LSU defends cutting van Heerden’s post in hurricane center
Kudos for student journalism!
On April 23 the LSU student newspaper the Daily Reveille published an important scoop by staff writer Joy Lukachick regarding the highly controversial removal of Ivor van Heerden from his position as associate director of the LSU Hurricane Center, which is being renamed and relocated and will – at least temporarily – be directed by Joseph Suhayda, Ph.D., oceanographer and retired professor of civil engineering.
So far, the only official university response with any detail is based on comments from Office of Research and Economic Development Vice Chancellor Brooks Keel and Associate Vice Chancellor Robert Twilley.
Both men defended the changes, with Twilley saying that van Heerden wasn’t actually fired but that his associate director position with the center had been eliminated after its director Marc Levitan had resigned his post. Forgive me but that sounds like a distinction without a difference.
Twilley implied that the changes were being made in the interest of expanding the role of the hurricane center, connecting it more closely to coastal research and ensuring its coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the governor’s office of coastal protection and restoration.
Robert Twilley is an experienced coastal ecologist who wears several hats. In addition to his associate vice chancellor position he heads LSU’s Wetlands Biogeochemistry Laboratory, the so-called flooded soils lab, in which seminal research on coastal wetland plants and soils is carried out. Since coming to LSU from ULL he has played a rapidly expanding coastal policy role for the state, in addition to his science role as the leader of a team effort to address coastal issues, using the emerging areas of ecosytem restoration and ecological engineering.
I have long admired and respected Dr. Twilley. In fact, some years ago while I still had a modicum of coastal political influence I led the effort to recruit him into the “inner sanctum” of coastal policy. I have the feeling that he drew the short straw in terms of commenting on Ivor’s fate.
Anyhow, I remain mystified why the flagship university for the state facing the most challenging coastal problems in the country would turn its back on van Heerden, a recognized and highly qualified coastal thinker (and sometimes critic) re state and federal restoration policy. Our science capacity should be expanding, not contracting!
Presumably this Reveille article will only pique the interest in, crtiticism of and curiosity about the circumstances of Ivor’s “release,” however it is characterized. In the long run I seriously hope that an important role can be created for Ivor that befits his knowledge, his public support – and his candor.