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Transparency at the U - A really disappointing Op-Ed by President Bruininks

From the Strib:

In an Aug. 16 editorial, the Star Tribune suggested that the University of Minnesota should lead the way nationally in setting standards for the management of conflicts of interest. As the president of the state's only research university, I could not agree more.

In fact, more than a year ago, its robust university-wide conflicts review program underwent a rigorous examination. I recognized that relationships between researchers and industry and the scope of potential conflicts have grown in complexity. This reexamination enables it to consider what more it can do to review and manage these relationships and potential conflicts. Our goal is to be known as a national model of transparency and high standards.



More than a year ago? And what was the result of this rigorous examination? Were the results promulgated to faculty for discussion? Why has no action been taken since this claimed year ago rigorous examination?


"National model of transparency and high standards." Given what has been going on around here for the last several years I am amazed that you can make such a statement. Either you have been oblivious to what is happening here or you have ignored it.

The university's existing conflict management program is one of the earliest in higher education and is still considered to be a strong, effective program.


Oh, really? We okayed Dr. Polly's situation stating that his conflict was "manageable" without the people making the decision realizing that he was making almost a million dollars over the time period in question. All they knew is that he made in excess of $10K.

At the same time, the comprehensive review of the university's conflict of interest management practices and policies is ongoing. A task force focused on existing policies and how they might be revised and broadened to address the relationships and interactions of Medical School faculty with the device and pharmaceutical industries. Since then this work has been extended to cover the breadth of our academic and research operation. The effort, undertaken by an all-university leadership team, includes review of the prevailing practices at other research institutions, consultation with representatives from industry and advice from national organizations. The result will be well worth the time it takes to do a thorough job.

I'm sorry but the above paragraph is adminspeak. Anyone who wants to look into the disgraceful conflict of interest proceedings over the last few years will see this for the smoke screen that it is.

And you rationalize the foot dragging by claiming that when we finally do the right thing, it will be worth it. Will the damage done to our reputation by this foot dragging have been worth it?

University research is essential to the economic health and well-being of our state. It creates jobs, leads to stunning discoveries in medicine, the sciences and the arts, and enhances our education mission. The relationship between university researchers and industry helps advance these discoveries and make them more accessible. However, we all recognize that appropriate safeguards are essential to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the life-changing work done by our faculty.

More adminspeak. Yes we do all recognize "that appropriate safeguards are essential..." Do something about it?


New federal disclosure standards are needed to strengthen efforts like ours. I recently sent a letter of support of Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley's Physician Payments Sunshine Act. Cosponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the bill provides for important disclosures by drug, device and medical supply manufacturers of payments made to physicians, bringing much needed transparency to these relationships. It will simplify conflict of interest management at major research universities like ours, and will provide for a more comprehensive approach instead of inconsistent reporting systems among the 50 states. We intend our revised program and policies to reflect these proposed legislative changes.

And why don't you mention that Senator Grassley recently sent you a letter? And what, exactly, was in it? And you have to respond by when? The above paragraph is pathetically disingenuous.

Of course our nation's universities and research institutions, talented research faculty, and industry partners must all do our part well. I can assure you that the University of Minnesota is up to the task.

And if that is the case, President Bruininks, why has it taken so long and why has our reputation been tarnished by so many ethically questionable activities?

ROBERT H. BRUININKS, MINNEAPOLIS; PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA


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