Colorado University to Close Tech Policy Research Center

The University of Colorado Boulder is closing its Center for Science & Technology Policy Research at the end of this academic year, a decision that has drawn some criticism from stakeholders.

by Charlie Brennan, Daily Camera / March 6, 2020

(TNS) — The University of Colorado Boulder is closing its Center for Science & Technology Policy Research at the end of this academic year, a decision its original director on Tuesday termed “baffling” but with which its current leader concurs.

In an email dated Monday, Waleed Abdalati, director of the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, which houses the center, stated “After careful consideration and discussions with colleagues across campus, I have decided to close the Center for Science and Technology Policy and initiate a process to consider a new center focused more broadly on the social dimensions of environmental change,” adding that it will close May 31.

His note said that the move “will create opportunities to explore novel ways in which a new center might carry out externally funded research on the social aspects of environmental change — in close partnership with other institutes and departments conducting research that is related and complementary to what we do at CIRES.”

In an interview Tuesday, Abdalati said he wanted to dispel any notion that he is not proud of the center’s work, or not supportive of continuing the science and intellectual traditions on what it is founded.

“My intent here is really to expand our activities, not shutter them, not shut them down,” Abdalati said. “And I made the choice that we would probably be best able to do that by sort of approaching with a clean slate.

“The question is of what CU and CIRES should have in this space, and how can we integrate with other entities on campus with complementary interests and capabilities.”

According to its website, the center, located at 1333 Grandview Ave. in Boulder, was founded within CIRES in the summer of 2001 and recognized as an official university center in the summer of 2002, “as a contribution both to the CIRES goal of promoting science in service to society” and to CU Boulder’s “vision of establishing research and outreach across traditional academic boundaries.”

The center is comprised of five core faculty, two staff members, about nine graduate students, one undergraduate, another 21 faculty affiliates and 14 research affiliates, for a total of 52 personnel. No one will be put out of work, with positions for some to be found within CIRES.

‘Universities do what universities do’

The center’s director for about the last four years is Maxwell Boykoff, and he will now become the director of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder.

Boykoff said the center’s title was reflective of its work in early years, but has come to only represent one of four priorities in its current portfolio. The three others, he said, are sustainable governance, risk perceptions and risk management, plus communication and societal change.

“As we have grown as a center our work has expanded in those areas, and some others, too. It has been a process of multiple years of conversations about where we’re going, working on strategic planning, and that has basically taken us to this point, “ Boykoff said.

CU Boulder Professor Roger Pielke Jr., the center’s first director and still one of its current affiliated faculty, circulated an email on Tuesday strongly critical of the decision, a sentiment he underscored in an interview.

“It is somewhat baffling, but universities do what universities do,” Pielke said. “This moment is particularly interesting, because of the coronavirus, and we are all relying on scientific experience and policy to make good decisions.

“The intersection of science, policy and politics is absolutely fundamental to modern society. To the credit of the University of Colorado Boulder we were at the forefront of recognizing that, and creating an institution that would do research and education at that complex interface. Our program was the basis for similar programs at Arizona State and Michigan.”

Pielke said the decision was particularly distressing at a time when the White House is presided over by someone widely seen as not holding science in high regard.

“One of the things we did with the center is we brought the former science advisors to presidents all the way from (John F.) Kennedy through (Barack) Obama to the center,” Pielke said. “And one of the things we discovered is that science and politics have a difficult marriage in the best of circumstances. And if we are in a situation now, where President (Donald) Trump has severe challenges with truth and experts, it makes independent university-based centers that study and teach the next generation of scientists who work in Washington that much more important.”

Pielke posted a statement concerning the center’s closure on his website Tuesday, and in it, he cited of long list of accomplishments to the center’s credits. They included having been one of the first multi-million dollar NSF “decision making under uncertainty” grants; hosting an “enormously successful” graduate certification program in science and technology policy and its faculty collectively publishing “many hundreds” of peer reviewed articles and public commentaries.

‘The good of the institution’

Abdalati took issue with the accuracy of several statements included in Pielke’s post, including the allegation that the decision — which Abdalti said was his call and not a response to any university mandate — was made “without consulting affiliated faculty.”

“I did consult with a number of people, including the faculty at CSTPR, but i want to be clear that I consulted in the sense of, I had conversations and I got their perspective,” Abdalati said. “I don’t want the decision to be attributed to them, but I did my diligence in collecting information.”

Boykoff is on board with the change.

“I step outside of my own personal interests and see that for the good of the institution, for the good of the university, it is going to be good for us to reevaluate not only where we are putting a lot of our energies, but how we are identifying that work, what we are calling ourselves,” Boykoff said.

©2020 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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