Not surprisingly, LSU wants the taxpayer-funded settlement to ousted coastal researcher Ivor van Heerden to be the end of the matter.
“Since the issues between the sides have been resolved through amicable settlement, LSU will not engage in further debate of those issues. Such debate is no longer relevant, warranted or appropriate,” LSU President William Jenkins said.
But have the issues been settled? We question whether this settlement should be the end of the story.
The researcher was stripped of his deputy directorship at the LSU Hurricane Center, and he was told in late 2009 that his university contract would not be extended beyond the spring of 2010, court records show.
Van Heerden argued that LSU administrators dismantled his career because of his often-vitriolic criticisms of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the catastrophic failures of New Orleans’ levees during Hurricane Katrina.
Now, van Heerden calls the settlement a victory for academic freedom. If that’s the case, why should not LSU now engage in some degree of critical inquiry into what happened and why?
Political intervention at LSU, including the suppression of faculty and student activism, is as old as Huey P. Long. But it should not be forgotten that one of the purposes of a first-class research university is to bring talent to bear on the problems of Louisiana — world-class talent, the kind that can be outspoken and raise the tough issues about our challenges here.
The van Heerden fracas not only cost taxpayers $435,000 in a settlement. It earned LSU the criticism of the American Association of University Professors and raised anew the old question of what level of activism is permitted among LSU’s professors.
Given LSU’s history in those issues, we suspect that many in the faculty would find such a debate relevant, warranted and appropriate.
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