Friday, April 8, 2016

For the Record: U of Minnesota Faculty Consultative Committee - member calls administration handling of psychiatry scandal "sickening"

From the  16 March Faculty Consultative Committee Minutes:

Members of the committee proceeded to have a very candid discussion about the issues surrounding the Department of Psychiatry, the consultant’s report and the management plan. Themes that came out of this discussion included:

• Disappointment in how the administration is handling this controversy with a member going so far as to characterize it as “sickening.”

• The alleged conduct in the Department of Psychiatry goes so far beyond the level of responsible conduct that it calls into question how the University could have recruited, trained and sustained people who would act this way. What kind of environment allowed this to happened? It would be naïve to believe this is the only place in the University where these kinds of things are occurring. How can the precursors be identified before something like this happens again?

• The administration is taking a very defensive posture/position by categorically denying allegations in the report rather than taking responsibility and being accountable. If the University is going to spend the money to hire an outside consultant, it needs to accept the findings, even when they are findings the administration does not want to hear. This speaks to the credibility of the institution, and minimizes the trust employees and students have in the institution. What can faculty do to hold the administration accountable? A number of faculty are not necessarily behind the administration. What should the faculty response be given there is so much distrust.

• The administration continues to operate in crisis and damage control mode, and fails to see the underlying issues that caused the problems in the first place, which are often structural and systemic, e.g., the environment and culture. A culture change needs to happen; it is difficult to overcome administrative practices and procedures that are in place that do not foster a culture where people feel they can speak up without being retaliated against.

• There exists a lack of consultation on the part of the administration. It is not uncommon for the administration to make important decisions without proper consultation.

• Serious misconduct can lead to federal consequences. Should certain lines of work be discontinued in order to restore the University’s reputation? There is a serious accountability problem for those on the front line and up the hierarchy as well. Violators should be subject to greater scrutiny going forward.

• The institution as a whole has a culture of non-compliance, which, at least in part, is due to a lack of institutional commitment to ensuring compliance occurs and because there are so many rules it makes it hard to get anything done. The University makes it hard to do the right thing, and easy to not do the right thing. Studies should be systematically or randomly audited. More auditors need to be hired. Taking a course on research ethics does not make a person ethical unless the person really works on ethical reasoning. 

• The administration is not forthcoming with information and gives it too late, e.g., timing of distribution of the report.

• The institution should function as one university and not the AHC and everyone else. Breaking down the boundaries will be critical if the University going to do well. 

[I thank my colleague, Carl Elliott, for calling this link to my attention.]

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