Are academics above Virginia law? According to three Democratic members of the General Assembly, they should be.
Senators Don McEachin and Chap Petersen, along with Del. David Toscano, are backing legislation that would strip the Attorney General’s office of its power to issue civil investigative demands (what the rest of the world might call subpoenas) under the state’s fraud against taxpayers law. They claim they are defending academic freedom, when what they are really trying to do is score political points…taxpayer protections be damned.
Trying to hamstring one’s opponents is hardly new in politics, but in this case, where Cuccinelli is seeking documents created by former University of Virginia Professor Michael Mann in relation to the Climategate affair, we have to ask what sort of academic freedom the worthies are so keen to protect?
As Chris Horner described in a Washington Examiner op-ed earlier this month, the University has played three card monte with the emails of its various and former climate scientists. When Del. Bob Marshall requested Michael Mann’s emails from the University under the Freedom of Information Act, he was told they didn’t exist. When Greenpeace used FOIA to ask for former UVA Professor Pat Michael’s emails, there was no such denial and the state-run school began putting them together for the group.
When Cuccinelli asked for the same Mann records using a CID, the University fought back in court, hiring outside council to argue that it was under no obligation to provide the emails (which, remember, it initially said didn’t exist) because such a request violated the spirit of academic freedom.
In an interview with Horner on Freedom & Prosperity Radio, he relates that after studying the court transcript, the University said Mann’s emails do exist – on a back-up server. So Horner has renewed his own FOIA request for Mann’s records, with the suggestion that UVA search the back-up server.
All of this would be comical if it didn’t reek of something far more despicable, namely that the University of Virginia, the state’s flagship institution, seems to view its taxpayer funded-servers and the work-product of its taxpayer-funded professors as somehow above state laws, including the Freedom of Information Act. As Horner said in our interview, UVA and its lawyers are using “Hollywood’s defense of Roman Polanski. Well sure he did it, but did you see Chinatown?”
That’s what McEachin, Petersen and Toscano are trying to defend. If General Assembly Republicans are smart, they will consign these bills to the “passed by indefinitely” pile and send a message that the Roman Polanski defense just doesn’t cut it in Virginia.