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Faculty, Student Group Calls for End to UB Shale Institute | News

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Faculty, Student Group Calls for End to UB Shale Institute

By Jon Campbell, Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- A group of faculty members, students and their supporters on Wednesday called on the University at Buffalo to close its controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute.

In a letter sent to the State University of New York's board of trustees, the organization said UB officials refuse to acknowledge the missteps made in creating the institute and accused them of neglecting potential academic bias.

"Making mistakes isn't the issue -- mistakes are a given for scholars," said Jim Holstun, an English professor who chairs the UB Coalition for Leading Ethically in Academic Research (UB CLEAR). "But doggedly standing by mistakes, as have the authors and UB administrators, carries us from the realm of rigorous and legitimate scholarship to the realm of public relations and policy advocacy."

The UB Shale Resources and Society Institute was launched last spring with a goal of producing research on shale-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the much-debated process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into underground formations such as the gas-rich Marcellus Shale.

But it was met with near-immediate criticism from good-government groups and hydrofracking critics shortly after releasing its first report in June. The lead author of the report, which found that "polluting environmental events" associated with gas drilling in Pennsylvania dropped dramatically between 2008 and 2011, was a University of Wyoming professor that had previously received gas-industry funding for studies.

In its letter to SUNY Board Chairman Carl McCall, UB CLEAR requested that the shale institute be immediately closed, its report be withdrawn and that all funding for the institute be made public.

John Della Contrada, a UB spokesman, declined comment Wednesday, referring instead to a previous university report to the SUNY trustees. In September, the SUNY board had requested a report from UB administrators detailing the funding for the institute, as well as addressing questions and criticisms of its initial study.

That report, which was made public earlier this month, provided a vigorous defense of the shale institute, as well as a breakdown that showed all funding was provided by the UB College of Arts and Sciences -- not from the gas industry.

Institute co-director John Martin, however, is paid by the "arts and sciences account" of the UB Foundation, the university's quasi-public fundraising arm.

"As with all research at UB, regardless of the source of funding, it is not the role of the university nor of the funding source to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators," UB Provost Charles Zukoski said in a statement at the time. "This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom. This core principle is critical to the preservation of academic freedom."

The UB CLEAR letter also points to a lecture series that was promoted by the university last year. The series, which cost close to $13,000 to put on, was paid for by a handful of gas companies and an industry trade group, a Freedom of Information request showed.

"To insist on disclosure is not to engage in a fishing expedition based on speculation," the letter reads. "Given the UB administration's repeated failure to disclose critical information in this matter, there are compelling reasons to insist on full disclosure by the Foundation."


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