Iowa Regent Faces Criticism for Alleged Intervention in Campus Ethanol Dispute

A member of Iowa’s Board of Regents is defending himself against accusations that he interfered with academic freedom by asking the University of Iowa’s president to intervene on behalf of biofuel-industry lobbyists who were upset by a professor’s comments about ethanol plants.

According to the Associated Press, a director of the university’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research gave a talk last month in which he warned that ethanol plants were depleting groundwater supplies. After an industry leader complained about those remarks, Bruce L. Rastetter, an Iowa board member, sent an e-mail to Sally Mason, the university’s president, telling her that industry officials “would appreciate being able to provide factual information so this professor isn’t uninformed.”

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat, has taught at Iowa State University for more than two decades. He called Mr. Rastetter’s request “disturbing” and said it had “severe implications” for academic freedom, the Des Moines Register reported. But Mr. Rastetter said on Tuesday that he was only trying to encourage a dialogue between the professor and industry leaders, and denied accusations that he was trying to shape university research, according to the AP.

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