that he was told to channel interview requests through LSU’s media relations department instead. University officials later dropped the requirement, The Times said.

Van Heerden said he considered the whole affair a threat to his job at LSU where his position doesn't have enure."
There's the whole argument in a nutshell. Tenure protects unpopular opinions. In this case, it's a matter of life and death.

The TP has a very good profile of van Heerden here. Really an interesting man.

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