TN Tech research used in lobbying ‘eviscerated’ by some professors

“Growing faculty outrage” prompted a Tennessee Technological University internal investigation into the validity of the school research that was financed by a Tennessee company, then used by U.S. Rep. Diane Black in supporting the company’s viewpoint on federal air pollution regulations, reports The Tennessean. Tech’s president suggests the internal review may “exonerate the innocent.”

Professors have eviscerated the results of a $39,000 study commissioned by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a Byrdstown-based trucking company that makes rebuilt diesel engines. The findings suggested those engines do not emit more harmful emissions than new engines.

The study, summarized in a June 2017 letter to U.S. Rep. Diane Black that was signed by university President Phil Oldham, was used to lobby to keep a measure that allows rebuilt diesel engines used in glider kits to be exempt from modern federal emissions rules.

The problem, as reported Thursday in The New York Times, is that the Tennessee Tech research is contradicted by an Environmental Protection Agency analysis that found emissions from glider kits are much more dangerous than emissions from new engines. (Note: The Times report also says Black got $225,000 in gubernatorial campaign contributions from donor tied to Fitzgerald. Previous post HERE.)

“This one has been called into some question, and so we’re following university policy to look into it based on concerns that have been expressed,” he said during a Thursday interview at the Cookeville campus. “Nothing has come to my attention at this point that concerns me but the fact that other people have raised concerns warrants us to take a look at it.”

But many professors, including members of the faculty senate, have demanded a more aggressive effort to distance the university from what they say is embarrassing research.

…In a letter to the head of the faculty senate, (interim College of Engineering Dean Darrell) Hoy recalled “urging (almost begging) that the Administration immediately suspend support for the project” during a Jan. 23 meeting.

“I realize this memo and the facts that I have brought to light may be a ‘professional suicide’ with regard to my position as Interim Dean,” Hoy wrote. “However, if that is what it takes to help force a more active response from the University and stop the damage to the College, I do it willingly and without hesitation.”

…Questions about conflicts of interest are compounded by the fact that Tennessee Tech and Fitzgerald announced a partnership in August that would allow the university to house a program in a company building on Fitzgerald’s property.

Fitzgerald did not respond to messages seeking a comment on the Tennessee Tech research or partnership.

Oldham said the partnership was not connected with the research project. He repeatedly defended the study and the protocol it followed during the Thursday interview.

He said the internal investigation could be an opportunity to “exonerate the innocent,” but he left open the possibility it might lead to changes.

3 Responses to TN Tech research used in lobbying ‘eviscerated’ by some professors

  • Carol Heimbach says:

    All are innocent till proven guilty.

  • cjmcd says:

    Do I understand the problem? A public University funded by public funds did research for a tax paying corporation with the results being used by a public elected individual as an exhibit for the possible betterment of a job creating corporation. And, the problem is…….?

    • The problem is that the “research” is suspect. The “study” was conducted by an administrator without expertise in this field. It contradicts all earlier studies, and it has been questioned by Tech faculty in this field including the Acting Dean of the Engineering College. Read the full account in today’s Tennessean.

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