Just as the long Memorial Day weekend began, federal Judge James Brady scolded administrators at Louisiana State University (LSU) over their handling of Dr. Ivor van Heerden's dismissal.
Dr. van Heerden alleged that he was fired because his criticism of the federal Army Corps of Engineers put LSU's chances of getting federal funding in jeopardy. (LSU receives large federal grants from the Corps.)
In an injunction trial that wrapped up late last week, Brady said the school should have been "up front" with van Heerden about why he was let go.
During testimony, van Heerden produced copies of email exchanges between a pair of LSU administrators in which they suggested he was crazy and possibly should receive a cyanide pill. Referencing that exchange, Judge Brady called the flagship university's behavior "beyond unprofessional."
One of the pair was Robert Twilley, Associate Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development. With a title that includes the words "economic development", it's possible he may be a 'point person' for bringing in big research grants - like those made by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Twilley recently helped secure a large grant from America's Wetlands with support from Chevron to go toward starting the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio. The research center is intended to be funded by state coastal restoration dollars.
Judge Brady was not convinced that he should order LSU to re-instate Dr. van Heerden in his research post at the Hurricane Center. But he indicated he would entertain a request for an expedited jury trial in civil court.
Levees.org interviewed Dr. van Heerden on his future both in the short and long term.
LEVEES.ORG: What does Judge Brady's action mean?
VAN HEERDEN: It means I will not be re-instated at LSU. I will never ever be at LSU again.
LEVEES.ORG: So this is bad news?
VAN HEERDEN: It's not really bad news. The judge is sending a message that LSU needs to recognize there will be a civil suit and that we will likely win a civil suit. That means I will be compensated.
LEVEES.ORG: Are you concerned about the cost of a jury trial in civil court?
VAN HEERDEN: I am not worried because the lawyers are working pro bono. I only have to pay expenses. I am really looking forward to the discovery process. It's important for the Louisiana public to understand exactly who is pushing the buttons at LSU, and what the outside influences are.
LEVEES.ORG: So what now?
VAN HEERDEN: There is a potential that a position will come up at another university.
LEVEES.ORG: Will you be offering your expertise in dealing with the BP oil crisis?
VAN HEERDEN: That was one of the problems with the injunction trial, in that it took me away from pressing current needs in the Gulf. But the answer is yes, for now I will do consulting work with the oil crisis. That should cover my financial needs in the short term. The longer term is much more iffey.
LEVEES.ORG: Is there something supporters can do to help?
VAN HEERDEN: Yes, there is. LSU stated during the trial that I was terminated because I was paid to do research not teaching, and that LSU's core mission is teaching not research. Given that, one possible course of action I suggest is for supporters to contact their state legislators and request that all coastal research funding in the new budget go to UNO and other universities.
The American Association of University Professors has convened a panel to investigate Dr. van Heerden's dismissal after concluding that the matter "raises significant issues of academic freedom, tenure and due process." The panel will begin its inquiry in August.
Those wanting to know more about Ivor van Heerden's lawsuit are encouraged to visit this site. http://www.youtube.com/defendivor#p/u
UPDATE: Dr. van Heerden told me (on the phone) at 10:30am today CST that late yesterday, June 3, his lawyers filed paperwork for a new injunction trial.
UPDATE: As reported by Bill Barrow of the Times Picayune, Dr. van Heerden has renewed his effort to reclaim his job.
Follow Sandy Rosenthal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeveesOrg