Why universities are always getting wedgies.

Paid shills are always wedging themselves onto university faculties. These people are essentially lobbyists, spokespersons, promotional writers, and any other form of cheerleader you can think of for corporate and government uglies desperate to look less ugly. Think pharma and big oil. Think rich dictatorial post-communist and middle eastern states. These guys want to look legit, and there’s nothing like a life-sized professor doll who, when you pull its string, says A liberal application of antipsychotics will make America’s children all better or Gaddafi represents the middle east’s great democratic hope or the fossil-fuel industry and climate change have nothing to do with one another or Azerbaijan is one hell of a country and a crucially important security partner for America.

These people are often outed, and when they get outed the university gets a wedgie, which is to say that nothing much happens except that the university gets its knickers in a bit of a twist. The Deniability Office is called into play, and it says This person isn’t on a tenure-track, pays her own salary, is an adjunct temporary visiting part-time what was the name again…? Most of these people don’t even lose their academic affiliation. Instead, petulantly, under orders from their department chair, they, okay, disclose on their stupid publications that, okay, their work is paid for by the people they’re praising in the publications, okay? Are you satisfied? Are you happy now? Sheesh!

“Potti’s mentor, cancer geneticist Joseph Nevins, pleaded with Perez not to send a letter about his concerns to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which was supporting him, because it would trigger an investigation at Duke, according to a deposition cited in court documents.”

It’s often only years later, when the lawsuits start teasing out emails, that you understand how certain harrowing instances of university research misconduct get to the point where, as at Duke University, “the methods used by [a] research group [weren’t] validated — and yet they [were] being used to assign patients to clinical trials.”

And just as in the University North Carolina Chapel Hill academic fraud case the (ignored, defamed) whistle blower was a person who ranked low in the local hierarchy, so in the Duke case, Bradley Perez was just a medical student, and when he complained to the now-notorious Anil Potti about the bogus research Potti was involving Perez in, the faker drew himself up to his full measure of fakery and told Perez “he takes it as a personal insult if people don’t believe in what he is doing.”

Perez persisted, casting about for other administrators who could help him put an end to Potti’s fraud. They weren’t helpful. They still aren’t. Two of Duke’s highest level administrators – Sally Kornbluth and Victor Dzau (famous Victor Dzau!) continue to insist they knew nothing about Perez’s early and frequent warnings.

Did Kornbluth know about the Perez case? Did Victor Dzau, who was then Duke Chancellor?

The answers are yes and yes.


One scientific observer, considering this case as it has now revealed itself, comments:

“There is more to this story than the heroic and principled actions of an erudite young man and the shame that has befallen a great university in blindly and selfishly defending its own. It is indicative of a lack of understanding of the scientific method among many scientists… The Duke scandal is extreme, to be sure. But irreproducibility in academic research is common. And the reward structure and complacency of universities is to blame.”

There’s money on the table, in other words, so let’s not fuck it up.

Barry Freundel, Yeshiva University Grad and Yeshiva University …

faculty member, brings yet more notoriety to that notorious campus, home of Bernard Madoff, Ezra Merkin, Zygi Wilf, and a whole cast of other conflict-of-interest-mad characters. Yeshiva University has for some time been American academia’s highest-producer when it comes to both sexual and financial scandal, and now, with the ribald rabbi and his radio, the school is definitely maintaining its record.


But then Modern Orthodoxy just seems to roll that way.

If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women.

… The award-winning film “A Tale of a Woman and a Robe,” by the Israeli filmmaker Nurit Jacobs Yinon, painfully demonstrates how the experiences of female converts in the mikvah violate their most basic dignity. Three male rabbis watch every woman dunk in the water, as she is naked except for a robe or sheet separating her skin from the rabbis’ eyes. Some rabbis interviewed in the film — including the Israeli modern Orthodox rabbis David Stav and Beni Lau — admit that this practice is humiliating for women, but describe their own helplessness in changing the practice.

… So did Orthodoxy make Freundel a sex offender? Not directly. But it enabled him. Orthodoxy creates an awfully comfortable place for men with sexist and misogynistic predilections and is built around a tight posse of men willing to support each other no matter what the crime.

Same tight posse of men works the Yeshiva University financial magic.

Think Skanks.

It’s so much easier to whore yourself when you’re a think tank than when you’re a university. Think tanks don’t really have any of the public accountability universities do. Washington think tanks are increasingly set up to make money by prostituting their intellectual work to paying foreign governments. Pressure is building for some of them to do the decent thing and register as foreign agents.

“It is particularly egregious because with a law firm or lobbying firm, you expect them to be an advocate,” [says one observer]. “Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.”

UD ain’t sayin’ some professors at some universities (some departments at universities) don’t get away sometimes with whoring themselves to corporations and governments. This blog couldn’t stay in business without global pharma having its way on a semi-regular basis with some universities, and without econ professors issuing custom-built papers the real estate industry, for instance, pays them to write… She is saying that, as in the recent dual but failed assault on the university’s virtue by rich Jonnie Williams and handsome Governor Vaginal Probe, American universities tend to do a pretty good job of defending ye olde patina.

Think tanks? Meh.

“[W]hat [Jonnie Williams] did want — state funded studies of his product, Anatabloc — he never got, defense attorneys stressed.”

And that’s because our universities – bless their hearts – are unlikely to want to waste their time studying bullshit substances even if the state the universities are in makes it clear it’s willing to throw a lot of money at the universities to do so.

So Governor Vaginal Probe and the Missus have been found guilty of corruption (the maker of the bs substance threw money at them in order to get them to get the universities to produce studies of the substance in order to give it respectability so people would buy it…) and will go to prison in part because they were too stupid to realize that rank and total intellectual corruption is something almost no university (in the States; they should have tried the scheme in Italy) is going to approve.


UD is an old hand at university scandals, and Alabama State University is one of the most scandalous universities in the world; so she certainly doesn’t expect to be shocked – WOW shocked – by anything its pathetic conflicted threatened with loss of accreditation board of trustees does.

But UD has to hand it to this school. It has truly astounded her. The two most-conflicted trustees (chair and vice-chair of the board!) have been asked to resign by the governor, “who serves as president of the ASU board by virtue of his elected office.” And why? The governor, like other governors, has tolerated this grossly corrupt institution forever. How do you go too far for the sixth most corrupt state in the union?

Well, you do this:

[The governor] learn[ed] that proposed amendments to ASU’s bylaws had been circulated to members of ASU’s board “excluding me as president and a member of the board.”

[T]he amendments would have done the following in an apparent attempt to grab power from [just-appointed ASU president Gwendolyn] Boyd:

Establish an attorney-client privileges between the university’s general counsel and the board, replacing that between the university and its president,
Provide for the hire of the general counsel by the board of trustees,
Allow removal of trustees only for criminal acts [and not just little bitty ol’ conflicts of interest, get it?] by a majority of the members of the board of trustees rather than a majority present at the time of the vote,
Install a board liaison with the same powers as those designated to the university president,
Prohibit trustees from disclosing confidential information, and
Allow a committee chair to direct the actions of the president.

Shut ma mouth. There’s something almost impressive about people anticipating both their own conflictual/criminal acts and the way they’re going to get away with those acts…

But what truly amazes me (if I may, at this remarkable moment in the history of my blogging about universities, speak in the first-person) is how flagrant these guys are. I mean, just put it out there… Don’t tell the governor; write it so you take power from the president; protect your ass in advance of further self-enriching conflicts of interest…

This school makes Yeshiva University look well-behaved. This school is afuckingmazing.

“Holding a leadership position at an academic medical center brings considerable influence over research, clinical and educational missions. And when one of these medical center leaders is also charged with providing stewardship for a profit-making business, it represents a substantial conflict of interest.”

On the eve of the Sunshine Act’s introduction, Newsweek revisits the sordid situation at university medical schools in regard to conflict of interest with big pharma. Starting in September, American consumers will have access to information about “all payments and other valuables given by Big Pharma to physicians and teaching hospitals.”

This blog has over the years covered so many greed-crazed COI’ers at so many university medical schools that you’d think UD just copies and pastes everything that shows up on Google News. In fact, she’s extremely selective, posting only about those stories involving arrant – sometimes fatal – disregard of patients, plus immense pharma payouts. She’d link you to a few of these stories right now, but they have a triggering effect on her.

Meanwhile, it’s good to keep in mind that med school COI mischief doesn’t stop with the stuff the Sunshine Act illuminates. Given last year’s bad publicity about George Washington University’s business school (this article, which summarizes events, also features the latest form of fallout), one might forget that in 2009 its med school was also in trouble — both on probation and headed by a

provost and vice president for health affairs, [who] also has received money and stock options for serving on the board of directors of Universal Health Services, which owns the university hospital.

Williams was paid nearly $680,000 in annual compensation by GWU, according to the university’s 2006 tax returns, its most recent, and UHS reported in Securities and Exchange Commission filings that he received compensation from the company that calendar year of $122,000, including stock options.

Because he has a stake in the company’s profitability, some at the school complained that Williams had no incentive to push for spending on new equipment and programs at the school. Others said it was not appropriate for Williams to be paid so well when the tax-exempt school is one of the most expensive in the country.

GWU leaders asked Williams to resign from the corporation board and this month accepted his resignation, effective by the end of the academic year.

Ain’t nuthin the Sunshine Act can do about this popular form of self-enrichment.

“The Japanese sales arm of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis contributed around ¥570 million to Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine and Jikei University School of Medicine that conducted the clinical studies from 2002. A Novartis Pharma employee, who has since left the company, participated in the studies.”

Just a reminder – and an update – of one of the biggest pharma scandals of the year. Background on this one here. Basically the company gave humongous money to the university, which duly manipulated data for the company’s benefit. In turn, the company duly advertised its product by touting the results it had paid for.

Whoring for pharma: Happening also at a university near you.

“[P]hysicians should be free to determine on their own if the gift is a bribe.”

A pharm-loving doctor named Stossel
Is a fervent free market apostle.
But Glaxo’s stopped bribing
For over-prescribing,
And Stossel’s upset is colossal.

Corporate creep…

… happens all over the American university, of course; but some forms destroy the institution and some just cheapen it. I think Derek Bok is right that when for-profit businesses start providing instructors for non-profit universities’ online courses, it’s extremely destructive:

[Northeastern University’s online] instructors mostly do come from “the Northeastern family,” [a campus representative] says, meaning people familiar to the university because they are alumni or have taught the course before as lecturers. But on “one or two occasions,” …the university has needed someone, “and Embanet has provided an instructor for us.”

… Mr. Bok sees a “dangerous trend.” Even though campus officials insist that they control hiring decisions, he doubts that a college would veto a company’s recommendation in a situation in which students were waiting for a class, and time to find a teaching assistant was limited. Mr. Bok emphasizes that he is speaking generally, not about any particular institution. But as a matter of principle, he says, “you have crossed the line” by using a private company to recommend teaching assistants.

“You have now delegated an essential academic function, which is choosing who will assist in the teaching function, to a company,” he says. “You could say it’s not very important. But of course, the way principles break down is because the first thing is not very important.”

Similarly, when pharmaceutical companies, through subcontracted ghostwriting firms, write scientific articles for university professors (articles touting their pills), it’s extremely destructive. It goes on quite a bit – as does corporations running university courses – and it’s extremely destructive.

We find out about it when the lawsuits start happening: When students sue schools on the basis of fraud (as they have for some time been suing the tax-syphon for-profit ed providers), and when the government sues yet another corrupt pharma outfit, as it has most recently successfully sued Johnson & Johnson, we see how the deal works, how universities in search of revenue hand over their academic functions to corporations.

In the Johnson and Johnson matter

the case file includes a list of academic researchers who wrote articles for medical journals that the company allegedly used to overstate the benefits and understate the risks of a blockbuster drug…

A primary investigation underlying the case identified 44 articles written by university scientists and colleagues, many of them joint collaborations that included Johnson & Johnson researchers, described as being overseen in some manner by the company.

Yes, let’s do it together! Let’s run the class together; let’s write the article together. After all, we’re both motivated by the same thing: Pure pedagogical or scientific integrity…

UD was warmed to see the name of Joseph Biederman, a man who has arguably done more than anyone to make the world safe for baby Risperdal, among the university scientists working, er, hand in glove, with Johnson & Johnson.

Some university authors — including Joseph Biederman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard who gained renown for collecting at least $1.6-million in consulting fees from drug makers …appeared to be more personally aware than others of their misrepresentations…

Dr. Biederman, through a lawyer, declined to comment on his work with Risperdal.

Johnson & Johnson will pay a pittance – 2.2 billion – in penalties for having illegally marketed Risperdal. Joe will keep his trap shut and stay at Bok’s Harvard. All quiet on the western front.

Pharma Corruption, and the Corruption of the Academy.

An entire issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics is devoted to the notorious corruption of the pharmaceutical industry, and (of abiding interest to University Diaries) the way pharma-supported university research has corrupted universities.

The rise of pharmaceutical-firm-funded university research changes the social context of research, and along with it, the opportunities and constraints on researchers. [Garry C.] Gray uses a case study of a medical school professor’s first experience with pharmaceutical company-sponsored research in order to examine how funding arrangements can constrain research integrity. The case study reveals that there are conflicts between the norms of commercial firms and universities.

Ah! mes amis, ah! mes amis…

… says UD, smuggling in another totally random musical reference

Mes amis, you and I will never know the depths of the no-end-in-sight greedy human heart. Jour prospère! But isn’t damn near a million dollars a year (when you throw in all the goodies) prosperous enough for a university president? And the president of SUNY Upstate med school, David Smith, was about to be appointed the new president at Penn State at another huge salary… Poor wretched Penn State, which not only needs to pick its amis with much greater care than it has in the past, but needs to recover from the sixty million plus dollars it’s had to pay out because of its ami Jerry Sandusky.

Enfin, it hired an excellent search firm, a fine tooth comb kind of search firm, and the firm reported to Penn State as well as to SUNY that … well, call him “Paddy” Smith:

Smith’s outside money has been coming from two companies during recent years that are linked to SUNY Upstate: Medbest Medical Management Inc. and Pediatrics Service Group LLP.

Where else is the dude gonna get an extra four hundred thousand a year? From students? He has no choice but to take bribes from companies who get contracts with SUNY! What’s the point of being president of a whole university if you can’t shake down your vendors?

Smith’s unapproved arrangements added substantially to his pay, according to a Nov. 1 letter to Smith from SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. In the letter, she alerts Smith to a recent review of his income and says he accepted $349,295 from the outside sources without Zimpher’s approval.


I gotta say – this is one of the few cases of a search firm actually being worth real money. The last thing insanely scandal-scarred Penn State needs is a brand new president they immediately have to fire (paying out a huge severance!) because he’s – reportedly – a sneaky little liar.

Isaacson Miller is the name of the search firm: Make a note of it. The no-end-in-sight greedy heart? E strano! E strano! In other words, fuggedaboutit. But you can always hire a good search firm.


Brings back memories of Mr Risperdal himself, Harvard University’s Joseph Biederman.

She couldn’t have picked a better medical school – or a better city – from which to launch this.

Leana Wen, a doctor at George Washington University Hospital, introduces herself to patients like this:

“I’m Dr. Leana Wen. I’m your doctor. I belong to an initiative called ‘Who’s My Doctor?’ that aims for transparency in medicine. I accept no money from drug companies or device companies.

“I do not make any more from ordering more tests or procedures on you, and I also don’t make more for ordering less. I’m telling you this so that you can be sure that everything I do for you is in your best interest.”

A bit awkward as an opening gambit, to be sure, but part of the anti-conflict of interest, full disclosure movement of which Wen has been a part since med school (Wen was president of the indispensable AMSA). As a faculty member at a university whose hospital was recently so rife with conflict of interest at the top that it became a national scandal – it was even put on probation for reasons probably related to its distracted-by-money managers – Wen could not be better placed to draw attention to the still COI-mad profession of medicine.

The major power players of Washington DC are of course particularly prone to market corruptions, as in the latest case of a high-ranking professor/FDA chairwoman having to be pulled back from an embrace with industry:

Dr. Lynn Drake, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and current chairwoman of the panel that advises the FDA on drugs to treat skin and eye conditions, is scheduled to speak at a conference whose stated aim is to help companies “walk away with strategies to successfully present before a committee and avoid potential roadblocks.”

In a letter sent on Thursday to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, called on the agency to either require that Drake not attend the meeting, or remove her from her position as chairwoman of the Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee.

… Wolfe said Drake’s participation in the conference, which is being sponsored by PharmApprove, a consulting company, and costs up to $2,199 to attend, “raises concerns that the advisory committee member is approaching the work of the committee from a pro-industry perspective.”

… It is urgent that the FDA develop and articulate a written policy applicable to all advisory committee members to avoid repetition of this type of shameful episode, which could undermine public confidence in FDA advisory committees and in the agency itself,” he said.

Wolfe also drew attention to Drake’s curriculum vita, which is posted on the FDA’s website and which he said contains 32 items that are redacted under an exemption designed to protect trade secrets and other confidential business information. He said he has made a Freedom of Information request for an unredacted copy of the CV, “because the full CV may further elucidate Drake’s background and relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.”

Drake says she had no idea what she was signing up for.

“Either she is naive and signs up for things without knowing very much about them or she actually didn’t know the title of the session she was going to be a speaker on,” [Wolfe] said. “Those things are not really very likely.”

I mean, it’s pretty clear she got caught because Wolfe happened to read a promotional brochure for the conference (which will cost you two thou to attend… or maybe less now…)…


UPDATE: Things don’t look much better these days at GWU’s med school.

Among schools with the weakest [Clinical Conflict of Interest] policies: Saint Louis University School of Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Weill Cornell Medical College, University of Nebraska College of Medicine, and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.


[Harvard University professor Lawrence Summers] consults not only for hedge fund DE Shaw but for venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, asset-management and advisory firm Alliance Partners, stock-exchange operator Nasdaq OMX Group Inc., and for financial services firm Citigroup. He also has a healthy income from speaking — more than $100,000 earlier this year, for example, for a single speech to a conference organized by Drobny Global Advisors.

That is a busy schedule for a full-time faculty member who, like other professors, is allowed only a day a week for consulting — and Summers also chairs the advisory board of the Minerva Project, an online university startup, and holds an administrative role as Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School.

This is the same Lawrence Summers who told Professor Cornel West to stop spending so much time on his outside activities and get back to his scholarship — because more was expected of a University Professor.

Harry Lewis, Huffington Post.

« Previous PageNext Page »

Latest UD posts at IHE