Dr. Elizabeth H. Sibolski
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
3624 Market Street, 2nd Floor West, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Dear President Sibolski, September 10, 2012
The Responsible Drilling Alliance, a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization in
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, is filing a complaint against Pennsylvania State University.
We are asking the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to consider this
complaint in the context of the accreditation review of Penn State currently underway.
Like the issue that caused Middle States to begin its investigation, this complaint
centers on unethical practices and an abuse of public trust by the university.
Penn State published an advocacy for the shale gas industry on July 24th, 2009,
under the guise of an independent research report. Emerging Giant, Prospects and
Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play, was followed by
Update 2010, and Impacts and Future Potential, 2011.These papers were released
under Penn Stateʼs name and authored by former Penn State professors but
commissioned and paid for by the shale gas industry.
The papers contained a host of highly exaggerated predictions on jobs,
economic development, and tax revenues. The original printing of Emerging Giant did
not carry a notice of sponsorship by the shale gas industry or a disclaimer from the
university. None of the three papers were peer reviewed or published in professional
journals. Neither of the two lead authors have a background in the paperʼs primary
subject: regional economics. One author being a petroleum engineer and the other a
fuel market analyst. Both authors had already left Penn Stateʼs employ before the
release of the first paper.
Emerging Giant and Update profoundly influenced the legislative debate on
taxes and regulation in Pennsylvania in favor of the gas industry. The excessive
predictions and claims are still being used to pressure legislators into making
concessions. The most successful one being the defeat of the severance tax. Emerging
Giant had the most extensive roll-out of any academic paper in Penn Stateʼs history.
Almost immediately, the gas industryʼs public relations machinery brought Emerging
Giant into the limelight of the national and international media. Gas industry lobbyists
carried it to the legislative offices in Harrisburg as well as to the governorʼs mansion.
The copies the lobbyists dropped off had Penn Stateʼs name and shield on the cover
and on every page but carried no acknowledgment that the work had been
commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Gas Committee.
On August 5, 2009, a second printing of Emerging Giant containing an
acknowledgment and disclaimer was issued without discernible fanfare. By then,
however, the damage had been done. Emerging Giant, being from a prestigious
research university and of apparent independent scholarship, overwhelmed the debate
and validated all the shale gas industryʼs positions.
On June 4th, 2010, the Responsible Drilling Alliance issued an open letter to then
President Graham Spanier asking him to publicly disavow Emerging Giant and the
Update which had just been released. Dean Easterling of the College of Earth and
Mineral Science responded. He candidly admitted that the publication had a number of
faults in how it was originally presented and that the authors had overstepped into the
realm of advocacy. He asserted the principle of academic freedom for the authors and
defended the paperʼs methodology. Even prior to his defense, the Penn State Report
and the authors had come under heavy criticism from economists.
Penn stateʼs behavior is unethical and in contravention of both MSCHE principles
and Penn Stateʼs own standards.
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Characteristics of EXCELLENCE in Higher Education
Requirements of Affiliation and Standards for Accreditation
Online Version - Revised March 2009
Standard 6: Integrity
In the conduct of its programs and activities involving the public and the
constituencies it serves, the institution demonstrates adherence to ethical
standards and its own stated policies, providing support for academic and
Pennsylvania State Universityʼs statement on Academic Integrity by the Council of
Academic integrity mandates the pursuit of teaching, learning, research, and creative activity in
an open, honest, and responsible manner. An academic community that values integrity promotes
the highest levels of personal honesty, respect for the rights, property, and dignity of others, and
fosters an environment in which students and scholars can enjoy the fruits of their efforts.
Academic integrity includes a commitment neither to engage in acts of falsification,
misrepresentation, or deception, nor to tolerate such acts by other members of the community.
Policy AD47 GENERAL STANDARDS OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
F. As members of the community, professors have the rights and obligations of all citizens. They
measure the urgency of these obligations in the light of their responsibilities to their respective
subjects, to their students, to their profession, and to their institution. When they speak or act as
private persons they avoid creating the impression that they speak or act for their respective
colleges or the University. As citizens engaged in a profession that depends upon freedom for its
health and integrity, professors have an articular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry
and to further public understanding of academic freedom.
Faculty and staff members of the University shall exercise the utmost good faith in all transactions
touching upon their duties to the University and its property. In their dealings with and on behalf of
the University, they shall be held to a strict rule of honest and fair dealings between themselves
and the University. They shall not use their positions, or knowledge gained therefrom, in such a
way that a conflict of interest might arise between the interest of the University and that of the
individual. Faculty and staff members shall disclose to the administrative head of the college or
other unit in which they are employed, or other appropriate administrative officer, any potential
conflict of interest of which they are aware before a contract or transaction is consummated.
The Responsible Drilling Alliance is renewing the demand made in the original letter to
Dr. Spanier for Penn State to publicly dissociate from these three discredited papers.
The accreditation review offers an opportunity for Penn State to develop procedures to
insulate research from corporate advocacy. Such procedures, if well designed, would
be a template for other research institutions to avoid these issues while protecting
academic freedom. The University of Buffalo recently garnered a firestorm of criticism
when it released a paper by the same “Penn State” authors.
Dr. Easterling, in his response letter, said that Penn State had requested that the
Marcellus Shale Committee release the reports under their own name but they refused.
It would be informative for Penn State and the MSCHE to review Penn Stateʼs contract
with the Marcellus Shale Committee to determine how the university might better protect
its reputation in the future.
Please refer to the attached case documents for further elaboration and documentation.
Jon Bogle Ralph Kisberg
201 East Third Street Responsible Drilling Alliance
Williamsport, PA 17701 Board President
copies: President Erickson, Pennsylvania State University
Dean Easterling, College of Earth and Mineral Science
Karen B. Peetz, President of Board of Trustees
email: Letter and other materials also being sent as PDF files to recipients.