With a tip of the hat to Editilla I’m highlighting yesterday’s oped from the LSU student newspaper for two reasons. First because we signed on to the van Heerden justice league and more important the editors tackled a public policy subject that we’ve also highlighted on Slabbed in the confidential settlement which we think is a tool for corporations to buy their way out of egregious behavior. I’ll link our post on the topic below the op-ed:
Those students, faculty and staff who were personally affected by Hurricane Katrina remember the frustration of the years that followed. Countless people across the Gulf South struggled to rebuild their lives, and figures across the spectrum of leadership pointed fingers at each other. We still aren’t exactly sure five years later what went wrong, why it went wrong or who was responsible.
One of the most high-profile — and important — battles from that time flared up again recently. And Louisianians have a rare, short window of opportunity to get some answers.
Ivor Van Heerden, a former University professor who made national headlines for his criticisms of the collapsed levees constructed and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, officially filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the University and several high-ranking administrators. Van Heerden claims he was forced out of the University because his criticisms of the Corps endangered federal funding.
The accusations in the lawsuit are a shocking summation of suspicions that have existed ever since the professor’s job was put on the line in 2006.
Chancellor Michael Martin said Wednesday most of this situation developed before his time here, and he wouldn’t speculate on it because of the pending lawsuit.
“David Constant and the department head of civil engineering made a decision,” Martin said. “It seemed to be entirely in correspondence with our policy, and as a consequence, I have to defend their decision unless someone proves to me they were somehow rudely biased or had become criminally insane.”
Whatever the reasons, the University’s silence is deafening. If Van Heerden was fired for any reasons other than the one he claims, no one in any capacity at the University has provided them.
This is, at best, a staggeringly poorly-managed public relations foul-up. At the worst, it’s a tacit admission of overwhelming, obvious guilt on the part of the University.
One thing is obvious: This is not some minor PR headache the University can weather by remaining aloof. All the people affected by this catastrophe deserve answers.
An out-of-court settlement cannot and will not suffice. If Van Heerden honestly believes the University fired him to silence him, this is not merely a matter of personal injury. It is an intolerable, outrageous affront to the thousands of dead, homeless and still-suffering victims of Katrina, and it is an almost criminal impediment to preventing such a catastrophe from being repeated.
The worst possible outcome of this confrontation for the citizens of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast is an out-of-court settlement. The accusations are too grave, and the stakes are too high for this matter to be swept under the rug. Either Van Heerden is right, and cowardly administrators silenced him out of loyalty to or fear of some political or bureaucratic machine, or there were legitimate reasons for his forced departure.
At this point, we simply want an explanation and answers.
For now, Van Heerden has presented the most persuasive argument — in that he’s actually presented an argument at all.
I’d like to invite our readers to re-visit our post which touches on confidential settlements by Bam Bam Bigelow, A Corporate Predator’s Greatest Fear. Bam Bam is on hiatus due to personal issues but promises to return to the slabbed nation as soon as possible.