Editorials

Protect UNC’s environmental research from Berger’s political meddling

A 2014 Dwane Powell editorial cartoon focused on then-House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and then-state Budget Director Art Pope and how their scientific views would change the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
A 2014 Dwane Powell editorial cartoon focused on then-House Speaker Thom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and then-state Budget Director Art Pope and how their scientific views would change the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, has, has helped his mates eliminate responsible environmental regulation, including a boost for hardened structures to protect beach property (which only shifts sand elsewhere), an OK for fracking, and an endorsement of a new definition of sea level rise that overrides scientific expertise.

Expanding his work in environmental science, Berger is now seeking to augment research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he reckons there are entirely too many liberals and Democrats on the faculty, most of whom want to protect the environment at a cost to business.

Berger’s solution: a new policy initiative called the N.C. Policy Collaboratory where scientists will be researching, according to the law, “environmental and economic components” of the management of natural resources, including water quality. Basically, the collaboratory will be considering business implications of environmental policy. And it appears likely to be headed by Jeff Warren, a science adviser for Berger, who helped in the rewriting of environmental bills, which included curbing regulation and limiting how local governments can do their own rules. Berger said he’d support Warren, a former adjunct assistant professor at Duke and a former employee of Phillips Petroleum.

But Berger also noted he’s recommended other people for jobs in Chapel Hill and in the UNC system, only to be ignored because, he thinks, they were conservatives. The Senate leader even came up with a ratio of 12 to 1, Democrats to Republicans, on the UNC faculty, and said he’d gotten a lot of complaints about “philosophical and partisan homogeneity at UNC.” Meaning, there are too many liberals there.

There’s nothing wrong with a lawmaker having a conversation with a university leader about offering a forum to more politically diverse opinions on the campus. But there’s a lot wrong with direct meddling in curricula based entirely on politics.

That makes it all the worse that UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt has been silent on this move and thus appears ready to do Berger’s bidding. She should have stood strongly against this, regardless of the consequences.

Berger acknowledges he’s tried to recommend conservatives for jobs. Now that he’s succeeded in pushing through something like this, he’s certainly going to continue to interfere. UNC’s faculty and leadership should say no to this political meddling in research.

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