Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Warming critic at OSU loses teaching position

Albany Democrat-Herald
Hasso Herring

For the last 10 years Nick Drapela has taught chemistry at Oregon State University. Now the instructor will be out of a job in the fall and says he doesn’t know why.

He suspects — but the university denies — it’s because he has spoken out against the idea that human activity is causing global warming or climate change.

He has decribed himself as “probably the most visibly outspoken critic of the global warming doctrine at OSU ... I think they finally just said, we can’t have this.”

Drapela, 47, is married with four young children. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at OSU in 1998 and has taught there since 2002.

In 2004, the College of Science honored him as an outstanding faculty member with an award for “effective and inspirational teaching,” the college says on its website.

Drapela says he received merit raises for his work as a faculty member through 2007.
“As soon as I began publicly questioning the global warming theory and giving skeptical talks about the subject (in) 2008, I stopped receiving any awards or raises,” he wrote in an email.

On May 29, Drapela says, he was called into the office of Rich Carter, his department chairman since Feb. 1, told that his contract would not be renewed, required to hand over his master key to the building and given a key to just his office instead.

Drapela says he was stunned and asked for a reason but was told “this is not the time or place.”
(The office key broke when someone helping Drapela tried to use it, according to Drapela’s lawyer, but he got another.)

Since then, said the lawyer, Ben Rosenthal of Portland, Drapela has tried to find out specifics from academic and human resources administrators at the university, only to be told that they are in his personnel file.

Interviewed on Friday, Rosenthal said there was nothing relevant in the file, only a letter from the department’s former chairman with routine comments about Drapela’s teaching — a letter the lawyer said Drapela was never given.

A few days after that letter  last year, Rosenthal said, his client’s contract was renewed.
The file contains no warnings or anything else from the current department head, according to the attorney.

Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing, said privacy laws kept OSU from disclosing why Drapela was let go.

Clark did say that the instructor was “not terminated,” only that his year-to-year contract was not renewed but continues in effect — along with his salary and benefits — through Sept. 30.
“Oregon State does not make personnel decisions based on people’s outside activities or beliefs,” Clark declared.

Rosenthal, who has practiced since 1990 with an emphasis in employment law, says there’s no law keeping an employer from stating why someone was let go.

In early June, letters from students backing Drapela appeared in The Barometer, the campus newspaper at OSU.

“I have been a student here for four years, and Drapela is among the top half of professors who have taught me during my tenure,” wrote one, Garrett Duyck, a senior in natural resource management. “It is an outrage that a talented instructor like Drapela be let go without any significant reason.”

“In the past two terms,” wrote another, Jessi Burns, a major in nutrition, “I have been a student in Ch 122 and Ch 123, and I can sincerely say his teaching methods and obvious passion as an educator have been incredibly effective.”

Rosenthal said he and his Drapela will follow up on the case, perhaps with a civil action charging wrongful termination and violation of due process.

Even though his client had annual contracts, he said, he has certain rights as an employee.
As for the reason behind his client’s being let go, Rosenthal said, “We’ll find out eventually. They’ll have  to say it in court.”

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