UC Senate Rejects Tobacco Money ban

    The Assembly of the Academic Senate voted 43-4 to reject a ban on tobacco-funded research at its May 9 meeting four months after the UC Board of Regents postponed its decision on the issue to receive faculty input. UCSD representatives to the assembly voted against the ban, even though no quorum had been reached among campus faculty members.

    Contention about the proposed ban remains high; questions about researchers’ academic freedom in choosing funding resources and conducting unbiased research face off with concerns about the University of California’s reputation. Tobacco companies that have dealt with racketeering charges use the research in their favor.

    UC Davis law professor John Oakley, the chair of the Academic Senate, went so far as to thank participants for being civil and respectful at the May 9 meeting, according to UCSD pathology professor and chair of the Academic Senate’s San Diego division Henry C. Powell.

    The assembly meeting in Oakland had almost full attendance and included several speeches, two of which were given by proponents of the ban, which is referred to as RE-89. The resulting vote gave a very clear message to the regents of what the faculty believes, Powell said. However, he added that the regents don’t have to take the assembly’s vote into account.

    While the vote was requested as a reflection of UC faculty opinion, senate bylaws allow representatives to “”vote their conscience,”” according to UCSD professor of medicine John Pierce.

    The UCSD division of the Academic Senate met on April 24 to discuss the policy; however, five minutes before the meeting’s completion, Powell proposed an unannounced one-hour discussion prior to voting, according to Pierce. When faculty members had to leave, the quorum was dissolved.

    In response, Pierce collected petitions to ask for a full-faculty vote, which was accepted eight days before the meeting. Pierce opted for a full-senate meeting given the time restraint, and it was called for the day after the systemwide meeting – on May 10 – and a quorum failed to be reached again.

    Powell’s vote against the ban was in response to the decision of the Academic Council – the executive committee of the UCSD Academic Senate – to follow the university’s previous policies, which were heavily discussed from 2002 to 2005, against such restrictions on academic freedom in research-funding sources.

    A resolution was originally planned for the UC regents’ next vote in the Committee on Finance on May 17; however, Regent John Moore, a proponent of the ban, will be unable to attend. Chairman of the committee Regent Richard Blum requested the vote to be postponed to July, when the next meeting is scheduled to take place.

    “”The potential for RE-89 going before the regents in July, while not set in stone, still remains a possibility,”” said Jennifer Ward, spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President.

    This issue has been on the regents’ plate since September 2006 after UCLA epidemiology professor James E. Enstrom’s research, which was funded by Phillip Morris, was used in court by the tobacco company.

    Assemblyman and UC San Francisco professor of medicine Stanton Glantz has strongly opposed Enstrom’s research, going as far as calling him “”a damned fool”” and his study “”crap”” on a KQED radio program in March 2005. Enstrom, despite being published in the British Medical Journal and exonerated of scientific misconduct charges, feels that his reputation and academic freedom have been infringed upon.

    “”This is an area where you have advocacy groups and research – it can sometimes have a conflict,”” said Powell, who said he sympathizes with Enstrom. “”There’s a tendency to attack the research of people you don’t agree with.””

    As the vote shows, many believe that a ban restricting research funding is not in the best interest of the university and can cause a slippery slope for other industries; however, Moore disagrees.

    “”It is unlikely that a UC restriction on tobacco funding would work much hardship on research because worthy science is routinely funded in our society,”” he said in a San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed. “”Equally important, ridding UC of tainted tobacco money will protect the academic integrity of California’s great public university.””

    While the debate continues among the regents, Powell said he sees it as a good opportunity to implement a better system of checks and balances in terms of communication between researchers and private companies.

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