Erica Perez, Higher Education Reporter for California Watch, has drawn further attention to the case of UCLA faculty member James Enstrom, who has faced retaliation at UCLA because of his research and activism in the area of air pollution research. FIRE reported on his case last week after UCLA gave Dr. Enstrom an eight-month reprieve while Enstrom appeals a deeply problematic non-rehire decision against him and pursues a whistleblower retaliation complaint. UCLA repeatedly told him that his research on environmental health does not fit the "mission" of the Environmental Health Sciences department and that he had failed to meet unspecified department "minimums" after 34 productive years at UCLA.
FIRE intervened in the case late last month, reminding UCLA that it is unconstitutional to refuse to rehire a faculty member because of the faculty member’s protected expression, whether the faculty member is tenured or not.
The case has drawn the attention of about two dozen California state legislators and a fair amount of press.
This is a complex case, but Perez makes the main story reasonably clear and adds helpful links:
UCLA officials had planned to end epidemiologist James Enstrom’s appointment August 30 but extended it until March 2011 after outside groups intervened, including a group of California Republican legislators and the Pennsylvania-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
University officials said Enstrom’s appointment wasn’t renewed because his research wasn’t properly aligned with the mission of his department and did not meet financial requirements – not for political reasons.
Enstrom wasn’t tenured or on a tenure track, but he has worked at UCLA for 34 years. He believes UCLA faculty voted not to reappoint him this year because of two main issues: his role in challenging the makeup of the California Air Resources Board and his controversial research on fine particulate air pollution, which he presented to the board [PDF] in February with other scientists.
UCLA first informed Enstrom he’d be laid off in February 2010, saying his research funds were overdrawn. Enstrom told the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that UCLA was to blame for the overdraft because the university inexplicably charged his salary to his research fund. A UCLA official did not respond to a request for comment.
After UCLA denied Enstrom’s initial appeal, he filed an academic complaint and a whistle-blower retaliation claim.
A June 9 letter from Richard Jackson, chairman of UCLA’s Environmental Health Sciences department, told Enstrom he was being laid off because his research was "not aligned with the academic mission of the Department, and your research output and ability to secure continued funding does not meet the minimum requirements for the Department."
Then last month, a group of 21 Republican lawmakers led by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, coordinated a defense of Enstrom, penning a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block demanding an accounting for the firing […]
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also intervened in the matter with a letter to Block.
Enstrom himself speaks at the end of the article:
Although he says he could simply retire and enjoy life, he feels an obligation to fight. He says UCLA hasn’t given him any explanation as to how his work is out of sync with the department’s mission, nor has it defined the financial requirements he failed to meet.
"[I]f you start ending scientists’ careers – especially one with a career as long as mine – without a valid reason, in my mind you don’t have a university anymore," Enstrom said.
Indeed, whatever one thinks of Enstrom’s research, the way UCLA administrators (and some faculty members) appear to have acted against him so far should alarm everyone at UCLA who values academic freedom.