Fighting back? UVA mulls options for Cuccinelli climate demand
Less than a month after Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanded that UVA turn over any and all documents relating to the work of climate scientist and former UVA professor Michael Mann, 800 Virginia professors and scientists have signed a letter condemning the move, and the ACLU has urged UVA to resist.
"It's the obligation of the university, in the name of academic freedom, not to simply give in but to ask a court to demand that the AG provide a legally defensible reason for his demand," says Kent Willis, executive director the Virginia ACLU.
Cuccinelli, however, isn't backing down.
On Wednesday, May 19, he released a statement addressing the Mann matter and defending his tactics.
"This is a fraud investigation, and the attorney general’s office is not investigating Dr. Mann’s scientific conclusions," the statement reads. "The legal standards for the misuse of taxpayer dollars," the statement continues, "apply the same at universities as they do at any other agency of state government. This is about rooting out possible fraud and not about infringing upon academic freedom."
Cuccinelli's Civil Investigative Demand charges that Mann–- famous for his "hockey stick" model of climate change and who left UVA in 2005 for Penn State–- may have fraudulently received up to $500,000 in state grants by falsifying his data to gloomily portray global warming.
The statement came just a day after Cuccinelli made similar comments at a barbecue in Ivy for the abstinence-only education program Worth Your Wait.
“They need not worry,” Cuccinelli said of his critics, according to the Daily Progress. “The same rule of law, the same objective fact-finding process will take place.“
His words, however, have not soothed the ACLU's Willis.
"In some ways," says Willis, "it doesn't matter why the Attorney General is conducting the investigation. The question for us is, what should UVA do?"
Although UVA initially announced plans to "meet our legal obligation," a stern letter from the ACLU and the American Association of University Professors urging the university to challenge the demand in court as well as a letter signed by 800 scientists and professors–- nearly 300 of them from UVA–- seem to have had some sway. UVA has now hired the international law firm Hogan Lovells to consider its options and has sought and received both an extension on the deadline and a reduction in the amount of documents it has been asked to provide.
“Research universities must defend the privilege of academic freedom in the creation of new knowledge," said UVA rector John O. "Dubby" Wynne in a May 14 statement.
Originally due May 27, UVA now has until July 26 to produce the documents or announce plans to challenge the demand in court.
By challenging the Attorney General's demand, Willis says that UVA would be doing two things: "Acting in defense of academic freedom and also using the law available to make sure the Attorney General isn't on an ideologically-driven fishing trip for information."