First, read this (and note the multiple mutilations of the poor mouse's ear.): UW-Madison seeks better supervision of research. Deborah Ziff | 608-252-6234 | email@example.com | October 23, 2009
I attended the "town hall meeting" mentioned at the end of the article and came away with some interesting impressions.
1. The meeting was held in the Humanities building; most of the attendees apparently, from their comments, were from the humanities and non-biological sciences. I was struck by how uninterested in the university’s problems the audience seemed to be. I don't think they know what the problems are; their questions were uniformly: "How will the restructuring affect me, my ability to get funding, my program?" Me, me, me.
They seemed to have no idea or knowledge that the university is being investigated for NIH Major Action violations, violations of its Public Health Service Assurance, or that the university fears loss of its AAALAC accreditation. (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.) They didn't seem to understand or care about the reasons that the administration is alarmed. They didn't seem to understand that UW administration's conversation with people in the humanities was more or less done for the sake of appearance. Even a statement by Provost Paul DeLuca that federal funding -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year -- is at risk because of the university's failed oversight of its scientists' use of animals and infectious disease research didn't seem to really sink in with this crowd.
When English professors and historians sit quietly by as the university violates regulation after regulation involving its animal care and use we don't have to think too deeply or for very long to understand how and why past atrocities were allowed to occur without comment from within.
2. DeLuca said that the point of the restructuring was to make issues regarding compliance with animal care and use and biosafety “not on the table for discussion any more.” He said that by having a new position at the top – someone who would be "responsible" for all the problems currently plaguing the university’s billion-dollar enterprise – would solve all these problems.
3. Chancellor Biddy Martin said that there had been “a number of near misses” and that the university can not make assurances to federal agencies right now that it is in compliance with federal regulations concerning animal care and biosafety.
4. She said that there have been only 2 or 3 biosafety personnel trying to keep tabs on 200-300 projects.
5. Chancellor Martin also said that the restructuring is needed because right now, and for a long time apparently, there has been “no real accountability” for failures in the oversight of animal care and biosafety.
The take home message from the meeting is that past assurances from the university that there is good and stringent oversight of its animal care and use and of the safety of its infectious disease labs, has been pure and unadulterated public relations crap. Chancellor Biddy Martin and Provost Paul DeLuca as much as admitted this and used it as an excuse for the restructuring they intend to put in place.
The main change they want to make is the establishment of a permanent lobbying office in Washington D.C. It appears from their statements at the meeting that the substance of the problem – the twisted culture that allows animals to be starved, experimented on without observation, cut into without expertise, that allows diseases to be genetically modified to be more dangerous – is of little real concern. The main issue to them is the possible loss of funding and the opportunity to lobby for more taxpayer dollars.
It’s a corrupt and sick system from top to bottom.