Some scientists at the University of South Florida are worried that science is under attack by President Donald Trump; but so far they’ve been mostly disappointed after requesting moral support from leaders at USF. Last week several scientists met with some members of the USF administration, including general counsel Gerard Solis. Erin Sauer, a graduate student in integrative biology, is frustrated that USF won’t issue a statement supporting the climate science research of its scientists.
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“The university’s general counsel, Gerard, said that the University will not make any statements and cannot help facilitate any talks to the public that might be about climate change or anything like that. Anything “political,” as he put it, basically, the university won’t take a political stance on anything. They’re not willing to make any political statements, even if that statement is just ‘we think climate change is real and manmade.’ Apparently that is a political statement.”
The USF administration declined WMNF News’ requests for an interview. Instead, spokesperson Adam Freeman sent statements in emails. He wrote, in part, “The comments made by Mr. Solis have not been characterized accurately. … He noted USF’s educational and research mission are not well-served by taking political positions because that tends to limit debate and discourse.” [The full statements are below.]
But Sauer does not consider acknowledging that “climate change exists and is caused by humans” to be a political statement. She says USF should support the science that goes on at the school, including climate science.
“It’s not great that they are totally unwilling to take a stance on climate change and that they consider that to be a political move, when it’s really just factual science.”
But USF spokesperson Freeman disagrees, saying, “It’s not the role of a university’s administration to take a position on such matters.”
Sauer says for USF to be neutral when it comes to the science of climate change is a choice by the university to make it a political issue. She was hoping USF would support its scientists and even agree to lobby for their science.
Sauer says that despite the wall the two sides encountered when it comes to climate science, she is happy USF will work with its scientists on communicating with the public.
“They will, however, get together some deans from various colleges and try to come up with a science communication training for USF faculty and graduate students, USF researchers, to take. They’re gonna try to use people from communications and behavioral sciences, who might have an expertise in communication or communicating science to the public, anyway. They hope to make this training maybe mandatory or ‘strongly suggested’ for all the faculty and grad students who are doing research at the university, in the same way that we have to do safety training and things like that.”
The meeting between Sauer and other USF scientists and members of the USF administration was billed as a panel on “Science Under Attack” during the Trump administration.
Here’s the full email statement from USF spokesperson Adam Freeman:
Monday’s panel discussion at USF covered a range of topics on the future of scientific research, but primarily focused on the possibility of funding cuts to federal agencies that traditionally sponsor a large amount of research, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). During the 90-minute panel, which included several members of the university’s administration, it was made clear that USF will continue to support students and faculty in their pursuit of grant funding opportunities in their field of study, academic freedom and the right to free speech. USF is guided by its strategic plans, which provide public confirmation of the university’s support of scientific investigation, discovery and the search for solutions to complex challenges facing society.
The comments made by Mr. Solis have not been characterized accurately. Mr. Solis stated free speech and the free exchange of ideas are essential to the mission of a research university. He noted USF’s educational and research mission are not well-served by taking political positions because that tends to limit debate and discourse. Instead, the university creates a platform for its students and faculty to develop and communicate their own ideas and research programs.
When WMNF News followed up by email, Freeman responded:
I think you are missing a key point. It’s not the role of a university’s administration to take a position on such matters. USF provides the framework and infrastructure for its researchers to study scientific issues and other challenges facing society, with the goal of learning more about that particular field, and ultimately finding solutions. Therefore USF will continue to support students and faculty in their pursuit of research grant funding opportunities in their chosen field of study, as well as academic freedom and free speech.