Carlson’s letter snubs legal, moral concerns

Here we were, believing the debacle surrounding Dr. John Najarian’s storied career at the University of Minnesota had come to an end. But thanks to Gov. Arne Carlson and his ever active imagination, we were wrong. In a letter to the Board of Regents on Wednesday, Carlson urged the University to “make amends” with Najarian. That includes, Carlson said, reimbursing Najarian for his defense costs (in excess of $1 million) and reinstating him to an academic position.
Carlson’s “request” is the latest in a line of attempts by the governor to exert influence over the University. Twice before in the last eight months, Carlson has criticized internal University operations. But while the University remains an integral part of the state — on both budgetary and emotional levels — the administration remains autonomous from state concerns, as it should. Why then, does the governor insist on sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong?
Najarian contends he “didn’t do anything dishonest or criminal,” but that doesn’t seem to accurately describe the scope of the good doctor’s likely infractions. The patients-as-lab-rats aura that shrouds Najarian’s storied medical career is difficult to shake. Carlson’s sugarcoated take on the situation ignores that, regardless of his judicial vindication, Najarian may still not be worthy of the responsibility that lies with all educators.
After his acquittal on charges of fraud and embezzlement, Najarian was allowed to continue his practice at University Hospital. His teaching duties, however, were not restored. Najarian’s renown as a surgeon merits that he continue his often miraculous transplant practice, but Carlson’s assertion that he should be allowed to teach again is misguided. It’s obvious the governor himself was sucked into the glad-handed mystique that has long surrounded Najarian.
Najarian was understandably pleased by Carlson’s unsolicited show of support, an opinion not-so-surprisingly shared by many of his colleagues. Najarian told WCCO Radio that he’s “spent his entire life as a professor in academic surgery and it’s unusual for me not to be in that position.” In his letter, Carlson said that it’s “beyond reason” that Najarian is not allowed to “share his wealth of teaching talent” with students. We, however, don’t share the empathy displayed by the governor, et al. Our thoughts are instead with the legal and moral integrity of one of the state’s most respected medical institutions. Najarian’s reinstatement to an academic position would surely bring that integrity into question.
Regents Chairman Thomas Reagan and University President Nils Hasselmo correctly stated that Najarian’s acquittal “has no bearing on whether he is fit to serve as a member of the Medical School faculty.” The University’s responsibility is to provide students with the best education possible; putting Najarian in the classroom — with his ethical status still in question — does not serve that end. Carlson’s errant opinions, while well within his rights as governor, are also unwelcome.