Four groups say they are worried the University of Virginia may unnecessarily disclose private correspondence from scientists in the case involving the work of former professor Michael Mann.
The state’s flagship university has fought requests to release documents under Virginia's freedom of information laws to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), but the groups say they are now concerned about a May 24 agreement U.Va. made to provide some documents to the American Tradition Institute.Environmental Law Center.
The four groups — the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Association of University Professors, the American Geophysical Union and Climate Science Watch — sent U.Va. a letter late Tuesday.
“We believe the agreement is in conflict with the university’s previous statements and actions on this issue and it threatens the principles of academic freedom protecting scholarly research,’’ they say in the letter.
U.Va. is slated to respond to the American Tradition Institute around Aug. 20. Carol Wood, a university spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a message for comment.
In January. the American Tradition Institute asked the university to turn over documents, including e-mails Mann exchanged with other scientists while employed at the university, on behalf of Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) and two other state residents.
The group seeks nearly identical documents to those sought by Cuccinelli using a civil subpoena. The university has been fighting Cuccinelli's demand in court, arguing that his inquiry violates Mann's academic freedom and that the attorney general has singled out Mann because he does not agree with his research findings that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming.
Cuccinelli says he wants the documents to explore whether a fraud investigation is warranted. He is using subpoena power given to him under Virginia's Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which empowers the attorney general to investigate instances in which public employees misuse tax dollars.
A judge in September set aside Cuccinelli's civil investigative demand because it did not state objective reasons why Cuccinelli believed fraud might have taken place. He rewrote the request and remains in litigation with the university over the issue.
Mann, who left the university in 2005 and now works at Pennsylvania State University, has been cleared of wrongdoing by several previous inquiries into his work. His research findings have also been upheld by other scientists.
Marshall made a similar request to U.Va. prior to Cuccinelli's subpoena. The university at first told Marshall it no longer had access to the documents he sought. But in response to Cuccinelli's subpoena, it has acknowledged that it has a backup server that contains some of the records.