CA legislators threaten hearings if UCLA fires CARB whistleblower

posted at 9:01 am on April 2, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

On Thursday, I wrote about Dr. James Enstrom, an environmental sciences professor and researcher at UCLA who blew the whistle on a fraud at the California Air Resources Board.  Enstrom started looking into what he thought was a less-than-rigorous study that attempted to link fine particulate emissions from diesel engines to 2,000 “premature deaths” in the state, and discovered that the lead author, “Dr.” Hien Tran, had received his diploma from Thornhill University instead of UC Davis, which Tran’s CV had claimed.  The school colors of Thornhill University, as it turns out, are brown and brown — UPS brown, because the entire school fit into a mailbox in one of their stores.   Tran, it turns out, bought his PhD from a diploma mill.

Enstrom blew the whistle on Tran, but Mary Nichols, chair of CARB and a UCLA law professor, hid the fraud from the board until after the regulations had been approved.  Enstrom also pointed out that John Froines, another environmental sciences professor at UCLA, had served on the scientific advisory panel for far longer than the charter allowed, where members were supposed to serve for short periods of time to avoid dogmatic thinking.  When the dust had settled, everyone kept their jobs — except for Enstrom, whom UCLA fired for a changing set of reasons.

Enstrom will meet with University of California chancellor Gene Block on Monday to start the appeal of his dismissal, but that may not be the last word.  According to FIRE, which has come to Enstrom’s defense, twelve members of the state Assembly have warned Block that they will hold public hearings into the UC system’s handling of academic freedom if Enstrom’s termination is not rescinded:

Twelve members of the California State Legislature have written UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block and Provost Scott Waugh a letter decrying UCLA’s treatment of longtime Department of Environmental Health Sciences faculty member James E. Enstrom. Professor Enstrom was let go from UCLA after some 34 years under circumstances detailed by FIRE and described in a video released yesterday from Reason.tv.

Led by Chief Republican Whip Dan Logue, Assemblymember, Third District, the legislators write that they “remain deeply troubled by the University’s inability to provide credible cause for Dr. Enstrom’s dismissal, and the appearance of political interference in the University’s academic discourse.”

They also raise concerns “as to the integrity of this process,” since UCLA’s allegation that Enstrom failed to meet his department’s “minimum requirements” appears to have been based on a document dating back to 1995 that Enstrom had never seen and which might not be at all applicable to Enstrom’s position. (I wrote about this document a couple of weeks ago.) The legislators write that “this policy of minimum requirements has neither been enforced with the Department, nor has the document been provided to Dr. Enstrom despite his specific request. This seems arbitrary and capricious and undermines the legitimacy of the Department’s reasons for dismissal.”

What about Tran and Nichols?  They both still have their jobs.  Tran got a 60-day suspension and a demotion, but still works as an air pollution specialist for the state despite his record of fraudulent representation.  Nichols still chairs CARB.  Froines, after a brief departure, returned to CARB’s scientific advisory panel to chair their toxicology committee, after voting to fire Enstrom at UCLA.  The only person who lost their job from Enstrom’s whistleblowing was Enstrom himself.

I embedded the Reason TV video on Thursday, but it’s worth a second look:

If you want to contact Block and express your opinion on how UCLA has treated Enstrom, his contact information can be found here.  For more on Hien Tran and his misrepresentation of credentials — apparently not a firing offense in California as long as your “studies” support increased regulation — go here.


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