April 2, 2011

MORE ON THAT UCLA WHISTLEBLOWER-FIRING SCANDAL:

On Thursday, I wrote about Dr. James Enstrom, an environmental sciences professor and researcher at UCLA who blew the whistle on a fraud at the California Air Resources Board. Enstrom started looking into what he thought was a less-than-rigorous study that attempted to link fine particulate emissions from diesel engines to 2,000 “premature deaths” in the state, and discovered that the lead author, “Dr.” Hien Tran, had received his diploma from Thornhill University instead of UC Davis, which Tran’s CV had claimed. The school colors of Thornhill University, as it turns out, are brown and brown — UPS brown, because the entire school fit into a mailbox in one of their stores. Tran, it turns out, bought his PhD from a diploma mill.

Enstrom blew the whistle on Tran, but Mary Nichols, chair of CARB and a UCLA law professor, hid the fraud from the board until after the regulations had been approved. Enstrom also pointed out that John Froines, another environmental sciences professor at UCLA, had served on the scientific advisory panel for far longer than the charter allowed, where members were supposed to serve for short periods of time to avoid dogmatic thinking. When the dust had settled, everyone kept their jobs — except for Enstrom, whom UCLA fired for a changing set of reasons.

Enstrom will meet with University of California chancellor Gene Block on Monday to start the appeal of his dismissal, but that may not be the last word. According to FIRE, which has come to Enstrom’s defense, twelve members of the state Assembly have warned Block that they will hold public hearings into the UC system’s handling of academic freedom if Enstrom’s termination is not rescinded.

As they should. A cynic might suggest, of course, that notions of academic freedom were developed in the first half of the 20th century largely in order to protect communists from being fired, and that since Enstrom isn’t a communist, academic freedom shouldn’t apply . . . .

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