Professor to resign after university rejects his grievance

STEINER: Outspoken critic of big oil leaves after 30 years at ua.

October 24, 2009 

Rick Steiner at his office in Anchorage, Alaska. The fisheries professor says he's disappointed university administrators caved under pressure from NOAA to try to silence him. A university spokeswoman says neither Steiner's academic freedom nor his freedom of speech have been infringed.

AL GRILLO / AP PHOTO

A University of Alaska professor who was stripped of his federal grant after he criticized the oil industry said he's resigning.

The university rejected Rick Steiner's grievance on Tuesday, and the professor said Friday night that the faculty union has decided not to press the matter further. As a result, he said he's going to resign.

"I will not compromise my professional ethics, integrity, nor compromise my work nor free expression to stay in this environment," Steiner said.

He added that he fears the university's decision will muzzle other opinionated faculty members.

Steiner, a 30-year employee, filed his grievance in February after the university took away his $10,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when he criticized offshore drilling in Bristol Bay.

A NOAA assistant administrator wrote in a letter about Steiner's case that participants in its Sea Grant program must avoid "the appearance of advocating for any particular position" in order to be successful.

"When extension personnel fail to take a neutral approach to controversial issues, they jeopardize their ability to work effectively with all sectors," the letter said.

Steiner has for years criticized what he considered were irresponsible actions by the oil industry, beginning with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Mark Hamilton, president of the University of Alaska system, appointed lawyer Roger Brunner to handle the grievance decision. In his decision, Brunner wrote Steiner's claims appear to be a continuation of past attempts to "free himself from supervision and to have the university create a different job for him which would be more to his liking."

A review of Steiner's employment history found that on numerous occasions he had accused someone of infringing on his academic freedom, Brunner wrote, adding: "Free speech is not freedom from the requirements to do one's job and to respond to reasonable direction."

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