Rice professor defends testy exchange with Alaska Congressman


by Larry Seward / KHOU 11 News


Posted on November 22, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 22 at 6:13 PM

HOUSTON - He snapped giving testimony before a U.S. Congressional committee. Now, in his only on-camera interview, Rice University history professor Dr. Douglas Brinkley explained himself.

In 22 years teaching, Dr. Brinkley’s never felt more popular. In class Tuesday, students cheered for him.

"They clapped when I walked in," Dr. Brinkley said. "I actually made a joke. I said don’t follow my behavior!"

Friday, while testifying about his passion -- protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling, Dr. Brinkley met a strong critic on the House Resources Committee. 

Chairman Don Young, a congressman from Alaska, called Dr. Brinkley "Dr. Rice" and used the word "garbage" to describe part of Dr. Brinkley’s testimony. The professor responded saying, "It’s Doctor Brinkley. Rice is a university. I know you went to Yuba College and didn’t graduate."

Young responded by telling Dr. Brinkley, "You just be quiet!" 

The two exchanged words a while longer before another congressman spoke up. On Tuesday, Young’s office issued a statement.

"What happened last Friday was nothing more than a publicity stunt by Mr. Brinkley in order to sell books," said Luke Miller, Young’s press secretary. "Witnesses are invited to testify before Congress to answer questions and provide insight, not repeatedly interrupt a committee chairman and members of the committee and be disrespectful. People will want to make this into more than what it really is; an attempt by an author to create a stir and sell books."

Dr. Brinkley insists he is not trying to sell books and said he is receiving little criticism.

"I have received now hundreds of hundreds of emails from people all over," Dr. Brinkley said. "I haven’t received one negative one. I’ve had the entire Rice University and including Texas conservatives cheering me on for standing up to his bullying tactics. I wasn’t looking forward to some kind of conflict of any kind. But, these things confront you (in life). It hit me. I responded and I don’t retract anything. I’m very glad I held him accountable."

He is also glad his students seem to respect his behavior.