Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"The cynic that I am, when such praise is so lavish, I ask myself if there is something more that I am missing."

From Chuck Turchick to the Board of Regents, in the Minnesota Daily.

Dear Regents,

I attended your meeting on Friday and I noticed that in the discussion regarding the human subjects research resolution, several of you were effusive in your praise of President Eric Kaler and his administration’s transparency and accountability, not to mention your self-congratulations as well. The cynic that I am, when such praise is so lavish, I ask myself if there is something more that I am missing.

It seems to me there are two sets of issues arising from the reports of the external review panel and the legislative auditor. First, there are the micro-level issues regarding how specifically to decrease the likelihood of a recurrence of the problems those reports enumerated.

In the words of one regent, addressing those issues will include making changes to ensure that appropriate structures go into place to better scrutinize the trials, evaluate potential conflicts, ensure safeguards and hold the University to the highest ethical standards but also the legal and regulatory standards. These issues deal with the specifics of how to correct what was done wrong in the Dan Markingson case and in human subjects research more generally at the University of Minnesota.

A second set of issues, however, deals with a more macro-level approach.

These are the broader questions and include the following: Is there a prevailing culture at the University that has led to the problems outlined in these two reports? Is there a culture of fear that prevents people from speaking out? Has the University been insular and defensive, as the legislative auditor noted, when shortcomings have been pointed out? Why can’t the University administration even meet with the courageous faculty whistleblowers, without whom your resolution would never have been considered, let alone use the expertise of these medical ethicists on the various task forces and committees it is creating?

Why did it take 11 years for the University and the Board of Regents to come to realize these problems existed?

Has the University been more concerned with its public image than with getting at the truth?

Is there an academic arrogance that has led to the current situation?

Is there an excessive corporatization of the University, and has that contributed to these problems?

These and no doubt others are the issues not dealt with in your resolution. Maybe this was intentional, and your lavish and self-congratulatory praise was meant to mask that omission. But if there are such underlying problems, merely dealing with the micro-level issues will not begin to bring the University’s human research protection program to “a level that is above reproach,” as called for in your resolution.

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