Former UA Professor Rick Steiner, who left the University of Alaska earlier this year after almost three decades of service, received the Cook Inletkeeper's highest annual award at a ceremony in Anchorage on Dec. 4.
Steiner loved his UA job, but he says he was forced out because for years, the administration of now-former UA President Mark Hamilton, who is also a former U.S. Army general, had stifled Steiner's academic freedom and free speech in an effort to stop him from criticizing Alaska's oil industry.
For example, Steiner's warned Alaskans and others about offshore drilling in Bristol Bay, saying it could destroy the world's richest commercial, sport, and subsistence salmon fishery. Ironically, the federal government heeded Steiner's warning by ultimately yanking off-shore oil lease offerings in Bristol Bay for the potential risks of an environmental calamity. Nevertheless, Steiner found that free speech has its limits at the University of Alaska.
"You can't criticize the oil industry when you're in Alaska," UAA history professor Steve Haycox told the Alaska Dispatch last year.
The state funds the university, Haycox explained, and oil production fuels the state treasury.
"How comfortable will the chancellor and the president be with some thoroughgoing criticism of the oil industry?" Haycox asked.
As a professor, Steiner brought the University of Alaska into worldwide prominence on oil spill response. After Steiner's work on the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska in 1989, Steiner traveled around the world assisting governments and industry on oil spill response.
After leaving UA in January, Steiner spent months responding to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Steiner was quoted extensively as an expert from Alaska in the national print media including the New York Times. Steiner also appeared frequently on national television and Internet media covering the spill.
Apparently, Steiner's time on the national stage working the Gulf spill only increased his credibility:
Steiner's award from Cook Inletkeeper is for "speaking truth to power." (Professor John Creed, University of Alaska)