Let’s talk about the direction of the University of Wyoming
Guest column by Peter Shive
University of Wyoming professor emeritus
— March 20, 2014
The Coal Lobby won the first round, big time. They clobbered “Carbon Sink.” Reverberations of legislative anger are still echoing around here, as our trustees and university administrators move steadily to implement the changes that the lobby and the legislators want, and faculty members wait for the next shoe to drop.
But the Coal Lobby made some mistakes. First, they picked the wrong target. It was virtually impossible to imagine that “Carbon Sink” was a slam against the coal industry, until after it was removed. By connecting the dots for everyone, the Coal Lobby made “Carbon Sink” a far more potent symbol censored than it ever would have been if they had just left it in the ground. Secondly, their attack was so overwrought, so filled with paranoia and hysteria, that it is easy now to recognize their tactics. Finally, the target they did choose reminds us of the targets they could have chosen, and thus will be next in line. And that is the really scary part.
I’m sure that there are plenty of courses around here in which students can learn about the wonders of coal. But, assuming that we are doing our jobs, there are also plenty of courses in which students can still find out things that the Coal Lobby doesn’t want them to know. For example, they could find out the advantages of oil and gas as a hydrocarbon energy source. They could study the scientific case for a human component to global warming. They might be asked to write a paper about air pollution in China, and the resulting death rate. They might find out that some environmental lawyers work to implement EPA pollution restrictions, rather than to demolish them. They might be asked to speculate on the logistic difficulties involved in moving a Wyoming mountain to India. They could learn about sustainable energy sources, the legislative tactics of ALEC, etc., etc. The list is long.
But if the bell tolls for “Carbon Sink,” it will also toll eventually for all of the rest of this. In fact, it is tolling already, because this is at least part of what legislators and trustees have in mind when they say that we have failed to address the needs of the state. What they mean is that we have failed to address the needs of coal, and so they want us to censor our own instruction.
I have written my last letter to the trustees. And I don’t see any point in talking with legislators. I want to visit with local communities, large and small, all over Wyoming and talk with the people who live there, the “little people” like you and me. I want to explain to you what is happening here, why it is happening, and the consequences down the line for you and for your children.
This is entirely a grassroots operation. I have no association with, or support from, any organization. Because I am retired, I have no stake in the matter, no vested interest. I will fund it myself, at least until I start feeling the financial pinch. My main credentials are a 45-year career of teaching and mentoring U.W. students (virtually all of whom have had careers in the energy sector), and an intense pride in what this university used to be, a pride that, incidentally, embraces the university’s record of serving the needs of our state. I am in a bit of a hurry because I am 72 years old and this might be the last service I could render my adopted state and university before I die or get Alzheimer’s disease or whatever.
Talk with your children, your friends and neighbors, and see if you would like me to come and visit with you. I would present a talk with a title something like, “The ‘Carbon Sink’ Censorship Hysteria and Other Stories: What Kind of University Do You Want?” for about 45-50 minutes, and stay as long as you like to answer questions and listen to your ideas. If you want me to come, or if you have any questions about my project, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t feel that you need to agree with me. I am just as anxious to talk with you if you don’t agree with me.
The last two years have been very bad for U.W. The “Carbon Sink” hysteria and the twin hiring fiascos of Sternberg and McGinity are the most visible symbols of our decline. Outside of Wyoming we are becoming a laughingstock. Our students, who are of course our most important stakeholders, are the biggest losers as the value of their diplomas sinks.
Of course even students might be persuaded that there are some causes for which it might be worth sacrificing the reputation of their university and the value of their degree. A Cure for Cancer is one. World Peace might be another.
But not coal.
— Peter Shive is UW Professor (Emeritus).
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