Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Med School Dean on Pepsi Board

Aurum de stercore
(gold from dung) is an interesting concept explored by Primo Levi in the Periodic Table. The story describes a consulting gig that dealt with the making of lipstick from chicken shit.

There are many other ignoble ways of making money, arguably involving less admirable means. Recently the Dean of the Medical School at Minnesota signed onto the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola.

The news surfaced locally around Christmas. Old hands at the University will know that the best time for such news to surface is either during the Christmas break or in August, because then no one is around to notice.

Once a minor hue and cry began, the Dean announced that she had thought long and hard about the distinction between tobacco money and money from a company whose product is capable of rotting children’s teeth. Turns out that she plans to be an apostle of change at Pepsi. "I really thought about that a lot," Powell told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I thought it was an opportunity for me as a health professional to have my voice heard by the leadership of a major beverage distributor with a global reach."

Others are not so sanguine.

"PepsiAmericas, a contributor to America's obesity problem, clearly wants to affiliate with a physician to enhance its own image," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "What -- other than money -- Dr. Powell expects to gain from such an association is unclear."

“Like all outside directors, Powell will be paid in cash and company stock for her board service. That includes a $30,000 annual retainer, $2,000 for each board meeting she attends and $60,000 in stock.”

There is a further dilemma for medical school faculty interested in consuming the politically correct tooth-rotting drink. Coke or Pepsi? Along with the new Twin City Federal Stadium, the University of Minnesota has a financial arrangement with the Coca Cola company for product placement. See the U’s website on the University of Minnesota Coca-Cola beverage partnership.

What’s a poor upwardly mobile medical school faculty member to do?

Concerning ethical issues raised, Dr. Powell indicated that she would resign if she could not make a difference in the activities of Pepsi. It will be interesting to see whether Dr. Powell “walks the talk,” as the late Paul Wellstone would have said.

"This could be a good opportunity for Dr. Powell to help focus on the health of children and providing more healthy beverages," said Mary Story, co-director of the U's Obesity Prevention Center.

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