From the Boulder Daily Camera By Sarah Kuta, Staff Writer
POSTED: Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016 – 8:12 p.m.
DENVER — The University of Colorado’s Board of Regents reaffirmed its support for academic freedom on Thursday in light of recently released emails that showed that a liberal group targeted CU Boulder Professor Roger Pielke Jr. for his writings on climate change.
At a regular meeting in Denver, the regents passed a resolution 9-0 to send the message that “faculty and students must have complete freedom to study, to learn, to do research and to communicate the results of these pursuits to others.”
The principles of academic freedom are codified in regent laws, which govern the university. The board was restating its commitment to those principles on Thursday.
Though he was not mentioned in the resolution, Pielke was the motivating factor behind it, according to its author, Regent John Carson, a Republican from Highlands Ranch.
Pielke was the subject of a 2014 email sent by the editor of ThinkProgress, a website that’s part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
In Judd Legum’s email to billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Legum described how he believed the website got Pielke to stop writing about climate change for the data-focused news website FiveThirtyEight.
The email was part of an October WikiLeaks dump of emails involving John Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress and the chairman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Pielke and others described the email as evidence that there was a “politically motivated campaign” to damage his career and reputation. Ultimately, he stopped writing about climate change and now directs CU’s new Center for Sports Governance.
Pielke writes a regular sports column for the Daily Camera.
Carson said he felt that type of conduct was unacceptable and that he thought the board should show all CU faculty and researchers that it stands behind them.
“I want to go on record making clear that I don’t think this type of conduct is appropriate and we’re going to defend our faculty and we’re going to go on record, when we find out about these types of things, opposing it,” Carson said.
Pielke wrote for FiveThirtyEight that “human-caused climate change is both real and important,” but came under fire for an essay the website published in which he argued that rising natural disaster costs were not linked to climate change.
Reporters at ThinkProgress asked several climate scientists to weigh in on Pielke’s claims and published stories in which those scientists said Pielke’s claims were misleading. By Pielke’s count, the website has published more than 160 critical articles about him.
Legum, the ThinkProgress editor, said there was no organized campaign to damage Pielke’s career. Rather, the website was trying to report accurate information about climate change.
“There was inaccurate information being presented in his writing … We called a number of climate scientists and asked them about the claims he was making in this piece,” Legum told the Daily Camera last month. “They said that there were a lot of really inaccurate or misleading things, and we reported on that.”
Pielke was also the target of a 2015 investigation led by a Democratic congressman into whether he had received funding for his work at CU from fossil fuel companies.
In response, CU President Bruce Benson wrote that the university “did not discover any information indicating that Pielke’s funding sources influenced his research,” adding that Pielke confirmed that he received no funding from the oil and gas industry.
Carson also brought up that congressional inquiry when speaking about the resolution before the board.
Before voting for the resolution at Thursday’s meeting, Regent Michael Carrigan asked Carson if he felt the same way about a spring 2016 congressional inquiry into fetal tissue research at the CU School of Medicine.
Carson said he didn’t see that inquiry as “the same kind of an academic freedom issue” because he thought that request dealt with compliance with federal guidelines.
Don Elliman, chancellor for the Anschutz Medical Campus, said the fetal tissue inquiry “went way beyond the question of whether or not we are compliant with (National Institutes of Health) guidelines.”
Carrigan added: “I hope we are evenhanded on this and recognize that both sides are misusing their political power to pursue an agenda.”
Though he did not attend the meeting, Pielke wrote in an email to the Daily Camera that he felt supported by the leaders of the university.
He said the bipartisan-backed resolution sent a strong message “to my faculty peers who may question whether it is worth participating in important debates of the day — that CU has their back.”