Academic Freedom Fight on Reprisals over Wolf Science
Washington State U. Scientist Says Official Restraints Due to Political Pressure
Washington, DC — Washington State’s leading wolf expert details harassment and threats from his university because his research findings upset ranchers, according to a complaint about infringement of academic freedom filed today on his behalf by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint to the WSU Faculty Senate demands an investigation into improper political influence on WSU administrators and requests discipline for those who violated the school conduct code.
Professor Robert Wielgus, Director of WSU’s Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory, has been studying how to reduce conflict between gray wolves and livestock under a state grant. Last summer his research documented how a rancher released cattle near the den of the Profanity Peak wolf pack and placed salt blocks (around which cattle congregate) within 200 meters of the den. Predictably within days, the Profanity Peak pack began killing cattle. The state game agency responded by wiping out the pack.
When Dr. Wielgus reported his findings and repeated them in the press, WSU administrators:
- Repeatedly threatened disciplinary action, including a “cease and desist” order from making further public statements which they claimed constituted improper “lobbying”;
- Issued official statements erroneously attacking his credibility; and
- Imposed restrictions on his use of grant funds, including denying him reimbursement for research-related expenses
The WSU Faculty Manual declares a university policy of “academic freedom… free from institutional censorship or discipline.” It further calls for disciplining officials who infringe upon that freedom. Dr. Wielgus’ complaint names the WSU President, the College of Agriculture Dean and Assistant Dean.
“The contents of this complaint cut to the core of WSU’s integrity as an academic institution,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco, noting that a state representative from eastern Washington allied with ranching interests apparently bullied WSU administrators into silencing Dr. Wielgus. “These WSU officials appear to be acting as political enforcers rather than university administrators.”
Dr. Wielgus’ research also demonstrates that livestock losses are avoided by grazing animals away from known wolf den sites, use of radio-collaring of herds, use of light and noise “scare” devices, use of pens and fencing, and use of guard dogs. The Profanity Peak rancher eschewed all of these measures.
“Dr. Wielgus should be applauded rather than censured by WSU,” added Carlesco, noting that PEER is also exploring formal legal action if WSU fails to enforce its academic freedom guarantee. “Dr. Wielgus is being subjected to underhanded administrative tactics precisely because his research is unassailable and its implications disturb powerful interests.”
The first stop for this complaint is the WSU Faculty Status Committee which is charged with looking into breaches of academic standards and seeking resolution of disputes.