Government at work: spend $500,000 to save $8,000

Gosh, it can’t be the money, can it? There must be something else going on. The juxtaposition is priceless. From Tom Nelson:

UVA spends $500,000 on lawyers when it would cost only $8,000 to deliver public documents?

Commonwealth Foundation – Mann: From Transparency Champion to ‘Bully’ Victim

UVA has been resisting (spending about $500,000 on outside lawyers for the effort) a similar, previous request by Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who is investigating Mann under the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act.

Climate e-mails and public records – Roanoke.com

That the e-mails are public documents seems clear. Mann, while a professor at the school, used an e-mail account at least partially paid for by taxpayers. Just as an elected official’s or state worker’s official correspondence is open to the public, so is a professor’s at a state school.

The school estimated it would cost up to $8,000 to deliver the e-mails. That sounds high, but then we do not know how much of a mess their backup servers are. Whatever the accurate cost, if Marshall and friends will pay it, they do not deserve any more hassle from UVa than any other citizen seeking public records.

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67 thoughts on “Government at work: spend $500,000 to save $8,000

  1. It is public university. It has absolutely no immunity of any kind, much less the made up privileges of its loony professors. Cough them up.

  2. Yes, but the damage to the school if those documents are ever released will be much worse than a puny 500,000…

  3. I’d rather they spend their research dollars on lawyers rather than on their religion of climatology. It’s still a win win for logical reasoning. The less propaganda we let them produce to brainwash the masses the better.

  4. This has been my argument all along….
    If there’s nothing to see here, why are they fighting it so hard.

  5. Sounds like a bargain. I am not, REPEAT NOT, a “Birther,” but something over $2M in legals costs have been spent on an issue which could be solved for the cost of a simple letter of release. One wonders about how cost/benefit ratios are calcualted today.

  6. It is because Mann’s research was funded by federal grants. If the University had any way of knowing it was bogus, it would be liable to repay those funds and would be disqualified and barred from soliciting any new grants. Grants make up a large portion of a university’s research funding.

  7. Whom is paying the Lawyers?
    The students tuition or taxpayer’s money? It’s not like UVA is using money from snack bar sales.

  8. There is nothing to hide, right? I can think of 492,000 reasons to at least question that assertion. But what is a half a million dollars anyway?

  9. It’s not the $8,000 that they’re worried about. It’s the precedent that would be set in having the right to refuse these sort of requests in the future that they’re fighting over.
    But publically funded efforts require public disclosure of the results of those efforts, as long as privacy or contract issues are not being violated.

  10. I do not know how UVa is funded, but it may be an over simplification to say that it is publically funded. For example, do the students pay tuition fees? Do companies provide research grants? Are there Awards and Scholarships not paid for out of the public purse? etc. Again, I do not know US immunity law, but there seems no obviously good reason why a university or a lecturer at a university should enjoy any special immunity dispensation.
    Whilst I liked the joke about the Maths deptartment, someone must have done the sums and taken the decision that it was worth spending so much money resisting the enquiry. Presumably, this would only be money well spent if the contents of the e-mails was damning. alternatively, if a stance of principle was being taken on the basis of the thin end of the wedge etc, ie., if they were to make disclosure this time (although there is nothing to hide), it could lead to a dangerous precedent in the future when they may really have something to hide.
    Anyway, it will be interesting to see the outcome of this enquiry since one way or the other, it will tell us something about the world we live in.

  11. It’s also possible they are defending this on principle, rather than because Mann specifically has something to hide. However, I’ve been racking my brains and I can’t think of a coherent principle one would seek to defend it on, unless “academic freedom” is considered.

  12. latitude says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:04 am
    This has been my argument all along….
    If there’s nothing to see here, why are they fighting it so hard.

    Well, you know what they say:
    “It’s the principle of the thing.”
    One might question the timing of displaying principles, though.

  13. Half a Mil here, half a Mil there, pretty soon it will be real money. Oh, I forgot… half a Tril here, half a Tril there…
    Reminder to self… next time, make sure to consult government guide on what “relatively modest” funding means…

  14. They had their chance to distance themselves from Mann but chose to join the fray and go all in with a cover up. One only has to ask why.

  15. After applying the old skeptics-are-funded-by-big-oil smear, Mann paints himself as the victim and also as a champion of the ‘progress of science’. What a w*nker:
    “There is substantial case law defending scientists and academics against such thinly-veiled attempts to suppress scientific inquiry by harassing individual scientists. I suspect that U.Va, as other great universities have in the past, will respect that tradition and stand up against these transparent attempts not just to bully me, but to thwart the progress of science,”

  16. JohnWho says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:34 am
    “It’s the principle of the thing.”
    ===============================================
    John, they have released other people’s work, no questions asked.

  17. It is a given that the emails will ultimately be made available; as has been stated, they are clearly subject to public access. UVA is merely stalling this as long as possible in the hopes that things will have changed and the appetite for such information is reduced. When there is no alternative to the truth, stall stall stall, then request a continuance.

  18. Ironically there may be nothing within these e-mail , but who now would believe that after all the effort UVA has put into avoided their release ?
    How to create a rod for your own back 101

  19. Bob Ramar:
    As I understand it, most NIH and NSF grants are applied for and issued to individual scientists, who have proprietary control over their grants. Universities usually lack supervisory or administrative control over the grants or research work.
    Thus, Mann is personally liable to the state for any violation of its false claims law. There is a parallel federal law that also covers Mann’s work.

  20. UVA is entering into a very spicy legal arena. As someone pointed out, much of Mann’s funding is surely federal, and a percentage goes into the U’s general fund as “indirect cost recovery” or some such term. In many cases it’s in the realm of $.45 on the dollar.
    The rub here is where the legal defense dollars are coming from. The feds won’t allow their funding dollars to fight legal battles, so the money has to come from other sources….and THAT is something the taxpayers are entitled to know…which further complicates the issue.
    Now, there’s grounds for another FOIA request….where the defense money is coming from. And let UVA defend themselves to the foundation donors, taxpayers, and anyone else whose funding the place.
    Taxpayers paying to defend UVA from revealing information the taxpayers request on information taxpayers paid for??

  21. Being more or less a libertarian, I think there are issues here worth well more than $500K, and not necessarily “coverup”-related. Distinguishing at a constitutional level what is rightly to be considered public and what is private is a core issue for Americans.
    In this case, given the public finding of such universities as UVa, it seems likely that the work of employees of the uinversity performed on university-owned equipment is probably public and subpoenable.

  22. The more the university resists the more difficult it is going to be for them to claim ignorance of the activities of their departments and the more embarrassing. Parents might question the worth of an education for their sons and daughters at UAV.

  23. It’s not the smell of money that emanates from this, it’s that of what is their underwear. They certainly don’t want certain things to be made public. In any case, it’s still public money, so you can add this on top and demand the documents and emails relating to this decision.

  24. They will take the consequences and destroy the e-mails and say they were mistaken when the said they found them and were right the first time when they said they were missing.

  25. latitude says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:42 am
    JohnWho says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:34 am
    “It’s the principle of the thing.”

    ===============================================
    John, they have released other people’s work, no questions asked.

    Perhaps because the lack of principles would not have been exposed?

  26. The University has taken sides. When asked for materials about Pat Michaels (skeptic), they complied promptly, I believe. They know full well there’s no ‘academic freedom’ issue here.

  27. glacierman says: “They had their chance to distance themselves from Mann but chose to join the fray and go all in with a cover up. One only has to ask why.”
    Should we consider the possibility that George Soros or a Large Left-wing Foundation has promised to cover their costs? “You keep them from unraveling our beautiful, world-wide global warming scam, and we’ll donate twice your legal costs.”
    Very soon (2013), UVa will have a Department of Wanker Studies. Guess who will be the Chair?

  28. They act like they are hiding something.
    Grandma says that indicates they are.
    False piety in the ivory tower is not a virtue.

  29. O, what a tangled web we weave,
    When first we practice to deceive!
    Marmion by Sir Walter Scott.

  30. pat says:
    January 13, 2011 at 9:44 am
    It is public university.

    You are correct – and you also hit on the reason it will spend a fortune to save a penny. Colleges have no conception of a budget. In a recession, the only 2 things that continue to rise are government spending and college tuition.
    Half million? Pocket change for the incoming Freshman class.

  31. richard verney says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:28 am
    I do not know how UVa is funded,

    Like all “Public” colleges, it gets some of its money from the government (state) and some from students. In the case of Virginia Colleges, only about 25% comes from the government, the rest from students and endowments.

  32. Did they not release other work to Greenpeace,not an issue of academic freedom there! and did they charge Greenpeace $8,000.

  33. Virginia’s answer is simple, reduce the funding of the University until it delivers. If they want to hold onto the materials in the face of Freedom of Information requests, they shouldn’t be in charge of any state supported research.

  34. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and take a wild guess, but UVa hasn’t done so well in the “Wall street” department have they?
    They’re not exactly famous for producing economic geniuses, and, so, maybe it is no wonder that they have invested so heavily in CAGW. :p

  35. Perhaps the reason why the university is resisting is that they realize what a chilling effect it might have if all of their professors had to make all of their private e-mail correspondence public for any sort of politically-motivated fishing expedition.
    Of course, people like Anthony Watts could show their good faith by making all of their own private e-mail correspondence public first. Otherwise, they seem to have little ground to complain about others not wishing to have all such correspondence made public.
    REPLY: Joel, you’re on thin ice here, public funding means public ownership. Private means private ownership. I’m under no more obligation to release my private emails than say, Joe Romm or Al Gore is. I’m pretty sure if you ask them they’ll tell you to go take a flying leap at the moon. It has been proven in court that there is no expectation of privacy in public funded communications with issues of national security being excepted. Enabling access to these is the reason the FOIA exists. – Anthony

  36. UVA has rather poor timing in pulling this stunt. States are rapidly approaching the bankruptcy cliff, and this sort of nonsense is going to come up again when the universities wish someone to save their floundering endowments and pension systems.

  37. I wonder…. Could the current students of UVA pursue a class action suit (or other suitable legal action) against the university for financial malfeasance, if any of their tuition fees were used for this $500,000 act of obstruction of justice?
    Same thing for misappropriated alumni contributions….. research grant funds…. or taxpayer funds?
    I’m just a simple country engineer… Any lawyers out there, with knowledge in this area of jurisprudence?

  38. A few years back, a Member of Congress had the audacity to suggest that academics receiving government grants should account for how they spent those grants. The roar of outrage (from the academics) was deafening. “An insult to professionalism!” they cried. And the issue went away. This seems no different. You (the taxpayer) are not entitled to know how we (the enlightened) spend the money you owe us for saving the planet.
    Hmmm. Seems to me that he who pays the piper should call the tune.
    Y’all don’t want to release what we paid for, then we should stop paying for it.
    But that’s mean …


  39. Scott Covert says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:10 am
    Whom is paying the Lawyers?

    Just who is this Whom of whom you speak.

  40. Anthony:
    (1) Public funding has never meant that academics surrender all rights of privacy and intellectual property. For example, NSF has clearly stated that the computer code developed under their grants remains the intellectual property of the researcher.
    (2) While you might feel that you are under no obligation to release such things, don’t you think it would be a good gesture to show how you are willing to do so just to set a good example?
    (3) Would you be taking the same position if it was a Democratic attorney general on a witchhunt demanding all the e-mails from Roy Spencer and John Christy so he could investigate the circumstances under which their initial satellite record analysis got a trend that was so far off the mark until others pointed out errors that they had to correct?

  41. Mac the Knife, remember you can sue for anything, no matter what about and what for. On the note of academic freedom, Bull$&!, They took my money knowing full well that i or any other American can and should be able to ask for ALL the information at any time. There is no “academic freedom” when it comes to taxpayers money being involved. IMO.

  42. Wow, Joel, your ignorance of this distinction is staggering. Statements like these, that defend the faith at all costs regardless of [] legitimacy, really call into question your objectivity.
    Mark

  43. The school estimated it would cost up to $8,000 to deliver the e-mails. That sounds high, but then we do not know how much of a mess their backup servers are. Whatever the accurate cost, if Marshall and friends will pay it, they do not deserve any more hassle from UVa than any other citizen seeking public records.
    —————
    Well if they saw it as “any other citizen seeking public records” there would not be a problem. As they likely see it as a form of harassment of a member of staff by someone with a political agenda they will be taking the principalled route of protecting academic freedom.
    You have to use your imagination and step outside the frame constructed by a spin merchant. Gives you a whole new perspective on the bogus moral outrage.

  44. Paddy says:
    January 13, 2011 at 10:49 am
    Bob Ramar:
    As I understand it, most NIH and NSF grants are applied for and issued to individual scientists, who have proprietary control over their grants. Universities usually lack supervisory or administrative control over the grants or research
    ——–
    Seriously? I would have thought that it is the direct opposite of everything you said.

  45. You have to wonder why the University of Virginia coughed up Patrick Michael’s files with such great alacrity but fights tooth and nail to protect Michael Mann’s files.

  46. It’s not the $8,000 they’re trying to save. And it’s not their Fundamental Principles. It’s more like their Principals’ Fundaments.
    🙂

  47. Joel Shore says:
    January 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm
    No doubt Joel you’ll make public access available here to all your emails then?

  48. Academic Freedom means that academics can do their research without outside agencies/governments telling them what to research and what not to research. It means no outside interference into my research project. It means I can do my research even e.g. against Lysenko without fear of being thrown into the GULAG.
    Academic Freedom does not mean I can sit on my research results and tell other scientist or those who have founded my research to b*gger off.
    Why are some academics not able to understand the difference?

  49. “Anthony:
    (1) Public funding has never meant that academics surrender all rights of privacy and intellectual property. For example, NSF has clearly stated that the computer code developed under their grants remains the intellectual property of the researcher.
    (2) While you might feel that you are under no obligation to release such things, don’t you think it would be a good gesture to show how you are willing to do so just to set a good example?
    (3) Would you be taking the same position if it was a Democratic attorney general on a witchhunt demanding all the e-mails from Roy Spencer and John Christy so he could investigate the circumstances under which their initial satellite record analysis got a trend that was so far off the mark until others pointed out errors that they had to correct?”
    Joel
    Get Real. That ship sailed long ago.
    1. Those academics with brains have private e-mail accounts for private communications. I know some who are quite insistent that private messages are not sent to their government funded account. The public funded communication is subject to FIOA requests.
    2. The University has already yielded on the academic freedom argument when they released the e-mail of a septic. Your argument for fairness is insane in that light. There is no justification for skeptic’s to be treated as second class citizens not entitled to the same protection as Professor Mann’s work. As the skeptic’s work was released to Greenpeace how can you possibly argue that other skeptics work be released first? What is unreasonable about expecting those with a legal obligation to comply with the law?
    3. Where is your argument that UVA should not have released e-mails to Greenpeace? Do you see any argument here, except for equal treatment that UVA should have not released the skeptic’s information?
    Your points are biased and foolish in light of the facts.

  50. Tell me, Joel, how a public employee operating a publicly-owned computer in a public building on the taxpayers’ dime and time can possibly be engaged “private” correspondence?
    Nobody is requesting that Dr. Mann’s private computer in his private home be searched. Except for you, in regards to Mr. Watt’s private computer in his private home.
    Talk about a chilling effect! Maybe you should chill out, dude.

  51. A public university and all of its assets are owned by the public. How the university receives its funding is irrelevant. As soon as the money is in the university’s coffers, the money belongs to the public.

  52. 1DandyTroll says:
    January 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Funny you should mention UVA and economics. While my sheepskin does not come from such a “prestigious” university, at least we won the Emory games in my senior year. UVA was not even in the finals.
    And we are down the road from them, so not like it was across the country.

  53. Viv Evans says:
    January 14, 2011 at 3:32 am
    Academic Freedom means that academics can do their research without outside agencies/governments telling them what to research and what not to research. It means no outside interference into my research project. It means I can do my research even e.g. against Lysenko without fear of being thrown into the GULAG.

    I’d believe that people seem to overlook the notion that the only true “academic freedom” is self-funded. Otherwise, your results are always suspect to influence by your benefactor. At least with self-funded research, you only defend yourself…not your grantor.

  54. No, grants are issued to the institution. That means if a researcher leaves an institution, the grant money stays with the institution. If they transfer to another institution, they can ask the first one to transfer the funds, but it can be a complicated process and isn’t always allowed. Further, any equipment purchased using a federal grant is the property of the institution, not the researcher, so similar rules apply to transferring equipment if the researcher relocates. Sometimes just changing departments within the same university can become an accounting nightmare.

  55. From LazyTeenager on January 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm:

    Well if they saw it as “any other citizen seeking public records” there would not be a problem. As they likely see it as a form of harassment of a member of staff by someone with a political agenda they will be taking the principalled route of protecting academic freedom.

    Wow. So for the “protection of academic freedom,” public records may be withheld simply because they don’t like the motives of those asking for the info?
    As found here (bold added):

    Prof Phil Jones, head of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, is accused of withholding raw data behind his research on global warming. In emails stolen from the university he asks one climate change sceptic: “Why should I give information to you when all you want to do is find something wrong with it?” In a grilling by MPs, Prof Jones admitted he had withheld data and sent some “pretty awful” emails. But he insisted it was “standard practice” to refuse certain information to other scientists.
    –Louise Gray, The Daily Telegraph, 2 March 2010

    From the email numbered 1107454306.txt, copied here, comes one of the most interesting Climategate revelations from the esteemed Dr. Phil Jones:

    The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the UK, I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone.

    Seems pretty obvious what was being protected wasn’t “academic freedom.”
    It appears you Freudian slipped the correct word, and UVA is indeed taking the “principalled” route, of protecting the principals involved, namely themselves.

    You have to use your imagination and step outside the frame constructed by a spin merchant. Gives you a whole new perspective on the bogus moral outrage.

    Well, it’s not exactly a “whole new” perspective of your moral outrage, as this is what I’ve come to expect of your spin.

  56. Another Ian says:

    No doubt Joel you’ll make public access available here to all your emails then?

    No, because I am not the one demanding that anybody’s e-mails be made public.
    Paul A Peterson says:

    1. Those academics with brains have private e-mail accounts for private communications. I know some who are quite insistent that private messages are not sent to their government funded account. The public funded communication is subject to FIOA requests.

    Well, if U Va is spending money on lawyers, they apparently have good reason to believe that the government-funding argument does not mean that a researcher gives up all rights to private communication, even about work-related issues. When I write e-mails at work, I have an expectation that in general they will be seen by me and the recipients (and who that recipient or I choose to show it to). It is ridiculous to claim any e-mail whatsoever is subject to be made public! Clearly, for example, e-mail messages between myself and a student that involve the student’s grade are subject to privacy issues.

    2. The University has already yielded on the academic freedom argument when they released the e-mail of a septic. Your argument for fairness is insane in that light. There is no justification for skeptic’s to be treated as second class citizens not entitled to the same protection as Professor Mann’s work. As the skeptic’s work was released to Greenpeace how can you possibly argue that other skeptics work be released first? What is unreasonable about expecting those with a legal obligation to comply with the law?

    Do you have a cite to back up this claim? I just did a google search and all I could find were a few unsubstantiated claims like yours that U Va had turned over such things. The closest to a reputable source was an op-ed piece in a right-wing newspaper that made the claim that Greenpeace “was promised, e-mails and other materials of Patrick Michaels” in response to their FOIA request. And, in fact, I found this article that said U Va had so far not in fact turned over any documents to Greenpeace: http://www2.wsls.com/news/2010/jun/03/uva_climate_skeptics_also_target_of_information_re-ar-361873/ (Here is a blog post that makes the additional point that Greenpeace’s request was apparently much more tightly focused: http://www2.wsls.com/news/2010/jun/03/uva_climate_skeptics_also_target_of_information_re-ar-361873/ )
    So, until you can produce something more than an unsubstantiated claim that U Va turned over such e-mails, and details about what exactly they turned over, I have nothing of substance to comment on.
    All I can say is that I think that U Va should deal with such requests in a consistent manner and one that reasonably balances the public’s right to know with the individual researchers rights to not have all their communications be made public at the will of anybody who wants to go on a political witchhunt.

  57. Joel Shore says:
    January 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm
    When I write e-mails at work, I have an expectation that in general they will be seen by me and the recipients (and who that recipient or I choose to show it to).

    Then you have misplaced expectations. The courts (all the way up to SCOTUS) have already ruled that emails at work belong to the employer, not you, and they are free to do as they please with them, including making them public.

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