Why Is GMU Stonewalling?

stone_wallby James A. Bacon

Two months ago, Jagadish Shukla, a George Mason University professor, was one of twenty climate scientists to affix their signatures to a letter calling for a federal investigation into “corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change.” It was imperative, stated the letter, that “these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate.”

Outraged by the assault on free speech, climate skeptics brought to light some troubling facts about Shukla’s activities. Not only did Shukla take in $250,000 in salary and compensation from GMU, he paid himself $314,000 in 2014 as president of the Institute for Global Environment and Society (IGES), the recipient of generous federal grants, and that doesn’t include the $146,000 salary paid to his wife Anastasia Shukla.

A month ago, the controversy jumped from the Internet to the political realm when Congress got involved. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sent a letter informing Shukla that it was “foreseeable” that the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology would investigate him, along with IGES, for using science-research monies provided by taxpayers while participating in partisan political activity. Although Shukla later stated that he signed the letter in a personal capacity, he did identify himself as a GMU professor, and he did post the letter on the IGES website.

The Smith letter asked Shukla/IGES to preserve a “full and complete record of relevant communications” should the Committee decide to request documents. The request encompassed all e-mail, electronic documents, and data created since January 1, 2009. The congressman also asked Shukla to exercise reasonable efforts to notify employees, former employees, contractors and third parties to do the same.

Shukla is a high-profile member of the GMU faculty, whose combined salary/compensation exceeds that of GMU’s president and makes him among the highest-paid professors at the university, if not the highest paid. If you’re looking for a local hook on this story, Shukla serves on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission, which is making recommendations to the governor regarding state climate change-related policy.

While the Congressional committee seems to be focused on Shukla, I would suggest that certain questions should be put to his employer, George Mason University.

  • What is GMU’s policy regarding faculty drawing salaries from outside organizations?
  • Did Shukla disclose to GMU that he and his wife were drawing salaries from IGES?
  • Did GMU review the arrangement to ensure that it complied with the university’s disclosure requirements, conflict-of-interest guidelines and other rules?
  • Has GMU been alerted to the congressional request for Shukla and IGES employees to preserve all electronic documents?
  • Do any such documents reside on GMU servers, and what measures, if any, has GMU put into place to ensure that the documents are preserved?
  • Has GMU “lawyered up”? Has Shukla “lawyered up?” If so, is GMU covering Shukla’s legal expenses?

Let’s crowd source this bad boy!

Contacting three separate people on the university’s communications team over the past three weeks, I have tried repeatedly to get answers from GMU. I received no answer from two spokepersons, and a non-responsive email response from a third. Clearly, GMU is stonewalling. To get answers of any kind, I apparently have no choice but to file FOIA requests. I expect that GMU will maintain that certain correspondence is privileged, either because it pertains to “employee” matters or “legal” matters. I get only one shot at this, and I want to make sure I craft the FOIA request correctly.

I would invite readers to crowd-source this story. If you dig up something worthwhile through Internet research, or if you have suggestions on how to word the FOIA request, let me know in the comments.

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18 responses to “Why Is GMU Stonewalling?

  1. $314,000 ???

    geeze – how about this : Koch Brothers – George Mason University Virginia $14,487,000 Educational programs

    maybe you can find out which GMU professors got some of that money while you’re at it, eh?

    ” George Mason University President to Charles Koch: “I am nothing but incredibly grateful”

    Charles Koch’s nonprofit foundation has sent over $68 million to universities from 2005-2013.

    Over half of that $68 million went to George Mason University alone. GMU easily clocks in as the top university recipient of Koch cash, taking $34.6 million since 2005. That is separate from another $10 million to GMU’s Mercatus Center–which Mr. Koch founded and remains a director of–and another $18 million to GMU’s Institute for Humane Studies–of which Charles Koch is the chairman–since 2005.

    GOOD LORD JIM – you’re messing around with PEANUTS!

    • How much of that Koch money went towards the study of climate change?

    • Typical LarryG gibberish …. When confronted with any story that calls the actions of a climate fanatic into question – just start squealing “The Koch Brothers, The Koch Brothers”

      Don’t feed the trolls Jim. They’re like Bears at Yellowstone – once you start feeding them they’ll never go away and they’ll lose their ability to survive in the wild by living on their own wits. Bad for you, bad for the bear.

      • troll? Jim goes blathering about transparency and money – and I bring up the Koch bros spending and it’s “trolling”?

        WHERE was the “outrage” about transparency and accountability when the Koch Bros were spending 30+ million?

        Hey – I’m ALL FOR transparency and accountability – but not just about Climate Change and really – not just about GMU among the Colleges.

        And for Don – not just ALEC and others influencing his beloved “Virginia Way” General Assembly!

        Here’s the problem – when you make transparency and accountability about climate change as a target – you essentially undermine the concept of transparency and accountability as a whole.. you prove to others that it’s a partisan weapon and not something much more important.

    • Is there an explanation for Koch support of GMU?…such as alumni connection or the like?

  2. Perhaps we should return all the Carnegie money. He used megatons of coal making steel. All those furnaces belching all those emissions……Oh, and don’t take any bucks from the Rockefeller Foundation. We know where THOSE dollars came from. All tainted, all politically incorrect. All those college endowments need to be converted to – wait, what can they invest in that isn’t offensive to somebody?

    Larry, repeat after me. Capitalism is good. Energy = Wealth. Life today is better than it has ever been on this planet with cheap energy creating a growing middle class all around the world, and without too much pain we can easily transition to cleaner forms of electric generation. If the sea is rising – well – it has before, and we were warned not to build our houses upon sand.

    • Well said Steve.

      Let’s not obfuscate the issue here. This Shukla character needs to be audited for all the federal grant money he took ASAP.

      • Actually I’m inclined to think the professor enjoys the same free speech rights as the corporation, and as someone interested in hearing from everybody, I want to hear from both of them. Neither should be squelched.

    • Capitalism is great! Those 117 people who died making shirts in Dhaka certainly attained a higher quality of life thanks to the miracles of the free market!

  3. Thank you Steve Haner –

    I admire people who put their money where their mouth is.

    I also admire people who try to use their profession or business to mobilize and promote value driven results. So I admire those who deploy their professional skills, accomplishments, and power in the service of their personal values. And those who refuse to compromise or forsake those values in the pursuit or execution of their profession or business. This is sometimes hard for people to do. Often it takes great virtue. And demands sacrifice, including the abuse of the ignorant, the uninformed, and the evil.

    “Charity” however can be a double edged sword, a risky business too.

    For success, whether short or long term, demands that those so engaged live a real life devoted to hard experience and accomplishment to insure that at some stage of their lives they are lead to a rigorously self examined life. One that leads to wisdom and virtue, to the acquisition of rock solid values based on the real experience of that life, under mentors or on its own. Hence they acquire and absorb values that are worth living.

    Best I can tell Charles Koch qualifies for my admiration. One reason among many reasons is what I find in his book. Hence, too he is demonized by many but pursues his course nevertheless. Hence also mine is a subjective judgement. I could be wrong. But we all are obligated to make such judgements, and do the best we can in so doing. In any case:

    see: Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies

    Lets assume my judgement is right. That indeed Charles Koch’s giving of monies to George Mason University is driven by virtue, his desire to improve the world and help others by empowering the University to fulfill its mission whether in whole or in particular. Well now, as Steve Haner points out, the fortunes of major sinners in the past (whether they redeemed themselves in their own lifetimes or not) have in our capitalist society more often than not accrued net advantage to our society over time. Indeed often overwhelming advantage through many generations. So my judgement about Koch’s gift be ill informed then quite likely it will work to net advantage in any case.

    Unfortunately, however, this is sometimes not the case. In some cases other forces are or come in play to generate negative results from the purported “gift” of wealth. Typically this occurs in cases of theft (not gift). Other times a disguised gift of wealth is applied to evil purpose (not for charitable gift), and sometimes wealth is simply applied directly to evil. Thus, for example, such fortunes in corrupt societies often do great harm.

    We see this all over now in Putin’s Russia. It’s the iron rule, rather than the exception, in most all history. Krupp industries, its power, its talents, its tools fueled two world wars working on behalf of evil. Hence it was a Public Private partnership dictated to the benefit of its partners – a Government and Private business, specifically particular individuals who controlled both.

    A lesson here is that typically governments growing corrupt act to corrupt everything that government touches so as to grow, sustain, and protect is corruption, specifically the power of those in charge for their benefit.

    Hence we have arrived at some of the concerns raised in the article and its follow on commentary found within this website at:


    Still, however, even the most virtuous and well intended gift can be twisted out of shape to cause harm and evil in the world.

    This is by reason of the fact that money and the power it bestows can easily corrupt both the giver and those who succeed in the shoes of the giver. And the longer the life of the gift, the longer those monies remain in play, the greater the chance of their corruption and theft by later generations as original intentions, motives, and competence of the donors fade into the past, and lose their hold over later trustees of the original gift. This has most surely happened in the case of George Mason University, not once, but quite likely a least several times over.

    To be continued.

    • “Still, however, even the most virtuous and well intended gift can be twisted out of shape to cause harm and evil in the world.”

      Here is the theme or thread that always deserves development. It follows one of several iron laws of history, one that is never forgotten without great harm. Every institution corrupts over time. The motives behind it do not. The ideas driving it do not. The core values setting it in motion do not. But the institutions that men build over time as a structures around those motives, ideas, and core values ALWAYS corrupts. ALWAYS. Because We are Fallen.

      And We high-jack great institutions to do great harm.

      For a prime example, look at the Catholic Church over the ages.

      I use that example to shock myself. I revere the Catholic Church. In the best of times that Church gives us John Pauls and Benedicts, only the recent examples. It the worst of times that Church gives of witch burners and pedophiles. Its an iron law: all institutions built, maintained and operated by men (for PC folks think women too), even those divinely inspired, corrupt.

      One of the grandest examples of charity, vision, and public service in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia was the establishment and the building of George Mason University that began in the 1970s.

      This was a magnificent achievement, one of historic consequence. One accomplished largely by a few men who acted largely on their own initiative, their own vision and prodigious energy at their own expense to give us all and later generations that follow us a “Crown Jewel” of education, learning and culture. An example of personal initiative unmatched in Virginia since Thomas Jefferson. It is remarkable and far too often it is forgotten.

      Too be continued.

  4. So, let me see if I understand this…

    Shukla signed a letter to the federal government (also known as petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, First Amendment) asking them to investigate corporations that have “knowingly deceived” the public about climate change (whether lying is protected under the First Amendment depends who and when you’re asking, but knowing deception for material gain is generally frowned upon).

    The dread act of signing a letter (protected) to the government (protected) asking them to look into corporations lying about the effects of climate change (ambiguous, arguably fraud) constitutes an “assault on free speech” in your world, but a member of the legislative branch of the federal government bringing the power of that office to bear on someone for signing a letter they didn’t like is totally okay? Is this supposed to be a Hatch Act violation they’re looking for?

    He may have violated federal and GMU clauses against “double dipping” and if so deserves to face appropriate consequences for that, but I find it interesting that’s not what you’re saying the honorable Representative from Texas is investigating. The narrow focus on partisan activity demonstrates exactly who wants to launch an assault on free speech.

    • LOTFL, No one is disputing Shukla’s personal right to petition the federal government. There are questions as to whether he has the contractual right, as recipient of federal research grants, to use those resources (such as his time and the IGES website) to influence public policy. The issue is particularly pointed in Shukla’s case, because he urged the federal government to undertake a politically motivated persecution of those he dislikes — the fossil fuel companies — the ultimate goal of which is to de-fund any remnant of corporate financial support for voices skeptical of climate change.

      • Again, I understand that they’re looking for a Hatch violation, but that is only because Shukla put his name on a letter Smith didn’t like, which is the actual assault on free speech here given that it was launched by a member of the legislative branch solely based on the signing of the letter. To call what Shukla and others want the ggovernment to investigate – corporations funding studies they know to be fraudulent with regards to climate change – politically instead of scientifically motivated is the most disingenuous thing I’ve ever seen on this blog.

  5. Thank you, LOFTL, for describing this like it is.

    It’s not just Mr. Shukla but also the office of the Atty. General in NY that’s been in the news lately for blaming the likes of Exxon for fraud. Fraud, for skepticism about the scientific certitude and verifiability of climate change? Fraud, for questioning the current models and predictions of recent climate research? Fraud, for opposing the cap-&-trade accord because only a few countries worldwide would have observed the proposed rules (but supporting a carbon tax)? Fraud, for simply acting in its own best corporate interest, despite full disclosure to its shareholders of the risks of climate change, despite its corporate liability to its shareholders if it failed to act in its own best interests following full disclosure of the risks of climate change? Fraud, for funding its own climate research and, gasp!, coming up with some different results, different conclusions?

    And now we have a Congressman investigating the investigators? But he’s not politically motivated, no? Telling them to preserve everything they’ve ever written because it MIGHT show that these allegations of fraud were politically motivated, and oh by the way your politically-motivated organization IGES shouldn’t have paid you and your family members so much, and how on earth could Mr. Koch’s George Mason U. have employed such a scheming climate-change-believer to teach despite his extracurricular endeavors and still receive a handsome professor’s salary for doing so?

    Look, there’s passion, and overkill, on both sides of this debate, and name-calling, and motive-blaming, and probably even slander, but legal FRAUD? Get a life, lawyers.

    I happen to believe the weight of the evidence supports a warming climate; one that will cause rising seas as the massive accumulations of ice at the poles are reduced. I happen to know, as you do, that there are things we could be doing to prepare for this. Many of them require the cooperation and collaboration of governments worldwide, including massive third-world carbon emitters whose economies can’t tolerate the consequences of curbing those emissions. Others are domestic preparations, like beginning now to relocate endangered infrastructure (let alone the luxury housing) along our coasts out of harms way and forbidding the rebuilding of the likes of New Orleans where already below sea level. Are we so certain of climate-change science that we will bet our economy on proceeding with these preparations? Is Exxon guilty of legal FRAUD for expressing its own corporate ambivalence?

    How about funding the ongoing science of climate change better, to find us all some real answers upon which we can make real policy decisions, and do what has to be done, instead of just arguing about what might happen to our children and doing nothing?

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