Comment on ‘Ethical issues at U plague research’

When someone dies as a result of alleged misconduct or alleged inadequate protections, it may be an exaggeration to say the cover-up was greater than the offense, but in the Dan Markingson case there was clearly a cover-up by more than one member of the University of Minnesota administration.

And now there is even a cover-up of the cover-up. On Wednesday, President Eric Kaler wrote in his letter responding to the legislative auditor’s report, “If these external reviews were flawed, we were not aware of those shortcomings.”

Even my limited reading on the matter has made me aware that professors in the University’s Center for Bioethics — Carl Elliott and more recently Leigh Turner — for years have been pointing out the flaws in those external reviews, many of which Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles repeated in his report.

For Kaler to claim that he was not aware of those shortcomings, he has either been intentionally hiding his head in the sand or he is lying.

In that same letter and in his oral testimony before the Minnesota Senate committee that received the report, Kaler apologized to the family of Dan Markingson. However, missing from that apology was any reference to the University of Minnesota not acting more forthrightly with respect to questions raised over the past 11 years.

Now, various committees are going to implement the recommendations of the more general external review of the University’s Human Research Protection Program that was completed last month and address the failings cited in the legislative auditor’s report.

Some of those committees will comprise people external to the University. But no mention has been made of the expertise right here on campus in the form of medical ethicists in the Center for Bioethics, the people who have been asking the questions.

Regrettably, however, the administration is not even willing to talk to those whistleblowers.

With this record and with this ongoing shunning of those who should be praised for raising the necessary questions, the words above Northrop Auditorium —”dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth” — ring hollow.