Monday, September 25, 2006

IN MY VIEW: Why Universities Should Not Accept Money from the American Legacy Foundation

Yesterday, I laid out my case for why I think the University of California should reject tobacco industry funding of its research program. Whether or not readers agree with my conclusion, I hope that the post at least made a contribution by setting out a perspective by which the question of research funding can be evaluated. Some may have the perception that my views are heavily biased by the fact that I am a long-time anti-smoking advocate. Here, I hope to dispel that idea, as I offer my case for why I think universities should also reject funding from the American Legacy Foundation, one of the largest anti-smoking groups in the country.

The Rest of the Story

As a condition for accepting funding from the American Legacy Foundation, schools must sign a statement agreeing not to take funding from any tobacco company for the duration of the grant. This clause in the grant conditions is known as Clause 12.

As explained in a recent Public Health Reports article: "Grants awarded under this program required that the dean or CEO of the school of public health confirm that the school of public health does not currently accept nor will accept any grant or anything else of value from any tobacco manufacturer, distributor, or other tobacco-related company during the grant period. This restriction is a policy of the American Legacy Foundation and applies to all of the foundation'’s grantees and sub-grantees."

Thus, a School, in order to receive Legacy funding, has to agree that none of the researchers at the institution will accept tobacco funding. If I were to successfully apply for an American Legacy Foundation grant, then the conditions of that grant would mean that my colleagues at the School - all of them - would be bound from applying for funding from any tobacco-related company.

In other words, by virtue of my accepting a Legacy grant, the Foundation has succeeded in tying the hands of every researcher at my School in terms of the funding sources to which they can apply.

This (unlike the proposed UC policy of rejecting all tobacco funding outright) is a clear violation of academic freedom.

By agreeing to this funding restriction, a School is essentially allowing one foundation to dictate the sources of allowable funding for all of its faculty.

And that's a dangerous proposition.

Suppose a potential benefactor wished to bestow a huge, multi-million dollar gift on a School. But one condition of the gift would be that the School could not accept money from any organization that supports abortion rights (or gun control, or promotion of condom use, etc.). The restriction is clearly not acceptable, as it interferes with academic freedom and degrades the School's autonomy to make its own decision regarding its research program.

The same types of restrictions that Legacy has imposed could easily be used to allow private foundations to control the nature of, and source of funds for, research at universities, interfering with academic freedom on purely political or ideological grounds (which is arguably exactly what Legacy is doing).

In response to Clause 12, a number of Schools of Public Health protested, and eventually refused to sign the letter, thus putting them out of the running for Legacy grant funding. A particularly cogent explanation of the reasons for refusing to agree to the grant conditions was provided by the University of California.

None of the Schools which opposed, and ultimately refused to sign, the letter agreeing to the tobacco company funding restrictions did so because they wanted to take tobacco funding. They did so on the basis of the principle that these types of funding restrictions are unacceptable.

Of course, the ultimate irony of this whole story is that the American Legacy Foundation receives all of its funding from...
... you guessed it: the tobacco companies!

So you can imagine how heavily the hypocrisy is spread out over the Legacy Foundation, to have the gall to say that taking tobacco money is fine for them, but completely unacceptable for anyone else.

Moreover, to make matters much, much worse, Legacy is now attempting to obtain funding to sustain its "truth" campaign from...
... you guessed it: the tobacco companies!

Legacy is doing this by funding a front group - the Citizens' Commission to Protect the Truth - to push for tobacco company funding of the campaign. According to its web site, the Commission is working toward either voluntary or involuntary tobacco company funding to support the campaign: 'The Commission is seeking to persuade or force the tobacco companies to accede to court-supervised funding of the Public Education Fund through the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which they signed with the states in 1998."

Apparently, persuading the companies to fund Legacy by voluntarily continuing MSA payments would be acceptable to Legacy.

I don't think it's possible to be any more hypocritical than this.

Essentially, what Legacy is saying is that what Legacy is doing is so valuable that taking tobacco company money is justifiable, but no matter what anybody else is doing, taking tobacco money is completely unacceptable.

When the corrupt, filthy, criminal tobacco money hits anyone else's hands, it stays corrupt, filthy, and criminal, but when it hits Legacy's hands, it is immediately purified.

Maybe they run it through some sort of Holy Water, or something. Or have a Rabbi perform a special blessing?

Notice, by the way, that no where on the Commission's home page does it notify the public that the Commission is not some sort of independent group. Instead, it is funded by the American Legacy Foundation! Isn't that special? Funding a so-called citizens' group to support funding for... you! Sounds exactly like something the tobacco companies would do. But if you don't read the fine print on an entirely separate web page, you'll miss that small detail.

Under these circumstances, I do not find it acceptable for Schools to accept funding from the American Legacy Foundation. So like its benefactors, I would add Legacy to the short list of companies and organizations from which I would argue that universities should not accept research funding.

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