Energy Institute should be scrapped, professor says
Questions about Louis LaPierre's academic credentials prompts call to start over
A biology professor from Memorial University in Newfoundland is calling on the New Brunswick government to scrap the Energy Institute it established to study shale gas.
The call from Ian Jones comes after Louis LaPierre, the person appointed by Premier David Alward to lead the institute, admitted to including misleading information in his biography of academic credentials.
LaPierre had professed to have a doctoral degree in ecology from the University of Maine, when in fact his PhD was in the field of education from Walden University in Minnesota.
Seems like they've appointed somebody who is in a very powerful position who has a lot of expertise in hob-knobbing with politicians, and hob-knobbing with industrialists, but who doesn't have the scientific credentials.- Ian Jones, biology professor at Memorial University
Jones says the situation is a wake-up call and the New Brunswick government should start from scratch when it comes to looking at shale gas development.
"Seems like they've appointed somebody who is in a very powerful position who has a lot of expertise in hob-knobbing with politicians, and hob-knobbing with industrialists, but who doesn't have the scientific credentials so - how cynical does that make you?" said Jones.
Jones says the most rigorous criteria must be used when it comes to the scientific study of shale gas and its environmental impacts, something the Energy Institute is supposed to do.
However, Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the institute will continue its work and says the scientists LaPierre brought together are leading experts in North America.
"I'm confident that the individuals we have are the individuals that we need to have around the table to get the answers we're looking for," he said.
National academy denies 'positive reviews'
In fact, Leonard contends the Energy Institute is already attracting international attention and acclaim.
"The reality is you look at the Institute and it's already receiving you know, very positive reviews from the national academy of sciences in the U.S. You know, that's an incredibly prestigious institution," he said on Thursday.
Health Minister Ted Flemming repeated the claim on CBC's weekly political panel. "The National Academy of Sciences in the United States has looked at and has contributed in setting up our Institute and they've been very, very favourable," he said.
LaPierre was invited to participate last month in a shale gas workshop put on in association with the National Academy of Sciences.
But LaPierre was one of several presenters, the National Academy of Sciences noted in an emailed statement to CBC News on Friday.
"Presenters were invited because their organizations’ activities were of possible interest to workshop participants," said academy spokeswoman Molly Galvin.
"The workshop was for information-gathering purposes only. As with any of our information-gathering workshops, no conclusions or recommendations by the National Research Council will be drawn from the workshop," she said.
"We were unaware of any questions concerning LaPierre’s credentials and the reported revelations surprised us," Galvin added.
Green Party Leader David Coon doubts the Energy Institute, created by LaPierre, can survive and predicts the government will abandon it once the controversy dies down.
"The Energy Institute now is really on life support and I think we'll see it quietly fade away," Coon said.
LaPierre resigned Wednesday as the head of the Energy Institute that was created by the province on his recommendation. He also resigned as professor emeritus at the University of Moncton, where he started working as a biology professor 31 years ago.
Students pay for LaPierre's deceptions, says leader
The student federation president at University of Moncton says students are the ones left to pay for LaPierre's deception about his academic credentials over the years.
It's a lie that finally some students paid for.- University of Moncton student federation president, Kevin Arseneau
"It's a little ambiguous as what he was trying to hide, or what he was trying to do," said University of Moncton student federation president Kevin Arseneau.
"I think for the students, when you go into a class and you think you're talking to a specialist, that helps a student also to work with profs that have these credentials and these experiences and the reputations of being great scientists — it's a lie that finally some students paid for."
Arseneau acknowledges that LaPierre has done a lot of respectable work over the years. But he says that's little reassurance to those who studied biology under him.
"He still did work in those fields so he must have gained some experience," said Arseneau. "But still it's all experience gained over a lie. So I think many students must be asking themselves many questions."
Charles Doucet, who took two courses with LaPierre while studying biology at the university, has his degree proudly displayed.
But now, he says "there's a pall that hangs over the degree."
"Honestly, it's tainted. And that hurts. You know, I have to take him at his word, he has said he's sorry. But you know, I trusted him, I trusted the department, I trusted the university," Doucet said.
"By his selfish actions, we're all tainted, we're all affected by this."
University president Raymond Théberge is doing his best to reassure former students like Doucet.
"I think one incident is not a determinant in terms of tarnishing the 50 years of the institution. I think what we have to do is try to better explain what happened," Théberge said.
He says he is also disappointed in LaPierre's deception. But he does not believe his actions will have an impact on the integrity of the university and vows the university won't be duped again.
"Nowadays it's much more stringent, verification is done of diplomas, everything is authenticated, it is peer-reviewed in terms of the interviews. I think things have changed a lot in the last number of years," Théberge said.
U of M professors' association welcomes resignation
The president of the Moncton university's association of professors says resigning was "the least he could do" as it undermines the university's reputation.
"As a university professor you have to give the example, you have to be a model for society," said Marié-Noëlle Ryan, a philosophy professor. "And the first thing you have to be is honest of your credentials. Your whole reputation relies on that."
The university's president says its professor selection process doesn't need updating and that LaPierre's case is isolated.
"The procedure we use is similar to other universities,” Raymond Théberge said in a statement. “A university’s reputation is built on many things, including the integrity of its teaching body."
"We cannot tolerate any doubt whatsoever insofar as this integrity goes," he said. "This is an isolated case, and I am fully confident that the mechanisms we have in place are sufficient so that a similar situation does not reoccur in the future."