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I have earlier written about this matter. See University of Minnesota General Counsel: Is Defamation Protected by Academic Freedom for some background.
Since that post there have been further reactions to the situation at Minnesota, including articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, and the Bioethics Forum at the Hastings Center.
The time for weary negligence in this matter has long passed.
Today a nationally respected professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Chicago posted a strongly worded piece on his widely read blog, Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog.
The University of Minnesota Clinical Trials Fiasco and the Apparent Attempt to Silence Faculty Critics
A clinical trial of an antipsychotic medication at the University of Minnesota in 2003 resulted in the death of a patient; bioethicist Carl Elliott at Minnesota investigated, concluding that the patient should not have been enrolled, and that the clinical trial itself was run by doctors with financial ties to the drug manufacturer sponsoring the clinical trial, and that many such trials are really aimed at marketing the drug, not testing its safety:
Professor Elliott and others appealed to the University's Board of Trustees to investigate. Now the University's General Counsel is trying to stop faculty from pursuing this matter! This latest development--a quite brazen attack on the core of academic freedom.
This blog also offers a useful timeline of the recent events :November 23, 2010. Eight professors and bioethicists submit a letter to the Regents requesting an independent investigation into the death of Dan Markingson while he was participating in a clinical trial at the University. See Faculty Letter at http://ptable.blogspot.com/2010/12/university-of-minnesota-faculty-letter.html#links.December 10, 2010. General Counsel Mark Rotenberg meets with the Regents regarding the request. See U of M Attorney at http://ptable.blogspot.com/2010/12/dan-markingsons-suicide-u-of-m-attorney.html#links.February 7, 2011. Regents deny request for independent investigation. See Regents Play Innocent at http://ptable.blogspot.com/2011/02/regents-play-innocent-regents-are.html#links.February 24, 2011. General Counsel Rotenberg submits to the FCC [the faculty council] the following question: What is the faculty's collective role in addressing factually incorrect attacks on particular U faculty research activities? FCC refers the question to the AF & T Committee. See the February 24 report of the FCC at http://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/101836/1/11_02_24FCC.pdf.This is a case where the University President needs to exercise some real leadership, including, at a minimum, instructing the General Counsel to back off. This whole episode is also indicative of how important tenure is to protect faculty whose research adversely affects corporate interests.