When I first heard news in the beginning of the summer of a coup underway at the University of Virginia, I wondered idly if it had anything to do with climate change—specifically, ousted (and since reinstated) President’s Teresa Sullivan’s defense of the former UVA professor behind the “hockey stick” graph documenting its existence against state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli’s demands for every email/paper/grant application/log/cocktail napkin/etc. he touched during his seven years at the school.
First it emerged that Sullivan had not simply defended Mann from Cuccinelli’s itchy subpoena finger, she’d been campaigning to hire him back to UVA. To a cushy deluxe professorship endowed by coup co-conspirator Mark Kington, no less! It’s as if she didn’t even care that Ken Cuccinelli is running for governor next year!
Now, in Sullivan’s defense, it wasn’t her idea to bring the man the denial lobby has dubbed the “Jerry Sandusky of climate change” back to UVA; credit for that goes to the environmental science department, which apparently thought they could just hire whoever the majority of the department voted to hire pending Board of Visitors approval like it says on the endowment package.
Of course, the Board of Visitors so did not approve. In fact, according to a new legal brief filed in a denial lobby court case against UVA, the Board had apparently been lobbying the administration to conduct its own investigation into Mann’s possible “misconduct” in the “Climategate” affair, despite the conclusion of two separate independent investigations that Mann had not written anything remotely academically or ethically un-kosher in any of his “Climategate” emails.
But I guess the Board didn’t feel comfortable rubbing its fingerprints where Ken Cuccinelli’s had been, because the decision never got to their pay grade; it was nixed by Dean Meredith Woo—who, if not an active coup co-conspirator, was certainly happy to slip into the role of the Board’s Eddie Haskell when the time came all of three weeks later.
What’s funny is that the more I learned about Sullivan and the Visitors who tried to curtail her stay at UVA, the more inevitable a putsch appeared. Sullivan spent most of her academic career co-writing seminal reports and books on economic injustice with Elizabeth Warren, of all blasphemous Marxist zealots. Half the board’s members had been appointed by Virginia’s current Republican governor—whose Democratic predecessor had appointed guys like amphetamine billionaire Randal J. Kirk, who appears to essentially believe higher education should be restructured into a three-silo system of Ayn Rand studies, etiquette and patent production. I might have dropped the climate change theory altogether, but for the utterly surreal reaction of former vice rector and still-vacant environmental science professorship underwriter Mark Kington, when I called him for comment.
Kington, who was the only UVA board member to resign over the failed plot, flipped out at me with an unhinged-ness I had not experienced since I wrote a dumb “Heard on the Street” column in 2003 predicting a “short squeeze” in shares of one of the stocks I covered as a 24-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter. At the time I don’t think I was entirely aware of the difference between airing your 24-year-old “counterintuitive” opinion about a topic in a “Heard on the Street” column as opposed to, say, Slate, but here it is: “Heard on the Street” is read by approximately 100% of hedge fund managers whereas Slate is read by possibly that one hedge fund manager who writes for N+1. In any case, the stock—while still headed to zero in the medium term bc what the hell did I know—shot up 22% that day, and some trader who probably lost his job over it called me up and unleashed a fusillade of barely comprehensible fatwas upon me, and I would have forgotten all about it because it just seemed so silly that he was taking it so personally, but Kington’s tantrum brought it all flooding back.
Only this time, I am older, wiser and not remotely as “important” as I was then. I have no institutional sanction capable of converting my half-baked amateur “analysis” into self-fulfilling prophecy. Somehow, I had incurred the wrath of a high net worth institutional money manager all on my own.
It might have been comical, if my lucky “hunch” hadn’t been informed by an abortive year-long loser odyssey I had recently abandoned into George Mason University, a former UVA extension campus that doubles as a clearinghouse for GOP corporate influence-peddling and propaganda schemes. I actually took some classes at GMU in 1999, one of which was by far the best I took in my somewhat abridged college career, so I had a soft spot for the place when I began delving into its institutional history and governance. As you can glean from today’s introduction to GMU’s central role in the climate science denial lobby, however, that soft spot was dangerously on the verge of being overrun with track marks. What I learned exhausted my incredulity over and over again.
But the GMU model is starting to look like the future of higher education, I’m afraid, so do yourselves a favor and don’t let anyone you care about bother with the eternally expanding zombie loan balance required to afford it.