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LSU Fires van Heerden of LSU Hurricane Center; Director Marc Levitan Resigns in Solidarity

Photo of Ivor van Heerden by The New York Times.

Photo of Ivor van Heerden by The New York Times.

This is definitely one for the Fresh Hell file: Just before the Easter weekend LSU notified Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, that it would not renew his contract (he is not tenured) and he will be out of a job by May 2010. The university is not saying why—not to him, and not to the public. The firing comes after the university has imposed limits on his contacts with the media, demoted him, and retracted storm surge modeling responsibilities from his direction, among other limitations. Ubiquitous on CNN and in print after Hurricane Katrina—he is reported to have Anderson Cooper’s cell phone number—van Heerden is well known as a critic of the Army Corps of Engineers’ design of levees and the nation’s general unpreparedness for catastrophic hurricane flooding. He is also the author of the impressive and constructively critical book The Storm: [1] What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina—The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist (2006). (See Levees Not War’s interview with van Heerden here.) [2]

The sword of Damocles has dangled close over van Heerden’s head for several years—possibly even before Hurricane Katrina. John Schwartz reported in the New York Times [3] in May 2006 that van Heerden had been called in to the principal’s office and told to stop talking to the media. The university administration was annoyed that the geology professor was talking about engineering matters, making the Corps look bad, and causing LSU to miss out on potential research funding.

How high up did the approval for this firing go? Did Governor Jindal give the nod? (So suggests Len Bahr [4], a former official in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities and former director of Applied Coastal Research.) Was this known about by Jo-Ellen Darcy [5], Obama’s new nominee for overseeing the Corps of Engineers? If Darcy knew about this, it would bode ill for honesty and transparency.

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