Cary Hegreberg Commentary: “Power Shift” Reaction

A recent conference for environmental activists at the UM campus in Missoula entitled “Power Shift” has riled up Montana’s business community, as well as many state legislators. While one-sided, politically charged discourse about environmental issues is not unusual on college campuses, this one was different. Listed as Platinum level sponsors of the event, were none other than U of M President Royce Engstrom, and Waded Cruzado, President of MSU.
Setting aside the irony that organizers of this activist training camp chose precious metals that must be mined from the earth and processed with large amounts of energy as their sponsor icons, it is disturbing to see our university system evolving into a breeding ground for fresh new opponents to virtually anything that creates jobs.
Take a listen to some titles of presentations at the Power Shift conference: “False solutions to climate change: part 1—Nuclear, “clean coal” and natural gas.” False solutions to climate change: part 2—Biomass, biofuels, biochar, hydro, geothermal and other bad ideas.” What’s left for crying out loud? Whale blubber?
Here are a few more titles of presentations sponsored by our university presidents, and numerous other academic programs at UM: “The tar sands and their tentacles: from megaloads to the Keystone XL pipeline and everything in between.” “Sierra Club: Beyond Coal Campaign.” “Protecting communities from coal trains.” There were also numerous sessions geared around grassroots organizing, how to lobby public officials on environmental issues, and how to gain media coverage for the cause.
Presenters and speakers were from the who’s who list of organizations that appeal agency decisions, file lawsuits, organize protest rallies, and successfully gain media attention using whatever theatrics it takes. Oh…and Dr. Engstrom and Dr. Cruzado.
It was particularly amusing to see the former Missoulian editorial page editor giving a seminar on how to frame messages for the media that will be compelling and persuasive.
For 20 years the Missoulian read like a Sierra Club newsletter, and he defiantly defended his journalistic objectivity. Now that he’s on his own time, he is coaching activists on how to dupe the media.
The issue at hand, however, is the role of universities in promoting and sponsoring this type of blatant political training with a clear objective that is hostile to economic growth and job creation. University officials wonder why some legislators are reluctant to appropriate more tax money to support academic programs. They need look no further than the Power Shift conference.
It is no secret that states like North Dakota and Wyoming put more money into education and educational facilities than does Montana. And it is no secret where the tax money to do it comes from. It is not coming from pie-in-the-sky, whimsical, experimental, and taxpayer subsidized sustainable energy development. The tax revenue paying university professors and constructing new buildings in those states is coming from coal, oil, and natural gas. Montana legislators know this. And they wonder why our university presidents are complicit in political efforts to oppose legitimate energy development.
Students at places like Montana Tech, MSU Northern in Havre, and colleges of technology in Glendive, Miles City, Great Falls and Helena who are studying to be diesel mechanics, welders, heavy equipment operators, petroleum, mining or construction engineers, and any number of other honorable careers, should be outraged that their peers are being taught how to destroy the industries they are trying to get jobs in. Maybe they should organize a grassroots effort and launch a protest on the UM Environmental Studies Program.
There will most certainly be political fallout from the university system’s overt support for the Power Shift conference, which, by the way, ended in a protest rally in front of congressional offices in downtown Missoula.
University officials can argue academic freedom all they want. Legislators have appropriation freedom. So don’t be surprised when money goes to support the welding and diesel mechanic programs around the state, and moves away from the mother ship campuses that so freely exercise their academic freedom.

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