Politics Blog

WWU president responds to climate-conscious students who would strip GOP Sen. Ericksen’s degree

When a group of environmentalist Western Washington University students announced a meeting, on Thursday, May 7, to explore the possibility of revoking the WWU diploma of state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Ericksen himself decided not to give it too much of his attention — at least not yet.

However, the students did get the attention of the highest office at the university.

In a statement to The Bellingham Herald sent late Friday, May 8 (after this blogger’s weekend had begun), WWU President Bruce Shepard effectively tried to pre-empt any attempt by the student group, led by Chiara D’Angelo, Evelyn Kennedy and Emily Krieger, to ask the administration to strip Ericksen’s 1995 master’s degree in political science and environmental policy. The students’ rationale, outlined in an undated letter to Shepard; LeaAnn Martin, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; and the WWU board of trustees, was that Ericksen’s actions in the state Legislature, particularly in the arena of climate change, “stand against the ideals of Western Washington University students and threaten future generations.”

Ericksen is opposed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s low-carbon fuel standard and, along with other Senate Republicans, introduced legislation this year to serve as an alternative to Inslee’s carbon cap-and-trade proposal for the state. Ericksen and Co.’s package includes encouraging nuclear energy and offering more flexibility to electric utilities that must meet alternative energy targets.

While Ericksen has said human beings “may” be contributing to climate change, he has cited fringe science that tries to refute the scientific consensus that global temperatures are getting warmer, and the burning of fossil fuels is the cause.

Shepard, far from embracing the environmentalist students’ idea, had a sternly worded point to make to them about “respect for different viewpoints.”

Here’s Shepard’s statement in full:

“We appreciate the good work of Senator Doug Ericksen on behalf of Western Washington University. Senator Ericksen, a Western alumnus, has proven to be a friend to Western and a strong advocate. It is a special obligation of a university community to provide a venue for civil and thoughtful discussion about the important issues that confront us and to do so in an atmosphere of respect for different viewpoints. The strength of our democracy is that all citizens, including students and leaders like Senator Ericksen, have the freedom of expression to take positions with diverse viewpoints. Consequently, any notion that we might seek to penalize a graduate for the positions they express shows a disturbing misunderstanding of the intellectual freedoms any university worthy of the name must stand for. And, protect.”

I’ve asked the three students for a response and have not yet heard back. When/if I do, I will post their statement here.