Wednesday, May 11, 2011

University of Minnesota General Counsel Rotenberg

The Buck Stops... at the Faculty Senate!

In yet another amazing display of irresponsibility, the University of Minnesota General Counsel made this claim in an article cited here yesterday:

I originally put up this piece without further commentary except for emboldening certain especially damning portions.  I intended to write a later commentary on the matter.

Some of the members of the Faculty senate committees also seem to be less than candid,  and uncritical about insinuations made by the General Counsel. 

Naomi Scheman, a professor of philosophy and the president of Minnesota's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the question was inappropriate for Rotenberg to ask and inappropriate for the committee to discuss.  (link)

Meanwhile, my friend and fellow University of Minnesota alumnus,  Michael McNabb, has already beaten me to the punch with observations that I could never hope to outdo.  

With his kind permission:

(1) "It was the senate that asked me."
The FCC asked General Counsel Mark Rotenberg to submit questions on the topics suggested in the February 7 letter of Clyde Allen, Chair of the Board of Regents.  The question from Rotenberg about the collective role of the faculty in responding to "factually incorrect attacks" is not remotely connected to the topics suggested by Allen.  Here is the penultimate paragraph of the Allen letter (emphasis added):

We do not intend to suggest that the broader concerns you raise related to protection of subjects involved in clinical research are unimportant.  To the contrary, we encourage the University community to engage in further discussions about these wider issues.  In an era when public funding of our University and its research is limited, we must recognize that critically important medical and health research requires substantial private investment, both from donors and from corporate sponsors.  These funding sources provide great opportunities--and pose significant challenges--for the University.  We believe our faculty is ideally suited to engage in a rigorous, open, and honest exploration of these opportunities and challenges, and the impact they may have for the integrity of our research mission.  We ask the administration to work with interested faculty to create an appropriate forum where these issues can be fully examined.
This letter suggests discussions on two topics:  (1)  protection of patients in clinical trials; and (2) the benefits and risks of research that is conducted with funds from individual donors and corporate sponsors.  There is not a trace of a suggestion from the Regents that the administration or the faculty should undertake the inquiry proposed by Rotenberg on February 23 to the FCC:  the collective role of faculty in addressing factually incorrect attacks on University research activities. Here is a link to the Allen letter that has been posted on ScribD. 
(2) "The faculty, as a collective body, should take an interest in attacks on members that serve to deter or chill controversial research."
Rotenberg has not produced a single example of such an incident that prompted his question to the FCC.  In the absence of any such evidence, it appears that the real concern of the administration and some faculty members may be that questions about research may chill grants of hundreds of millions of dollars for research.  At the April 8 AF&T meeting the vice president for research stated that some faculty members had commented to him that the title of a presentation on the Markingson case could damage the entire clinical trial enterprise and asked how the University could allow someone to use such a provocative title.

Professor Karen Sue Taussig has expressed the legitimate concern about "the possibility of an Orwellian attempt to invoke academic freedom in order to chill academic freedom."  See Freedom Means Restriction? at

(3) "We only do policy."
Policy may be the basis for the imposition of sanctions in specific cases.
The Rotenberg question implies that the faculty should enact a policy regarding erroneous criticism of research. 
A faculty appointment may be terminated or suspended for "unprofessional conduct which severely impairs a faculty member's fitness in a professional capacity."  See Section 10.2 of the Tenure Code at  

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law

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