Head of U’s

by Emily Dalnodar

After months of accusations and investigations, College of Veterinary Medicine professor Robert Morrison will step down as director of the University’s Swine Center on July 1.
Throughout the year, New Prairie Township Zoning Commissioner Nancy Barsness accused Morrison of not disclosing to the University his financial ties to a hog farm before getting funding for hog research.
A recent University investigation found no conflict of interest on Morrison’s part. He said his decision to step down had nothing to do with Barsness or the ethics investigations. “It’s a volunteer position. I’ve been doing it for five years and it was just time to move on,” he said.
Barsness’ accusations came in the middle of an on-going lawsuit between the New Prairie township and Canadian Connection hog farm, which Morrison partly owns.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency granted Morrison’s family-owned farm a feedlot permit to expand business by several thousand hogs. But because of the township’s amended zoning ordinance, the farm was denied the go-ahead to start construction.
When the farm’s owners could not persuade New Prairie Township officials to bend, they took them to court. Both parties now wait to hear the outcome of the second appeals decision after Canadian Connection lost the first two cases.
Barsness dug into Morrison’s records after discovering his strong ties to other hog outlets and the influences they lent to Canadian Connection’s case. Her prodding led her to the University, where she discovered the research funding requests.
In the funds request forms, one section asks the applicant whether they hold any interest in a company which may be affected by the research proposed. Despite Morrison’s ties to Canadian Connection, he answered no on all forms.
But after researching conflict of interest policies, a University investigative committee later determined Morrison was not at fault.
The policy states a conflict of interest happens “when an academic employee compromises professional judgment” in carrying out duties related to his job. Investigating officials determined this was not the case.
In a letter to New Prairie resident Stephanie Hendrickson, University President Mark Yudof wrote, “While he has violated no University policy, Dr. Morrison is concerned the recent controversy regarding his outside involvements may adversely impact the center’s effectiveness. He will continue his work as a faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine.”
In the wake of the controversy, University officials are reviewing current policies. As it stands, only administrators are required to disclose outside interests.
“Bob didn’t break any rules,” said Mike Martin, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. “But it causes us all to be more aware of reporting our external involvement.”
Martin now requires all department heads and administrative employees to fill out financial disclosure forms to avoid any future confusion.
Barsness said she wonders whether anything will really change now that Morrison resigned from his post.
“According to (Yudof’s) letter, Dr. Morrison says he’s concerned his outside involvements have affected the Swine Center. But if he violated no policies, then these policies need to be reviewed for changes,” Barsness said.