Last week, I noted a story in The Austin American-Statesman about Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas professor who has come under fire for research he has done on children of gay parents. The American-Statesman article is titled, “UT investigates professor’s study on children with gay parents,” and it reports the following:
Allegations of scientific misconduct have prompted the University of Texas to investigate a professor’s study that found adults with gay parents reported significantly different life experiences than the children of married, heterosexual biological parents.
The University of Texas has since disputed this account, and The Austin American-Statesman has now issued a correction to the story, calling UT’s action an “inquiry” not an “investigation.” A spokesman from the University has released message clarifying the issue from their perspective:
Last week’s blog posting by Rod Dreher contained information that was not accurate and that was drawn from a media report which has since been clarified by the publication.
There is no formal investigation into Dr. Regnerus’ work. Rather, there is an inquiry — any and all allegations of scientific misconduct against a faculty member automatically trigger such an inquiry, which is a preliminary fact finding exercise led by the Vice President for Research’s office. This is standard operating procedure. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether the allegations have merit and warrant a full investigation. Nearly 30 complaints of scientific misconduct have automatically triggered an inquiry over the past 15 years — very few have led to investigations. An inquiry implies no wrongdoing. It merely confirms that we received a complaint and take all complaints seriously.
Mr. Dreher asks “How is it that a blogger can write a letter to the president of the university lodging a very serious, potentially career-destroying professional complaint against a professor, and the university can turn around and effectively put the professor on trial?”
The answer, quite simply is “he can’t.”
So the message from the University seems to be, “Nothing to see here. Move along.” But is that really the case? The fact of the matter is that the “inquiry” is still open and still may lead to a formal investigation. I hope that it doesn’t and that this is just a perfunctory procedure. But I share the concerns expressed by Peter Wood over at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Wood highlights the University’s treatment of the blogger who initially filed the complaint against Regnerus:
Regnerus article stands (or falls) on its own merits. All scholarship should be open to scrutiny. But [the blogger] Rosenweig isn’t inviting scrutiny. He is, rather vividly, seeking to use the university’s mechanisms for investigating academic misconduct to silence and stigmatize scholars whose findings he dislikes. To get the full flavor of his attack on Regnerus, read Rosenweig’s gloating account of how the university responded to his complaint by inviting him to campus (from New York) to be interviewed by the Inquiry Panel…
UT’s decision to convene an Inquiry Panel in the case shows perhaps cluelessness or institutional pusillanimity. Or, if we take [UT Spokesman] Gary Susswein’s explanation at face value, it shows scrupulous adherence to the university policy 11.B.01. I would suspect, however, that at least a few of the wilder accusations launched against faculty members are spared the 11.B.01 treatment. There is surely some element of human discretion involved, and discretion in this case leaned toward an “inquiry.”
I wonder what would happen if I lodged a complaint against a UT professor’s research. For the sake of argument, let’s say I complained that said professor produced an agricultural study of bovine grazing patterns that was wildly inaccurate and based on faulty methods. Let’s also suppose that I wasn’t a specialist in the field but represented an organization with a bias against the study’s conclusions. Would the University of Texas invite me to Austin to interview me personally about my concerns? Maybe they would, but I doubt it.
Where this will all lead is still an open question. We will be watching with great interest to see how it unfolds. My hope and prayer is that it doesn’t end up with Regnerus under the bus. Stay tuned.