February 12, 2018
Letter to the Editor:
The decision by TTU’s President Phil Oldham to undertake an investigation into possible misconduct in research carried out by TTU and paid for by the Fitzgerald Glider Kit company is to be commended. Also to be commended was the decision of Oldham and Vice President for Research and Economic Development Barat Soni to recuse themselves from the investigation given Oldham’s early and strong endorsement of the research report and Soni’s close relationship as direct supervisor of a principal player in the matter, Tom Brewer, Associate Vice President for Strategic Research Initiatives. The TTU research yielded results sought by Fitzgerald and, once passed along to administrators in the U.S. EPA, was used in an effort to reverse regulatory rules that would have negatively impacted the ‘bottom line’ of the Glider industry. TTU’s inquiry into this affair involves looking into possible conflicts of interest and manipulation and/or suppression of data and will take place over the coming weeks.
Less commendable and simultaneous with the decision to investigate, however, was a decision by President Oldham to call for an ‘external peer review’ of the study. Numerous external reviews of the study–carried out by expert peers–have already occurred. Without exception, they have found the study to be deeply flawed and without merit in determining regulatory policy. Yet Oldham wants yet another review. This decision has puzzled many in the TTU faculty and threatens to undercut the inquiry process. The call for an external review suggests that the TTU faculty members chosen to undertake the inquiry—among them presumably engineering experts–are not to be trusted to render an objective, fair judgment in the matter. Moreover, the call for external review suggests a desperate attempt to establish an alternative narrative; one that goes against what every external reviewer to this point has found.
Such an external review raises an obvious, thorny question: who should select the external reviewers? Certainly it should not be President Oldham, who has rightly recused himself from the inquiry nor, realistically, any TTU administrator for that matter. Clearly defined TTU procedures exist for the investigation of academic misconduct but, to my knowledge, there is no procedure or precedent governing an ad hoc, external review request. No official explanation has been offered as to why it is needed, or why the TTU investigation would not suffice in and of itself. This external review is unwarranted, a bad idea, and should be abandoned.
Jon Jonakin, Emeritus Professor of Economics, TTU