UI Ban On Thunberg Visit A Double Standard

Climate action event with Greta Thunberg on Iowa City Ped Mall 10-4-19

Excellent opinion piece about the University of Iowa banning publicity of Greta Thunberg’s visit to Iowa City earlier this month.


UI ban on promoting Thunberg visit hypocritical

Loren Glass and Stephen Cummings Guest columnists

On October 4, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager whose name has become synonymous with global climate change activism, came to Iowa City to speak at a demonstration organized by Iowa City High School Students.Thunberg has been traveling all over the planet to promote the science behind this truly urgent global issue.

Her approach is based entirely on scientific consensus and empirical evidence. Thus it is not surprising that Michelle Scherer, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Iowa who serves as associate director of the National Science Foundation Sustainable Water Development Graduate Program, wanted to publicize Thunberg’s visit on her department’s Facebook page. But her college’s director of marketing and communications, at the direction of the UI Office of Government Relations, informed her that “this event does not fall into the scope of something we can promote.”

What can the UI promote? Ask Erin Irish, a professor of biology and corn geneticist who has recently expressed her concern to UI Athletic Director Gary Barta about the athletic program’s longstanding (and lucrative) partnership with the Iowa Farm Bureau, a group that claims “environmental activists” like Irish are “anti-agriculture.” The Farm Bureau funds both political candidates and agricultural research.

According to the University’s Operations Manual, “University resources, including the University’s electronic address (email, web) shall not be used for 1) personal political activities, including directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf or in opposition to any candidate for elective office, or for 2) lobbying of public officials.”

Greta Thunberg is not a candidate for elective office, nor was she in Iowa City to endorse or lobby for one. The Farm Bureau, on the other hand, regularly promotes political candidacies and lobbies public officials.

The AAUP condemns this hypocrisy. The research cited by Greta Thunberg and other environmental activists is not only protected by academic freedom (the rights of all scholars to pursue their research and publish its results without political interference) and therefore worthy of our promotion and endorsement, it is also of urgent, indeed, existential concern for our entire species, while the work of the Farm Bureau is explicitly political in its endorsement of policies that contribute to climate change and environmental degradation. Further, publicizing an event is not the same as endorsing one. Students seeking to engage in an event related directly to their areas of study (and their very lives) should be encouraged to do so. Critical consideration of evidence is part of the fabric of our institution.

Please join us in condemning the University leadership who are at one and the same time politicizing and denying the established scientific facts about climate change.

Loren Glass is a Professor of English and President of the UI AAUP Chapter..

Stephen Cummings is Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work and the Secretary of the UI AAUP Chapter.

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3 Responses to UI Ban On Thunberg Visit A Double Standard

  1. C.A. says:

    That annual Iowa Farm Bureau “America Needs Farmers” U of I football game, and the partnership that creates it, gives off a strong smell. This year, it included an opportunity for the public to interact with a group of individual farmers who were talking about various issues, and one issue this year was a Johnson County proposal regarding CAFOs that the IFB does not like. Using a U of I public event to essentially argue against a Johnson County proposal was a small but interesting political maneuver.

    Thank you, Erin Irish. Being willing to speak out about the IFB when one works at an Iowa Regents institution takes courage these days. I know someone at ISU who switched jobs partly to get out of the dangerous crossfire of farm pollution politics there. Unfortunately, ISU deserves its recent-years nickname of “Monsanto U.”

    No one in any official position in this state is supposed to admit it, but Iowa’s much-touted farm pollution optional-action policies Are. Not. Working. Well, that’s not really true. They are working great for industrial agriculture, which remains free to ignore water problems and do nothing about them. The policies are only terrible for water quality. Talk about an inconvenient truth.


  2. C.A. says:

    What a pleasure to see the CEDAR RAPIDS GAZETTE feature a good insightful op-ed piece today about the America Needs Farmers football game and the IFB, pointing out that the IFB has not been helping the kinds of sustainable agriculture we need most. If any U of I administrators don’t like how the U of I looks in that piece, GOOD.


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