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Encouraging News on UCLA Whistleblower’s Suit

Encouraging News on UCLA Whistleblower’s Suit

I have an update on a legal hearing involving UCLA’s Dr. James Enstrom, whose brave whistleblowing actions involving the school’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences cost him his job.

William Creeley, the Director of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has a report on the encouraging results of that hearing:

After 35 years of employment, and many years of disagreement over research on air pollution and its implications for environmental regulations, Dr. James E. Enstrom, assisted by the American Center for Law and Justice, filed a federal lawsuit against various University of California and UCLA administrators in June 2012. Enstrom’s complaint alleged that UCLA had refused to reappoint him after he engaged in successful whistleblowing against a member of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

Last week, a federal district court issued an encouraging ruling in Enstrom’s case. On March 18, United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal signed an order denying some defendants’ motions to dismiss Enstrom’s First Amendment retaliation claims.

Specifically, Judge Bernal’s ruling denies motions to dismiss Enstrom’s First Amendment claims against former Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel Thomas Rice and Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel Carole Goldberg.

…Judge Bernal also found that Enstrom may have a due process right to an accounting of how UCLA spent the research and grant funds he brought into the university. Accordingly, the judge denied the motions by Jackson, Godwin, and Housel to dismiss Enstrom’s due process claim and granted him leave to amend his complaint with respect to this claim against other defendants.

In other words, Enstrom’s case will proceed, having cleared an important early hurdle. As former FIRE President and current ACLJ senior counsel David French observed, this is an important step toward vindicating Enstrom’s rights.

The full scope of Enstrom’s ordeal was detailed by FIRE when the whistleblower filed suit last year:

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.

Whistleblowers against progressive agenda items are truly an endangered species, and I will continue to follow this case closely.

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Comments

“…the EHS faculty (including Froines) voted not to rehire him because his “research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.”

Wow. You don’t get a much clearer indictment of ThoughtCrime than that…!!!

stevewhitemd | March 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Enstrom may have a due process right to an accounting of how UCLA spent the research and grant funds he brought into the university.

That is interesting. For those who don’t know it, NIH and NSF grants are typically made to a university on behalf of a faculty person who submitted the application (in their language, the ‘principal investigator). These grants have two pieces:

a) the ‘direct’ costs; that is, the money to be spent on the project, which includes a portion of the faculty person’s salary, salaries of co-investigator faculty and staff, supplies, materials, equipment, travel and consultants

b) the ‘indirect’ costs; that is, money given to the university as a percentage of the direct costs, to be allocated for all the things a university needs to provide but can’t be measured easily. That includes maintenance, building funds, the library, the internet access and so on.

The indirect rate (that percentage) is negotiated by each university with NIH or NSF, and typically is 40 to 70%. So if I as a principal investigator get a $200,000 grant from NIH, my lab gets $200,000 and my dean gets another $80,000 to $140,000.

I bring all this up to ask a simple question: to which set of books will Prof. Enstrom have access? If the direct costs of his grants, he should already know those, as he declared those up front with NSF, and presumably (as principal investigator) he oversaw that spending. That’s part of the job of principal investigator.

But if the judge is giving him a look at the INDIRECT costs, oh, that will be interesting, and one that the Dean/Chancellor/President at UCLA will fight tooth and nail. They spend that money on all sort of things, and I’ll bet there is spending there that they’d just as soon keep to themselves.

My, my but a forensic expedition into indirect cost spending could bring about a settlement in the Professor’s favor very quickly — and quietly.

    bawatkins in reply to stevewhitemd. | March 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Yes indeed. If you set out as a small business to do exactly the same kind of research done in University labs, you can easily provide the services typically covered by the indirect costs for less than 40-70%, and that includes paying rent for lab and office space (including property taxes), which Universities generally don’t have to cover.

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