I’m So Confused

January 20th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I received an email from our Chancellor, Bud Peterson, warning me and my CU colleagues of the perils of engaging in political advocacy activities as a university employee. Here is an excerpt:

TO: Boulder Campus Teaching & Research Faculty, Staff, Deans, Directors, Dept Chairs

FROM: Office of the Chancellor

SENDER: Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson

SUBJECT: Guidelines on Campaign-Related Activities by Members of the University Community

Dear Colleagues:

In light of the many political campaigns currently, or soon to be, underway at the national, state and local levels, I would like to provide you with a set of guidelines we, as members of the University community, should keep in mind as we consider our own activities and level of involvement. The guidelines were developed by the Office of the University Counsel, and if you have questions, I urge you to contact Counsel’s office at 303-492-7481.



* Engage in any activity during working hours designed to urge electors to vote for or against any campaign issues, which include campaigns for public office, state-wide campaign issues or referred measures, and local campaign issues or levies.

* Employees wishing to participate in a campaign activity should take personal leave.

* Use office supplies or equipment, including computers, telephones, printers or facsimile machines to create materials urging electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

* Use their University email accounts to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue, or to forward materials that urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

* Use University-hosted websites to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

At the same time Chancellor Peterson has endorsed faculty participation in a January 31 political advocacy effort called “Focus the Nation,” which seeks to motivate action on climate change.

Here is how The Colorado Daily describes the activity:

There’s also a hint of politics involved: the teach-in is scheduled for Jan. 31, shortly before statewide primaries and caucuses, and is timed to place pressure on political candidates. [Colorado's caucus is Feb. 5].

“We wanted to do it right in the height of the early primaries to ensure that climate change is at the forefront of the issues,” [Garrett] Brennan [media director for Focus the Nation] said.

After all, raising awareness about climate change is one thing, he said. Actually solving it is another.

“The solutions are pretty cut and dry,” Brennan said. “You’re not going to create an art installation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Raising awareness – making it personal to people – is multidisciplinary. The solutions are policies that are going to get passed.”

That could be one reason that voter-registration group New Era Colorado will be on campus that day, displaying poster-board profiles that detail each candidate’s stance on environmental issues.

The website for Focus the Nation lists the policy actions that it wishes to focus our nation’s attention on and for me to discuss in the classroom, and here are a few of the options that I am supposed to provide to my students:

To stabilize global warming at the low end of the possible range (3-4 degrees F) will require deep cuts in global warming pollution beginning in about 2020. In the US, reductions in emissions of roughly 15%-20% per decade will be needed.

Place a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) embodied in fossil fuels. Set the tax high enough to initially stabilize nationwide emissions, and then have the tax rise over time, generating steady cuts in pollution. Use tax revenue to (1) compensate lower income Americans for higher energy prices, and (2) to assist impacted workers, especially in coal mining.

To the extent that coal use is unavoidable, only allow coal plants that capture and permanently sequester their emissions in geologic formations.

Cap total carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution emitted in the US through a system of a fixed number of permits; auction the permits to emitters; use auction revenue to (1) compensate lower income Americans for higher energy prices, and (2) to assist impacted workers, especially in coal mining.

By 2030, require by law that all new buildings in the US be “carbon neutral” (no net emissions of global warming pollution from fossil fuel combustion).

Set the emerging biofuels sector on a sustainable basis through: (1) A Low Carbon Fuel Standard that sets a goal for reducing carbon intensity in the total light and heavy duty vehicles fuels mix by10 percent by 2020, and (2) Mount a major effort to research, develop, demonstrate and deploy sustainable biofuels feedstocks and technologies.

Prevent CO2 emissions and remove atmospheric CO2 through forest conservation, management and restoration. Include forests in cap & auction system, allowing the trade of forest emissions reductions that are real, additional, verifiable, and permanent.

For the United States as a whole, adopt California’s standards requiring a 23% reduction in global warming pollution from new vehicles sold by 2012, and a 30% reduction in global warming pollution from new vehicles sold by 2016.

I am so confused.

Focus the Nation is unadulterated political advocacy. But my campus forbids me to use my official time, paid for by taxpayers, to advocate for particular campaign issues. But global warming is so important. But my Chancellor forbids me to engage in political advocacy as part of my job. But my Chancellor is the keynote speaker for our Focus the Nation activities. But my job is to teach not indoctrinate. But I actually agree with many of the proposed policies. But it is not my job to use my platform as a professor to tell students what to think; I am supposed to teach them how to think and come to their own conclusions. But if I don’t go along I’ll be castigated as one of those bad guys, like a Holocaust denier or slave owner. But doing the right thing is so obvious.

Thank goodness I am on sabbatical.

One Response to “I’m So Confused”

  1. Roger Pielke, Jr. Says:

    My friend and colleague Lisa Dilling (who apparently I owe lunch thanks to Mr. Gore), has tried to help me work through my confusion:

    “Ok, I’ll bite. Just a few comments. First of all, CU-Boulder has an
    established policy to become climate neutral, the policy was signed by
    the Chancellor and is part of the “President’s Climate Commitment”
    movement of over 70 universities nationwide that are engaging their
    campuses in doing something about climate change.

    So, the “Focus the Nation” event is pretty well aligned with established
    university policy, as it supposed to engage the campus in discussing
    options etc. on climate. A quote from the FTN website: “A teach-in is a
    day when an entire school turns its attention to a single issue—when
    faculty, students and staff put aside business as usual, and focus the
    full weight of campus engagement on one topic.”

    Second, faculty are not required to take part to my knowledge, it is a

    Third, teaching critical thinking does not mean avoiding discussing
    controversial topics. In fact, discussing climate change is a good
    opportunity for students to exercise their critical thinking skills–
    I’ve seen it discussed already in many classes at CU-Boulder.

    Fourth, in my interpretation of the “no campaigning” policy, I believe
    what was meant was no campaigning for a candidate or a ballot issue. Is
    the organizing of Focus the Nation a political act? Yes, I suppose it
    is, in the sense of politics being “the process by which groups of
    people make decisions” — it is aiming to make a statement. The original
    memo by the campus seems to imply that we are prohibited from using
    university time to work on a campaign issue, which they define as
    “campaigns for public office, state-wide campaign issues or referred
    measures, and local campaign issues or levies”. To my knowledge, there
    is no climate change issue on the ballot for Feb. 5th. We are caucusing
    for party candidates. These candidates have taken positions on climate
    change in some cases, but it would be a stretch to say that speaking
    about an issue involved in the campaign at all constitutes campaigning
    for a candidate. One would imagine that would shut down a whole lot of
    discussions, from defense, to economic issues, to health care, to
    science policy.

    Finally, it is important to give the students a little more credit for
    being able to think for themselves– spending a day focused on a topic
    provides, I believe, a welcome chance to discuss. Students can make up
    their own minds and contribute their own ideas as they wish. Some
    professors may even want to take on the assumptions of the options laid
    out by FTN, or have their students do so. That is, after all, the
    purpose of a university.

    [disclaimer: I am participating in a panel organized by CU-Environment
    Center for the Focus the Nation day on campus]

    Lisa Dilling, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies
    Center for Science and Technology Policy Research/CIRES
    University of Colorado
    1333 Grandview Ave, Campus Box 488
    Boulder, Colorado 80309-0488″