Thursday, September 22, 2011

Koch Bros. fund enviro lecture series in Down East Maine

I was intrigued to receive an invite over the weekend to the University of Maine Machias' inaugural Koch Speaker on Environmentalism and Freedom, October 6. It's part of a new lecture series sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the philanthropy of the conservative billionaire of the same name, who has been the subject of considerable scrutiny of late.

How did this arrangement come to pass? I explored this for this short piece in the new Portland Phoenix.

With space and time constraints, I left the bigger question open for unaddressed: is it appropriate for a public university to have a lecture series funded by a controversial and politically-engaged organization? If not, why not? If so, where does one draw the line, bearing in mind the academic ideal of being open to a diversity of opinion? Is, say, the John Birch Society an appropriate donor? How about the Church of Scientology? Is it ok, so long as local academics -- not foundation officials -- choose who to invite? Share your thoughts if you have any.

A side note: I requested the grant contract for the series from UMM -- a public university whose documents are public records -- just to be sure there were no unusual strings attached (as there were in the foundation's much larger grant to Florida State University.) Will update here after I read it.

[Update: 9/22/2011: I received the grant documents and associated correspondence from UMM, which handled my request promptly and professionally. They confirm the information imparted to me in interviews and reported in the story.

Correspondence also shows that Dr. Reisman was entirely open with his colleagues about his associations with the Kochs. He sent a May 2011 email to the entire UMM faculty informing them of his "growing relationship with the Charles G. Koch Foundation" and an upcoming trip to a Koch industries forum in Witchia on "management philosophy," for which he would receive (from the foundation) travel expenses and an honorarium.

In terms of transparency, Reisman and UMM both deserve gold stars.

The speaker series was originally to be entitled "Sustainability and the Road to Serfdom: Can Environmentalism and Freedom Co-Exist?," and was scheduled for last spring. It March, however, Reisman decided to postpone the program, largely because Gov. LePage's regulatory reform initiative had "heated up" Maine's environmental policy world. Reisman also decided the series should berecast with "a broader and perhaps less threatening topic." and the Koch foundation concurred.]


  1. Well, it looks like an excellent opportunity to debunk everything the Kochs espouse. Call their bluff and serve them a dose of scientific reality.

  2. Colin, your experience in dealing with Jon Reisman and UMM parallel my own. Although I do not know him well, I had professional dealings with Dr. Reisman a few years ago when I was employed by the UM System to help better link teacher education programs at various campuses with their surrounding K-12 school systems, seeking ways to create synergy in professional development programs at all levels. Although Reisman was not a teacher educator, he was head of the academic division in which UMM's small teacher education program was housed. I knew his politics and his reputation before I began to work with him. If he did not know mine, he soon learned that I did not share his political views. Yet we quickly developed a good working relationship, focused on the local issues that needed to be solved, and went about helping to solve them as best we could given the resources at hand. He is remarkably open, forthcoming in his views, and is non-defensive when an interlocutor disagrees with his position.

    Your experience with the administration at UMM and with Jon Reisman matched my own. I wish that all the administrators in the UM System, and all other global-warming deniers were as open to public scrutiny as these folks are.

  3. @Dick - Yes, I'm inclined to say Prof. Reisman and the university handled this exactly right. Once there's full transparency, let the debate of ideas commence! (The library there has apparently put Mr. Nelson's books and the New Yorker article on the Kochs on reserve.)

    A model, perhaps, for other higher education institutions to follow.

  4. The anthropomorphic origins of climate change have their roots in Episcopalian theology..and perhaps the way Adam & Eve sullied the Garden of Eden.

    If Maine, as people from away, is a 'garden of Eden' then climate 'engineering' strategies are designed to reform the behavior of humans which begs the question as to whether the orgins of Maine's Nanny state are found in the Ten Commandments and the pickle we are in is found in not following them or having materialistic rationalizers modify them to fit their urges.

    Jon, as usual, like Al Diamon and a few others, is ahead of the curve of political change in Maine and I dare anyone to beat his record on predicting winners and losers in major political races.

    Self-described climatologists who usually get every weather prediction wrong; ignore meteorologists and weather forecasters who 'get it right' and have records versus those obscure models cited by groups like the NRCM to influence public policy.

    Jon's world is the real one...his organic garden, the lake he lives on, and the town of Cooper he was once responsible for.

    Mine is a coastal one; I can measure slowly rising tides on rocks where the level of the ocean was over a hundred feet higher....and the levels of CO2 a lot lower.see Science 312, 1485 (2006

    My atmospheric measures reveal lower CO2 levels; yet there has been no concurrent reduction in temperatures.

    But if I cloud the upper atmosphere with contrails, the effect on diurnal temperatures is immediate and very dramatic.

    ....and then you wonder why Jon and I are skeptics?

  5. @Anonymous - Maine's "nanny state" and commitment to efforts to address climate change and other problems with social origins is not a product of people 'from away' or "Episcopal theology." Their deep cultural origins are Calvinist, as elsewhere in New England, and tied to the Puritan mission to improve the world (as they defined it) through community agency.

    If any ideology here is to be viewed as an import, it would be the one calling for deregulation and the destruction of the public sector for the benefit of private interest; that's in accord with the Southern evangelical world view you appear to espouse here.

    Brush up on your history.... and then move on to climate science.

  6. There are few 'deep cultural traditions left' from the days when Maine was created by Baptists and Methodists as a 'religious state'---the State Archives have a few chronicles over which group influenced which part of the Constitution you might want to read before you reveal how little you know about the origins of Maine's culture.

    And while you're at it; I suggest you review the way P. Baxter(R) created the Baxter Park Authority as independent of the State government; who he, the Rockefellers(R) and many other tycoons thought destructive of Maine's unique scenic and environmental treasures. You can earn an 'A' if you run down the families who own and cherish the rare and endangered lands hidden about Maine. No liberals I can see; many carefully manage their remaining forests the way the Amish and other 'plain folk
    do their farms so that each succeeding generation has a vital productive farm..

    "Southern evangelical world view'....don't tell me you voted for Jimmy Carter and regretted it?

    In so far as 'climate science goes', did you get a chance to read last week's Economist on the Arctic ice melt theory flaws and this Congressional report?

  7. @Anonymous: Maine's creation dates back to the early 17th century, long before the Baptists and Methodists had a presence in North America. If we're handing out grades for history, dear teacher, you will be getting an "F."

    1. The State Constitutional convention was dominated by two large groups...Baptists and Methodists. It shaped a Constitution that included 'God' about 20 times on the first page....this was the defining document that reflected how Mainers regarded their state Government. Jefferson, near the end of his life, defined the Educational system; which at the time was run by religious orders.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Programming note: Abusive posts from those too lazy to look up basic historical facts for themselves will be deleted. No intellectual littering allowed here at World Wide Woodard.

  10. Political bias note...your agenda is self-destructing as would anything built on lies and distortions:...OBAMA's BIG GREEN MESS...

    "Washington’s scandal du jour has been Solyndra. The California solar company received a rushed half-billion-dollar clean-energy stimulus loan from the Obama administration, only to go bankrupt and potentially leave taxpayers on the hook—despite warnings from career officials that both Solyndra and the larger solar industry were facing financial pressures.

    But it is far from the only blemish on the administration’s much-touted green agenda. In addition to weatherization problems, an internal Labor Department report disclosed this month that a multibillion-dollar program to retrain workers for green-energy jobs met only 10 percent of its goal of creating 80,000 jobs. A federal renewable-energy lab in Colorado that got nearly $300 million from another green-energy program began laying off 10 percent of its workforce last month.

    Overall, as the $787 billion economic stimulus—the primary engine for the green-energy agenda—came to an end Sept. 30, it is clear that the program created far fewer jobs than promised. So-called green-collar jobs are notoriously hard to tally, but numerous estimates by gleeful Republicans put the taxpayer cost of each green-energy job created by the stimulus at more than $1 million."

    Sorry if you felt abused; now you know how taxpayers and respectable scientists have felt throughout the AGW fiasco.

  11. You can run your mouth; but you can't hide the facts!

  12. @Anonymous of 11:19 am: I don't see how your comments have anything to do with the topic at hand, and I don't think you do either.