About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Insanity Extends Beyond the Shooters

by Walter Brasch

      During this past week, in Scranton, Pa., a 16-year old put two bullets into the head of a taxi driver and then stole about $500 earned by the cabbie that evening.
      The teen, who showed no remorse when arrested a few hours later, mumbled a few words about his reasons. He said he murdered the cabbie “’Cause that’s what I do to people that don’t listen.” The teen thought the cabbie was taking too long to get him to his destination. The driver was a 47-year-old man with a wife and two children. The gun was an unlicensed 9-mm.
      A few days later, in Payson, Ariz., a three-year-old boy found a loaded semi-automatic gun in the apartment of family friend, began playing with it, and accidentally killed his 18-month-old brother. Police recovered several other weapons from the apartment.
      In Homestead, Fla., a 28-year-old man, who admitted he was drinking and using cocaine, was showing off an AK-47 at a picnic. His six-year-old nephew picked up the gun when no one was watching, played with it, and accidentally killed his own grandfather.
      In Logan County, Okla., a Sheriff’s deputy killed a family dog. The homeowner says she had politely asked the deputy not to come onto her property because she didn’t know how her two dogs would react. The deputy, who had no warrant, opened the gate and was met by one of the two dogs, who began sniffing the deputy. Witnesses say the deputy then pulled his gun, waved it at two children, and then killed the dog.
      In Isla Vista, Calif., a 22-year-old man with a history of mental problems, stabbed his three roommates, and then drove near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In about 10 minutes, he murdered three more students and wounded 13 more before committing suicide.  Police say the killer had three 9 mm. weapons and about 400 rounds of ammunition, all of it purchased legally.
      The father of one of those killed, to a standing cheering crowd of 20,000 at a memorial service, called for an end of gun violence. “How many more people are going to have to die in this situation before the problem gets solved?” he demanded.  He accused politicians of having “done nothing” to stop the mass murders. He had previously told journalist Anderson Cooper that politicians had called him to express their sympathies.  But the father said he told the politicians, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry about my son’s death until you do something.” At the football stadium, the father, who had carefully prepared his speech, declared his son’s murder, and those of five other students, and those of thousands a year who were killed by gunfire, “died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” The grieving father said, “Too many people have died, and there should be not one more.” The crowd picked up on his words, and began chanting, “Not one more!”
      More than 2,300 miles to the East, Samuel Wurzelbacher, forever known as “Joe the Plumber” after he became the darling of the extreme right wing during the 2008 presidential campaign, again crawled out of a hole to defend what he believed was his God-given right to defend gun rights. In an open letter, he pretended to be sympathetic to the families of those murdered, but declared, “Your dead kids don't trump my Constitutional rights.” With mangled grammar, he then told a grieving nation, “The proliferation of guns, lobbyists, politicians, etc.; will be exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.”
      After the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, that left 26 dead, including 20 children between the ages of six and eight, America seemed determined to finally act against irresponsible purchase and ownership of guns. But, politicians with spines of Jello went into the fetal position before the financially-lucrative NRA support, and refused to improve laws about background checks for gun sales, whether from a dealer, at a gun show, from companies that advertise in any of several dozen gun magazines, or on the Internet; they refused to ban assault weapons; and they refused to restrict the size of gun magazines.
      The Georgia legislature is the latest to flex its steroid-driven brain, and pass a law that allows people to carry guns wherever they want. That would include bars. (Whatever could go wrong in a roomful of liquor, booze, and firearms?) Colleges. (Imagine 18-year-olds upset with their roommates or the profs who just gave them lower grades than they thought they deserved?)  And churches. (Obviously, no one thought to ask ‘What Would Jesus Do?' It shouldn’t take anyone with even one point of an IQ to figure out what the man Christians know as the Prince of Peace would think about firearms in houses of worship.)
      Gun-toting extremists picketed several private-enterprise restaurant chains that restrict patrons from carrying weapons. These whackadoodles are the same ones who claim that private enterprise is more important than government, but acknowledge private rights only if it agrees with their own distorted logic. 
       A CBS poll revealed about 85 percent of all Americans, including gun owners, support federal legislation to require thorough background checks on all persons planning to buy a gun. Apparently, the NRA leadership, far more reactionary than most of its members, believes hunters and those protecting their houses from burglars or the “jack-booted thugs” the NRA leadership once called federal law enforcement agents, need military-style assault weapons with a 100-round magazines.
      Just as politicians crave NRA money, the NRA knows it has millions of dollars of funding from gun manufacturers. Last year, American gun manufacturers earned about $12.6 billion from the sale of more than 5.5 million firearms, about half of them handguns. About 60 percent of the sales went to civilians, according to the Department of Justice. Another three million guns were imported. There are more than 310 million firearms in civilian possession, according to the FBI. The United States has one of the highest rates for gun violence in the world.
       Joe the Plumber and NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre, significant blemishes upon the Constitution and the principles of the Judeo-Christian philosophy, will continue to get media exposure. Their names will continue to be known. Their paranoid rants will continue to draw praise from hundreds of thousands who don’t know much about the Constitution, and believe President Obama—whom they know to be a Kenyan socialist Muslim—is secretly plotting to seize every one of their guns and turn the United States into a dictatorship.
      Within a few weeks, as other murders are committed, we will forget the names of those killed this past week.  Their names will no longer be important; how they were killed will no longer matter. But before we develop mass amnesia, and begin to believe that murder is just a part of the American culture, let’s take a few moments to remember. In Scranton, the 47-year-old cabbie, a mechanic who had slightly more than a month earlier changed jobs, is Vincent Darbenzio. The grandfather in Florida is Juan Manuel Martinez Sr. The dog was named Charlie. In Isla Vista, the students killed were George Chen, 19 years old; Cheng Hong, 20; Katerine Cooper, 22; Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Weihan Wang, 20; and Veronika Weiss, 19. (Chris’s father, Richard, is the one who publicly called out politicians and the NRA.)
      During the week they and the 18-month-old in Arizona died, there were about 200 more deaths from firearms, according to the FBI. Few of those deaths made anything more than a two-column newspaper headline, the story usually confined just to local news. During this year, more than 32,000 will be killed by firearms; about 2,000 will be children.
      The NRA leadership and the few extremists it protects mouth the motto of the gun culture—“guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They screech the paranoid fear that all guns will be registered and then confiscated. These juveniles trapped in the bodies of adults ignorantly bleat that if they or their children had been armed, the only one killed would be the person who committed the mass shootings. What they don’t acknowledge is that even the better-trained, better-armed police were unable to kill the shooter. They say there needs to be better laws against those with mental illnesses having guns. That part is true. But also true is that the lack of sane gun laws, which protect all people—including gun owners—is because the insanity is not just those who commit murder, but many who wrap themselves in the Second Amendment, ignorantly proclaiming, with no legal knowledge, they have a right to keep whatever arms and ammunition they want, and any gun law violates whatever they think is their ego-inflated divine inspiration.

      [Dr. Brasch is author of 20 books; the latest ones are Fracking Pennsylvania and Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale. He is also a semi-active trap shooter.]

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Memorial Day Truth

      It’s the third and final day of the Memorial Day weekend.
      Millions of Americans are visiting friends and relatives, perhaps taking a three- or four-day mini-vacation. They may be at pool parties and grilling burgers, hotdogs, veggies, and whatever else appeals to them.
      The nation’s politicians are going to Memorial Day rallies. There will be speeches and music. American flags and bunting will drape the stages. The politicians will tell us about the “ultimate sacrifices” American servicemen and women made. They will tell us how wonderful America is, how we are the best country in the world, how we defend freedom and remember those who put their lives on the line to do so. The crowds, whether a few or thousands, will applaud vigorously.
      Some will even say that the VA hospitals need a complete overhaul, that Gen. Eric Shinseki--who was wounded and earned three Bronze Stars for bravery--should be fired. These are some of the same politicians who had attacked Shinseki when he was Army chief of staff who warned that it would take hundreds of thousands of Americans, not thousands as the Bush-Cheney cabal had claimed, to successfully invade and control Iraq. For his military knowledge, he was forced into an early retirement. These are the politicians who are outraged that America is treating veterans poorly.
       Here’s what the politicians also won’t say. They won’t tell us that 41 Republican senators blocked legislation this past year to provide necessary funding for veterans health. They won’t tell us that during the first years of the Iraq War, the quality of American-based hospitals had deteriorated to the point that it took a major newspaper series to expose what had happened and, finally, with politicians forced to look at despicable conditions, and shamed by their ignorance, there were some measures to improve the care for wounded soldiers after their lives were saved by courageous battlefield medics.
      They won’t tell us that members of Congress blocked significant increases in the foodstamp program or that governors and legislatures have not done what they should to care for the homeless. After all, the impoverished and homeless don’t contribute to political campaigns. Of course, the politicians won’t tell us that one-fourth of all adult homeless are veterans.
      They won’t tell us about veterans who came home from war, and then lost their jobs or homes during the Great Recession that followed the fraud and greed committed by the bankers and industrial giants who were able to become rich because government did little to protect the people.
      With crocodile tears and shallow words, recorded by the news media, the politicians will tell us how much they mourn—but they won’t tell us they are part of the problem, for proudly claiming they voted time after time to block necessary funding and for demanding government not intrude upon the free enterprise system.
      The politicians will wave flags and say how much they believe in America and our veterans, and how much they mourn the loss of our soldiers. The crowds will enthusiastically agree—and then go to their barbeques and picnics.
      No, they won’t tell us that if we want to reduce these problem—DON’T THUMP YOUR CHESTS, UNFURL YOUR FEATHERS, AND SEND THE YOUTH TO WARS THAT SHOULD NEVER BE FOUGHT.
      During the Vietnam War, John Prine recorded “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” It was true then. It is still true. Please listen.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Sounds of Silence—Political Style

by Walter Brasch

      A hush has fallen over our house.
      It began late Tuesday night and, if we are fortunate, will last at least a week.
      But it will return. We have no illusions that there will be continued quiet.
      That’s because we are in the middle of yet another election cycle.
      It’s not as bad as it was in 2008 or 2012 when we were getting five to ten robocalls every day from Democrats, Republicans, Friends of Democrats, Friends of Republicans, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.
      During those years, almost every TV ad was someone praising his own political legacy or attacking her opponent for something that may or may not have been better placed in one of the supermarket tabloids that informed us about Elvis sightings and politicians influenced by aliens. At least by putting most of their ad budgets into television, they were able to keep ad salesmen from losing their lofty prestige and falling into the abyss of wages earned by news directors.
      The candidates are using their money and public platform to express their opinions, no matter how absurd.
      In Arizona, a rancher who thought he should become a member of Congress claimed, “If you look at the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people.”
      In Florida, a state representative claimed those who support the concept of an educational common core have a not-so-hidden agenda—they want to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”
      And in Pennsylvania, we learned that incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, running unopposed in his party, brought 150,000 jobs to the state; it was a remarkable feat considering that when he took office, the state was 13th in job growth and in less than four years, even with the “economic boom” in gas drilling, had plunged to 41st among all states. Corbett then added the spice—his administration made significant increases to the educational budget, a claim that even members of his own party had trouble not bursting out in uncontrollable waves of gagging laughter. Of course, Corbett had to do something since his popularity is about 17 points below that of a Nigerian scam artist.
      The cost to convince us to vote for a particular candidate is in the range of the gross national product of a small industrialized nation. Already, Congressional candidates have spent about $330 million, while Senate candidates have spent about $175 million, according to Open Secrets.
      In Pennsylvania’s District 13, in the southeastern part of the state, candidates for Congress have spent almost $4 million. And it’s only sixth among all 435 districts.
      Leading the spending is Ohio’s 8th district where Speaker of the House John Boehner, first elected in 1991, is running for re-election. He won the primary this month with about 70 percent of the vote. Apparently, he’s looking at a vigorous general election, since he’s already raised about $12.9 million, the largest amount in the country for a House campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a distant second with $5.3 million; in third is House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with a paltry $5 million.
      Leaders in the Senate campaigns, according to Open Secrets, are Ed Markey of Massachusetts ($16 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($14.5 million), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader ($12 million).
      Open Secrets also reveals that in this election cycle special interests and lobbying groups have helped make sure the candidates are bathed in green ink. Contributions to Republicans have already come from securities and investment companies ($33.5 million), real estate ($21.4 million), the oil and gas industry ($16 million), the insurance industry ($13.8 million), manufacturing industries ($10.2 million), pharmacy and health care ($8.3 million), and commercial banks ($9 million).
The Democrats have already received funding from law firms ($36 million), the entertainment industry ($10 million), building trade unions ($6.8 million), public sector unions ($ 6.7 million), and environmental groups ($1.3 million). Hundreds of millions of dollars are coming to both the Democrats and Republicans for the general election; the third parties, no matter how strong their candidates and public policy positions, will be campaigning with spare change.
      India, which provides much of America’s telemarketing and tech services, may be on track to out-America America. The cost of the Indian election may be about $5 billion this year, second only to the $7 billion cost of the 2012 election in the United States.
      Thanks to special interests and lobbies, and their generosity in promoting American’s version of democracy, if the past is the future, voters will experience non-stop robocalls and TV ads for the next six months, some of the calls outsourced to New Delhi, possibly by flag-waving All-American, Constitutionalist patriotic politicians whose loyalties are to the mother’s milk of politics rather than to the people who will elect them.
      [Dr. Brasch has been covering politics and social issues more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which includes a chapter about the influence of the oil and gas lobby upon politicians.]


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges (Part 3)

(part 3 of 3)

 [Part 1: Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to strengthen that college’s programs and ties to the oil and gas industry. Part 2: Problems with academic integrity in other Pennsylvania colleges.]

Among the mission statements of the University of North Dakota Department of Geology and Geological Engineering is that it “strives to develop in its engineering graduates keen insight and abilities to design an environmentally sound and sustainable future for humanity.” 

Like most college mission statements, it’s a broad and vague goal, one that may not reflect reality. The Department is one of the better ones in the country, especially in training students to work in areas of gas and oil exploration and processing. However, their training—and research by the faculty—may be tainted by an industry bias, fueled by a $14 million gift.

The Department is now the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Science. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, the ninth largest oil producer in the United States, provided $5 million to the renamed School; his company provided an additional $5. The other $4 million came from the Industrial Commission/Oil and Gas Research Program, a merger of the state of North Dakota and several gas and oil corporations.

Continental Resources, which had revenue of $3.65 billion and a net profit of $764.2 million in 2013, had opened up the oil shale in North Dakota, site of the Bakken Shale, and is currently the top producer of oil production in the country. Continental, which uses the controversial practice of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (known as fracking) to extract the oil, predicts to produce 62.5–65.5 million barrels of oil, an increase in production of 26-32 percent.

UND isn’t the only college to benefit from the oil and gas industry.

In West Virginia, Bethany College and West Liberty University signed mineral rights leases, claiming the money from royalties would help improve programs and provide for new buildings. The University of Texas at Arlington, sitting above the Barnett Shale, has 22 wells on a single pad site at the edge of campus. At Indiana State University, president Dan Bradley, a petroleum engineer who touts fracking as “a freight train on steroids,” has permitted wells and pipes on campus.  

Against significant student and community opposition, the University of Tennessee opened its 8,000 acre Cumberland Research Forest to the natural gas industry. The 20-year lease includes a $300,000 a year payment plus at least 10 percent royalties. The university stated it was entering into the agreement in order to “conduct unbiased, scientifically sound research.” However, because the research is funded by the natural gas industry, the ethical probability of a conflict of interest must be raised. If the university makes money from the industry, and a portion of that money is targeted for faculty research, how impartial can that research be?
Politicians who take substantial contributions from the oil and gas lobbyists tend to be the ones who vote against human services and education budget increases. By dangling possible income from mineral rights leases, they blur the distinction between professors and corporate shills.

Research conducted by Drs. Charles G. Groat and Thomas W. Grimshaw and a team from the Energy Institute at the University of Texas placed the primary problem of methane in well water with the construction problems in both natural gas wells and drinking water wells rather than the process itself. Dr. Groat’s study supported the industry’s claims that fracking doesn’t cause health and pollution problems.

However, the Public Accountability Initiative revealed in July 2012 that Dr. Groat was a member of the board of Plains Exploration and Production Co., which conducts fracking operations. He received an annual fee for being a member of the Board. Since November 2007, when he became a member of the Board, Dr. Groat received about $1.6 million in stock from the company. The Initiative noted that the research by Dr. Groat and his team was distinguished by “bold, definitive, industry-friendly claims highlighted in the press release but not supported by the underlying report; evidence of poor scholarship and industry bias; and dubious and inaccurate claims of peer review” that had led the media to report there was no relationship between fracking and health and pollution problems. In response, Dr. Groat said his role “was to organize [the study], coordinate the activities and report their conclusions.” He claimed he did not “alter their conclusions” and his presence on the Pioneer board had “no bearing on the results of the study.”

An independent investigation initiated by the University of Texas found “failures and inadequacies in several procedural areas,” and that the study “fell short of contemporary standards for scientific work.”

A University of Texas study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2013, concluded there were minimal leaks of methane from fracked wells. However, Sharon Kelly, an attorney, journalist, and long-time environmentalist who analyzed the University of Texas study for DeSmogBlog, noted: “The vast majority of the wells studied used leak-control technology that has yet to be adopted at many, if not most, oil and gas wells, while others were wells that produced very little gas and consequently even serious leaks would produce relatively small emissions.” Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) determined the study was “fatally flawed.”

Horizontal fracking to extract shale gas “is a wonderful gift that has arrived just in time,” say Dr. Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, and his daughter, Elizabeth Muller, executive director of Berkeley Earth. The Mullers argue, “Environmentalists should recognize the shale gas revolution as beneficial to society and lend their full support to helping it advance.” The Mullers are principals of the China Shale Fund, which is trying to get China to develop shale gas drilling; they would get financial compensation if China moves from coal to shale gas technology.

The natural gas industry needs to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process,” said S. Dennis Holbrook, an executive with Norse Energy and a member of the board of directors of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA). One of the ways IOGA helped direct academic research is by its connection to SUNY’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI), which sponsored lectures, workshops, and professional studies. Among those research studies was one paper where “[A]ll four co-authors had ties to the oil and gas industry, as did four of five of its peer reviewers,” according to Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog.

An informal group of faculty, students, alumni and citizens stated that the Institute and the research emanating from it were not only “fatally compromised,” but that it represented “not the independent search for knowledge proper to a university but a frantic and servile willingness to sell academic legitimacy to a public relations campaign for the gas industry.” The Public Accountability Project analyzed the SUNY/ Buffalo study and “identified a number of problems that undermine its conclusion.” In November 2012, six months after the Institute was created, SUNY/Buffalo closed it.

Several other research studies conducted at American universities and funded by either gas/oil companies or their front organizations allowed Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, to falsely claim, “no evidence directly connects injection of fracking fluid into shale with aquifer contamination.”

It makes little difference if the Community College of Philadelphia accepted “only” $15,000, Lackawanna College accepted $2.5 million, or the University of North Dakota accepted $14 million. We know what they have become—it’s just a matter of deciding how much a tainted body of knowledge is worth.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country. He looks at the process, health and environmental effects, the economics, and the collusion between politicians and the oil/gas lobby.]

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges (part 2)

(part 2 of 3)

[Part 1: Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to strengthen that college’s programs and ties to the oil and gas industry.]

Two of the reasons Pennsylvania has no severance tax and one of the lowest taxes upon shale gas drilling are because of an overtly corporate-friendly legislature and a research report from Penn State, a private state-related university that receives about $300 million a year in public funds.

Opponents of the tax cited a Penn State study that claimed a 30 percent decline in drilling if the fees were assessed, while also touting the economic benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. What wasn’t widely known is that the lead author of the study, Dr. Timothy Considine, “had a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues,” according to reporting by Jim Efsathioi Jr. of Bloomberg News. The Penn State study was sponsored by a $100,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas lobbying group that represents more than 300 energy companies. Dr. William Easterling, dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the study may have “crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”

The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), a part of Penn State, announced that with funding provided by General Electric and ExxonMobil, it would offer a “Shale Gas Regulators Training Program.” The Center had previously said it wasn’t taking funding from private industry. However, the Center’s objectivity may have already been influenced by two people. Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted more than $2.6 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel, sits on the university’s board of trustees; billionaire Terrence (Terry) Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, was CEO of East Resources, which he had sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in July 2010. Pegula and his wife had also contributed about $380,000 to Corbett’s political campaign. On the day Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State to fund a world-class ice hockey arena and support the men’s and women’s intercollegiate ice hockey team, he said, “[T]his contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed.” At the groundbreaking in April 2012, Pegula announced he increased the donation to $102 million.

The Shale Technology and Education Center (ShaleTEC) program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a branch of Penn State, was established “to serve as the central resource for workforce development and education needs of the community and the oil and natural gas industry,” according to its website.

With an initial $15,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) planned to establish certificate and academic programs for workers either already employed by or intending to enter jobs that provide services to Marcellus Shale companies. In a news release loaded with pro-Corbett and pro-industry appeal, college president Stephen M. Curtis announced in November 2012, “The goal is to support the supply chain now serving energy companies and offer specialized career training that connects residents to the high-pay, high-demand career paths.” John Braxton, assistant professor of biology and an ecologist, said CCP “must not be used as a PR puppet for shale gas fracking companies,” accurately noting that the fracking industry “got a free publicity ride” by the administration’s hasty decisions. Within two weeks of CCP’s announcement, the faculty union (AFT Local 2026), which represents the college’s 1,050 faculty and 200 staff, condemned the decision to establish the Center “without the consideration or approval of the faculty, and with total disregard for established College procedures for instituting new academic curricula.” In a unanimous vote by the Representative Council, the faculty declared, “the natural gas drilling . . . industry and peripheral and related industries present unacceptable dangers and risks to public health, worker safety, the natural environment, and quality of life.” Curtis left CCP in June 2013; the proposed program was never developed, and remains unfunded.

In April 2011, Gov. Corbett had suggested that the 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) could allow natural gas drilling on the campuses that sit on top of the Marcellus Shale. The ensuing Act, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, includes clauses to compromise the universities’ academic integrity. In exchange for supporting fracking, the new act allows the university where the gas is extracted to retain one-half of all royalties; 35 percent would go to the other state universities; 15 percent would be used for tuition assistance at the 14 state universities. California and Mansfield universities have already begun to profit from fracking.

In a secret negotiation revealed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Student Association of California University signed over mineral rights on 67 acres. The lease includes a confidentiality clause.

The Marcellus Institute at Mansfield University is “an academic/shale gas partnership,” designed to educate the people about the issues of natural gas production. The university holds summer classes for teachers and week-long camps for high school students to allow them to “Learn about the development of shale gas resources in our region and the career and educational opportunities available to you after high school!”

The university’s associate in applied sciences (A.A.S.) degree in natural gas production and services, begun in Fall semester 2012, was fast-tracked, submitted and approved in less than six months rather than the 12–18 months normally required for approval. The university “will take as many students as we can,” said Lindsey Sikorski, the Institute’s director, although only one new faculty position was approved. The SSHE administration encourages larger class sizes and fewer permanent professors. The program, Sikorski says, “is not one of advocacy for the industry, and all sides will be considered.” The program has not received any grants from the industry; Sikorski said she “doesn’t want there to be any conflicts of interest” that would “compromise the integrity of the program.” However, the reality is that energy companies and their lobbying groups may eventually fill a financial hole created by Corbett cutting higher education funding and the system’s chancellor refusing to protect academic integrity in the state-owned universities. (Neither Chancellor John Cavanaugh nor his successor, Frank Brogan, responded to repeated calls.)

The union that represents the state system’s 6,000 faculty passed a resolution in September 2013 opposing drilling on campuses, stating that the campuses “are not appropriate locations for [fracking] given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process.”

[Part 3: Compromising academic integrity at other American universities.]

 [Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]