A group of University at Buffalo professors, students and members of the public Tuesday called on UB administrators to be more open about the Shale Resources and Society Institute.
“What we’re asking for is that the University at Buffalo reveal all documents about the founding and funding” of the institute, said James Holstun, a UB English professor and chairman of the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research, or CLEAR.
The institute came under fire in May when it issued a report on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The report, critics say, seemed to endorse the controversial technology for extracting oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale, raising suspicions among some about the institute’s ties to the oil and gas industry.
“The institute says on its website that it’s about independence, scientific integrity [and] nonbias,” said Martha T. McCluskey, a UB law professor.
“However, it appears that [the institute] received as least some industry funding, indirectly or directly, and that it has industry ties, and it was fundraising from the industry without comparable representation and involvement by other interests. So we think disclosure of that is important.”
Holstun and McCluskey were among about a dozen protesters waiting outside the Center for Tomorrow on UB’s North Campus, seeking an opportunity to present signed petitions to administrators attending a meeting of the UB Faculty Senate. Shortly before the meeting, Ezra B. Zubrow, president of the Faculty Senate, came outside to invite them to attend the open session. Inside, newly appointed Provost Charles F. Zukoski addressed “significant misinformation expressed by various sources, which has led to many questions surrounding the establishment of the Shale Institute.”
Zukoski said UB has more than 150 research institutes, all of which receive funding from various public and private sources. The Humanities Institute, for instance, receives support from Microsoft Corp.
“Regardless of the funding, it is not the role of the university, nor of the funding source, to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators. This is a core principle, and it is critical to the preservation of academic freedom,” Zukoski said.
The institute is headed by two professors from UB’s geology department, John P. Martin and Robert D. Jacobi, who Zukoski said were selected based on “a canvassing of UB faculty for potential candidates, discussion with the advisory board members of the department of geology, some of whom have oil and gas corporate experience, and conversations with faculty from other institutions of higher learning.”
He added, “The Shale Institute has been funded completely through the College of Arts and Sciences using discretionary funds available to them. However, I wish to emphasize that while the Shale Institute has not received any industry funding to date, they are expected, and it is desirable for them to generate support for their research and scholarship through competitive grants, philanthropy and from industry. This, too, is consistent with UB’s policies and practices.”
Still, members of CLEAR continued to call on the administration to convene an independent board to investigate the institute’s founding, funding and governance.