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I’ve posted earlier about this matter in a brief note. There have been further developments that seem to warrant an update.
This situation involves the suicide of a young man in a clinical drug trial and some allegedly unethical behavior by the people running the trial.
Information about this situation is now widespread, but one example is “Bioethicists ask University of Minnesota Regents to Appoint Outside Panel to Review Ethics of the 2004 Dan Markingson Trial.” Unfortunately, the regents decided not to do this, and so the sore festers.
What particularly disturbed me about this situation was the posing of a question by the General Counsel that seemed both chilling and aimed at Dr. Carl Elliot, the bioethics professor who has helped to keep this issue alive at Minnesota. Thus General Counsel Rotenberg posed a question to the Faculty Consultative committee: What is the faculty’s collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular U faculty research activities?
Roterberg’s question is an artful dodge in this controversy. There is no disagreement about the facts Dr. Elliott has brought forth. Despite dishonest mutterings about factual incorrectness, the University has yet to identify any actual errors. Dr. Elliot’s opinions and conclusions about propriety and ethical aspects of the study’s management are what the University administration disputes and wishes would go away.
Mr. Rotenberg’s question was kicked upstairs to the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee. There a kangaroo court was held that resulted in a number of concerned faculty members attending the next meeting. Naomi Scheman, a professor of philosophy and the president of Minnesota’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors attended this second meeting and told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the question was inappropriate for Rotenberg to ask and inappropriate for the committee to discuss.
Another person who attended the second meeting, Karen-Sue Taussig, a medical anthropologist commented, per the Bioethics Forum: “I was worried the committee might be being used to intimidate a member of the faculty who was critical of the University. It seemed to me that there was a logical inconsistency in the University counsel’s position: he did not provide any evidence that any individual faculty member felt chilled by Carl’s work, yet his bringing up the issue clearly posed the threat of chilling Carl’s speech. In short, I was concerned about the possibility of an Orwellian attempt to invoke academic freedom in order to chill academic freedom. “
The chair and co-chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee do a little artful dodging of their own in this matter:
“We referred one question to AF&T: What is the faculty’s collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular University faculty research activities? In retrospect, we recognize that the phrasing of the question could have been more artfully constructed, because as written it could be inferred to presuppose factually incorrect attacks in the specific instance of the Markingson case. Email of Faculty Consultative Committee Chair and Co-Chair, 26 April 2011”
Correct, and a less than candid admission that would better have been phrased as an apology.