Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002

 
 

Success Story:

Pitt Upholds Academic Freedom

By Rachel Martin

 

In May 2001, the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh came under attack by state legislators for taking on "controversial" cases. Tom Buchele, Director of the Law Clinic, is currently representing the Allegheny Defense Project and five other conservation groups in a lawsuit against the East Side timber sale in the Allegheny National Forest. He is representing the groups on his own time, apart from the Environmental Law Clinic. Nevertheless, he was attacked by Allegheny National Forest-area state senator Joseph Scarnati for his role in the suit. He's since taken on several suits through the Law Clinic for which he and the Law Clinic have come under fire, even though the clinic receives no state funding.

In June 2001, State Senator Scarnati (R-Brockway) pushed through a rider on the appropriations to the University of Pittsburgh specifying that the Environmental Law Clinic was not to receive state funding. In the fall, the University assessed the Law Clinic $62,000 for overhead and administrative costs, claiming that this was only a fraction of the clinic's indirect administrative costs equal to tax money support. Since the University receives only 20% of its funding from the state, this would make the overall indirect administrative costs over $300,000, a figure that Pitt law school professor Bill Luneburg stated "defies logic."

"The Chancellor should have known Professor Buchele wasn't going to go after litter bugs," said Robert Silber, a spokesman for Clean Water Action at a November 2001 "Rally for the Allegheny and Environmental Law Clinic." Tom Buchele is representing Clean Water Action in a lawsuit to prevent the Allegheny River from being dredged for gravel that would be used for highway construction.

"The Environmental Law Clinic provides an extremely valuable service to the community. All citizens should have access to legal representation, and the Law Clinic provides this representation to those who could not otherwise afford it," said Jim Kleissler on behalf of the Allegheny Defense Project.

"The importance of the Environmental Law Clinic is evidenced by a recent report which lists the Allegheny National Forest as the #1 most endangered national forest in the country. This report demonstrates the importance of the lawsuits that Tom Buchele has taken," said Susan Curry, Eastern Field Coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance, the group that produced the report detailing the Ten Most Endangered National Forests in the U.S.

A public outpouring of support for Professor Buchele and the Pitt Environmental Law Clinic followed the announcement that the University planned to assess fees that would have bankrupted the clinic. This support included multiple editorials in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an editorial by the Warren Times-Observer, and a finding by the University of Pittsburgh Faculty Senate that the fee charges equated to an abridgement of academic freedom.

The University of Pittsburgh announced in March that they would continue to house the Law Clinic. The University has stated that they will cover the Law Clinic's overhead and administrative costs will be covered entirely through private funds.

Please send letters of thanks to:

Dean David Herring

University of Pittsburgh Law School

3900 Forbes Ave.

Pittsburgh, PA 15260

herring@law.pitt.edu.

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