LOS ANGELES, June 14, 2012—After 35 years at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. James E. Enstrom is suing UCLA to keep his job. Following many years of disagreement over research on air pollution and its implications for environmental regulations, UCLA finally refused to reappoint Enstrom after he engaged in successful whistleblowing against a member of the department. When UCLA told Enstrom he was being let go because his research failed to accord with the department’s “mission,” Enstrom turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
“FIRE has been helping Dr. Enstrom to keep his job for two years now, but enough is enough,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “While a lawsuit should never have been necessary, we’re grateful that the American Center for Law and Justice and former FIRE President David French have filed suit on Dr. Enstrom’s behalf, and we hope that justice will finally be served.”
Enstrom has worked at UCLA as a researcher and professor since 1976, being rehired consistently each year until his ordeal began. Beginning in 2004, he worked in UCLA’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS). Over the years, he and a few of his colleagues have sometimes disagreed strongly about research on environmental health issues—for example, on the extent of the threat to public health posed by certain air pollutants, a topic of Enstrom’s research which has been the subject of intense debate in California because of its implications for state environmental regulations.
Enstrom also was a successful whistleblower whose activism led to fellow EHS faculty member John Froines being replaced on a panel for the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Several members of the panel, including Froines, had been serving beyond the three-year legal limit on their terms of office, and Enstrom’s whistleblowing provided part of the grounds for a June 2009 lawsuit on the issue. Enstrom also blew the whistle on a fake Ph.D. degree claimed by a CARB researcher.
UCLA’s retaliation against Enstrom first became apparent in December 2009, when Enstrom discovered that UCLA had cut off his salary fund and charged his salary against his research funds without his knowledge. In February 2010, Environmental Health Sciences Chair Richard J. Jackson told Enstrom that UCLA was laying him off. Enstrom fought back and kept his job.
After UCLA’s first attempt failed, Enstrom learned of further retaliation in June 2010 when the EHS faculty (including Froines) voted not to rehire him because his “research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.” UCLA also invoked vague and previously unmentioned “minimum requirements,” even though his research output was similar to or greater than that of other professors in his department. Enstrom learned he was going to be “indefinitely laid off” effective June 30, 2010.
Enstrom has demonstrated that his research on environmental health is fully aligned with EHS’ research mission of furthering “extremely interdisciplinary” research “at the interface between human health and the environment.”
Enstrom came to FIRE for help. FIRE wrote UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block on August 26, 2010, pointing out that it is unconstitutional to refuse to rehire a faculty member because of his protected expression. FIRE assisted Enstrom with internal grievances at UCLA and ultimately helped him win two additional years at UCLA. Reason.tv also produced a video about the case.
Enstrom’s situation has received national attention as well as statements of concern from state legislators. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) also took up Enstrom’s case and is representing Enstrom in a lawsuit filed late yesterday in Los Angeles federal court against UCLA officials and the University of California Regents. Enstrom is seeking a declaration that UCLA violated Enstrom’s free speech and due process rights, as well as an injunction requiring UCLA to rehire him.
“Because of Enstrom’s research and his whistleblowing against prominent advocates of environmental regulation in California, UCLA seemingly has decided to silence him any way it can,” said FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel. “If there is anywhere we need honest scientists who aren’t on a mission to exclude whistleblowers and skeptics, it is the American university.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.