On the surface, it makes sense for the University of Massachusetts to seek outside funding through grants for its Massachusetts Fisheries Institute program, founded by renowned marine scientist Brian Rothschild and run out of UMass Dartmouth.

The institute, after all, has come to be seen as a significant research partner for the state Department of Marine Fisheries and the New England commercial fishing industry, with its work and Rothschild’s own efforts looming as one of the few sources of fisheries data that’s seen as credible by virtually all sides.

But in ousting Rothschild from his director’s post, UMass Dartmouth Academic Affairs Dean Marcie Williams and Chancellor Divina Grossman have sent a dangerous message. That’s the notion that Rothschild and his politics are seen as obstacles to the school’s gaining grant dollars from the likes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and nonprofit groups that have had excessive input into the federal policies that condemned New England’s fishery to the “economic disaster” it has become.

It’s no accident that Gov. Deval Patrick went to Rothschild’s marine institute for the data to make the case for the federal Commerce Department’s economic disaster declaration; it’s also no accident that Rothschild was U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s recommended candidate to head NOAA when President Obama first took office — or Congressman Barney Frank’s recommendation to lead NOAA’s Division of Marine Fisheries.

Yet, to UMass Dartmouth, he’s expendable, so the institute might better attract grants from what chancellor’s spokesman John Hoey calls “private institutions, government agencies and industry and private grant providers.”

If any such organizations are willing to provide money only for data that supports their own agenda, and if that’s seen as achievable only by forcing out Rothschild, UMass is selling out its own marine fisheries institute and its credibility, and that would be an absolute disgrace.

Here’s hoping UMass officials reconsider, and recognize that Rothschild has brought much more than grant dollars to the institute and the university as a whole.

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