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Strategic Communications + Digital Media

News of UT’s DegreeGate Spreads

Posted By on March 4, 2010 in Politics, Tennessee |

This morning, I was greeted by an email alerting me to the fact that the Drudge Report had linked to a Knoxville News Sentinel story on what I’m naming DegreeGate. A KNS poll is overwhelmingly against it.

Now, I know that web polls are hardly scientific, but 96% against the decision should be telling. Then Red State picked up on the story.

Oh UT, why? Why did you willingly walk into another controversy on the heels of the Kiffin scandal? I also appreciate the smug column from KNS telling people like me to, “Get over it.” Well, KNS, I refuse to get over it. I’m outraged at the actions of my alma mater, and I plan on making as much noise about it as possible. I’d also like to explain a thing or two to editor who wrote this paragraph:

Some objectors have pointed specifically to Gore’s involvement in the global-warming debate, suggesting that man-made climate change has been disproven by the “Climategate” e-mails. That’s far from true. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is among those who still say climate change must be addressed, and he certainly shouldn’t be disqualified from some future honorary degree. In fact, he would be an excellent choice.

You see Climategate is a big deal. The East Anglia CRU emails and subsequent stories prove that the data that created the infamous “hockey stick” graph is completely flawed. Al Gore used the hockey stick graph in his documentary. The same documentary for which he won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize, and the main reasons that the administration cites in giving him this degree.

Essentially, KNS is defending the decision by the University to award a man who has knowingly spread misleading information and refuses to acknowledge that. That is academic fraud, and it is shameful that my alma mater, a research institution, is willing to be complicit in what could be the biggest scandal of the 21st century.

The Facebook page has 1,100 people less than one week after it was started. Drudge has linked to the story. Red State is covering it. Doesn’t the University realize that it’s only going to get worse the closer we get to graduation? People are only just now learning about it.

Many have argued that Gore deserves this as a public figure. Why do universities award honorary degrees? Essentially, they’re PR stunts and a nice recognition to prominent figures.

However, what happens when the university awards a degree to a controversial and polarizing figure? Well, alumni like me get ticked off and withhold fundraising dollars. The university needs to weigh the opportunity costs of recognizing a political figure or threatening their donation base.

Now, if Vice President Gore would come clean and say that he apologizes for fraudulently using bad data, and that we need to put more open-minded resources towards the climate change debate, I’d be ok with UT’s decision. Until then, I’m going to be an unhappy and very vocal alumna.

In UT’s defense, I just got off the phone with Megan Smith in the Chancellor’s office. She was very nice and reacted the way all PR people are supposed to. I’ve been on her end of the phone before and feel for what she’s either going through or likely to go through. However, UT made a huge mistake here, and it keeps getting worse.

A number of people that I respect have attacked me for making this “political.” It’s not that at all, and I’m offended that friends are trying to silence me. I deeply care about my alma mater, and my blood runs orange. It always will. My four years at UT were amazing, and my education was outstanding. However, as the leader in the climate change debate, Al Gore is suspect when the science ends up being questionable. As I said in my original post, if Climate Gate is remedied or climate change proven, give Al Gore every prize you want.

My main concern is with the University. If Climategate keeps getting worse, Gore’s reputation is going to be incredibly tarnished. Any organization that recognizes him for his work on this issue will look foolish. As a leading research institute, UT has an obligation to only support legitimate and honest research. Why doesn’t UT wait and see how Climategate plays out?

This is not a personal vendetta or a political fight. This is questioning why my alma mater is partnering with a promoter of bad science. Ultimately, my right to freely express my opinion and protest the actions of my alma mater should be respected. Nothing less than that is acceptable.

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