A university in Morgantown doesn't want its name used in connection with news about the work of its faculty, as in the sentence: "A WVU study found that Appalachian residents who live near mountaintop removal sites have an increased risk of birth defects."
Administrators at West Virginia University expressed concern that people who hear the phrase "a WVU study" may think findings in academic research papers reflect the position of the school.
WVU spokesman John Bolt asked people not to write "a WVU study," but he said the request "was not developed in reaction to any particular research being conducted on campus."
Then why is it an issue now?
Some of the most notable research coming out of WVU right now is by Dr. Michael Hendryx, an associate professor in the WVU Medical School's Department of Community Medicine. In the past four years, he has co-written 19 papers on illnesses afflicting families near coal mines. Coal industry leaders -- big backers of WVU -- criticize his findings and try to discredit him.
WVU administrators didn't object to similar phrasing in the past, as shown by the schools' own news releases, such as "WVU study: West Virginia's potential workforce facing downturn in 20 years," and "WVU study shows yoga benefits back pain patients."
But Dr. Hendryx's work has received national attention, and has greater potential to alienate large coal industry donors.
It is possible, as WVU administrators seem to fear, that people could read the phrase "WVU study" and wrongly assume that just because research is conducted at the university, its conclusions are automatically endorsed by the WVU administration. If so, the cure is more education about how a real university works.
It's not as if WVU doesn't understand its role. WVU actually gives a pretty good account of itself in the same document asking reporters not to say "WVU study." Faculty members have an obligation to conduct research, it says, explaining:
"It is part of WVU's mission as a land-grant university to gather and analyze data and then contribute this analysis to inform the discussion and understanding around various issues affecting the lives of West Virginians and others around the world.
"WVU's research strives to be data-driven, objective and independent. It is not influenced by any political agenda, business priority, funding source or even popular opinion. WVU faculty follow accepted academic practices, and those research findings are subject to intense review and challenge by academic peers -- including review of data sources, methods and analysis.
"This doesn't mean everyone agrees with the findings, but assures the process followed to reach those findings is valid and unbiased. Accordingly, WVU stands behind its researchers' quest for knowledge as they help society address the issues which confront it."
That's a message worth repeating, often.
The university's request to avoid the phrase "a WVU study" is unworthy of a school that rightfully brags about the amount of competitive research money it receives and about accomplishments of its faculty and students.