Friday, April 10, 2009

Scarred For Life

Ivor Van Heerden, the Louisiana coastal scientist whose forensic investigation team probed the causes of the flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has been denied tenure by Louisiana State University and fired as deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center. While the University has declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements, this reeks of the worst kind of academic cowardice.

As leader of Team Louisiana, Van Heerden oversaw a report highly critical of the Army Corps of Engineering, reaching conclusions that he echoed in public statements. LSU, apparently fearful of losing federal grants, "asked" Van Heerden to desist public statements on the grounds that he lacked the engineering qualifications to make them. Now, consider a couple of points:
  • whatever statements Van Heerden made came not from some arcane LSU academic committee but from his capacity as leader of a state task force investigating one of the most significant events in Louisiana history;
  • as head of the task force, Van Heerden was practically obligated to be its public face. His criticism of the ACE were informed by the collective expertise and conclusions of Team Louisiana and were not a result of him playing cowboy. (That was President Bush's job.)
Above all, an academic researcher must feel free to go where the facts lead him or her. That LSU bowed to real or imagined pressure from the Bush Administration -- when its proper role was to have Van Heerden's back -- is a stain on its reputation. For shame. (Editilla and Foxessa have more here and here.)...

Team Louisiana researchers discuss forensic developments at a section of the 17th Street Canal breach (photo: Team LA 2005)


The GOP and the Christian Right: The greatest threat to marriage as we know it...

The Obama Administration has ordered the "decommissioning" of secret CIA prisons and the immediate termination of contracts with the private security firms guarding the prisons...

The Department of Defense has begun testing returning combat troops for brain injuries. The Obama Administration expects to increase funding for the program...

Rushbo Stupidism of the Day (and it's choice):
In the first place, we're making a big mistake by calling them the Somali pirates. These are not pirates. These are merchant marine organizers. They are using the same techniques that community organizers like ACORN and others in this country use. So, from now on, to be totally, purely accurate, the Somali pirates on this program -- I'll probably slip up a couple times and call them that -- but, they're going to be known now as the merchant marine organizers.
What a wit...


Friday's Choice: The great Aussie band Rose Tattoo is "Scarred For Life":

8 comments:

Sylvia K said...

They never stop trying to hide the crap, do they? I didn't think it could get much more disgusting, but I swear every time I read something in the paper or online, or the radio, there's always something else floating to the surface. Great post, as always K.

New Orleans Ladder said...

Thanks for jumping on this with great posting, K.

Here is an excellent post today from one of Ivor's colleagues at lacoastpost:
http://lacoastpost.com/blog/?p=6432

There will be protests next week in Nola. Stay tuned to levees.org

We have to watch Ivor's back as the University and the Corps attempt to frame him as a loose cannon and other such spin'filtration boo'rah.

This story is ultimately more about a battle between different ways of Modeling hurricanes, storm surge and flooding, and how that relates to the NFIP Flood Zone Certifications. Follow the money.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

K. said...

I passed this story on to a friend who once taught at LSU back. Sadly, he said that this story is pretty par for the course.

I grew up around universities. To me, this is like newspaper executives not supporting a reporter's First Amendment right to protect sources. It's that fundamental.

Madam Miaow said...

Why is Van Heerden being effectively sacked on Obama's watch?

Ima Wizer said...

Another great post......
Oh so much greed and lying and thieving and crap going on. Didn't Bush and Cheney set all this up? Don't get me started on those perverts and their Christian groups.....ugh.

John Hayes said...

Thanks for posting about this story-- the overall story is disheartening, but the following line is quite droll: "His criticism of the ACE were informed by the collective expertise and conclusions of Team Louisiana and were not a result of him playing cowboy. (That was President Bush's job.)"

K. said...

MM: That's a good question. This appears to have been in the works for some time. I've been around universities long enough to know that once an untenured professor runs afoul of someone in his department hierarchy, there's no saving him or her. You're effectively blackballed, which is why Van Heerden can't get an answer from his department.

K. said...

MM: Rereading my comment, I see that I was unclear. Here is my educated guess at what happened:

1. The Bush Administration pressured LSU to muzzle Van Heerden.

2. His superiors called him on the carpet.

3. He either refused to cooperate or made some nebulous agreement that he hoped would allow him to continue to speak his mind.

4. When he didn't shut up, his fate was sealed. As to the timing, the academe has mysterious ways.

This is a guess. It looks like there is some history here that has been documented, and I'll look into it.