But it doesn't seem to be working out that way, largely because an influential English Professor, Margaret Soltan, has taken up the issue, and has been expressing her outrage in some of the most eloquent writing I've seen on anything, anywhere (she is, after all, an English professor).
Soltan teaches at George Washington University and writes the fascinating blog University Diaries, which is a kind of expose of contemporary university life. She is such a prominent woman of letters that she was featured on PBS's Lehrer News Hour to discuss Dorris Lessing after she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.
Soltan posted this long article on the affair last Friday, and this short entry today. Friday's posting is notable for Soltan's interesting perspective from the standpoint of a long-time observer of university politics throughout the U.S.; accordingly, she is no stranger to techniques for outflanking regulations:
"So Schatzberg complies with Stanford’s rules when he tells them, as he did, that his holdings in such a company are indeed over that amount [$100,000]. He didn’t need to specify that he stands to earn six million dollars more than that amount. From a drug company he founded."
Soltan realizes that universities can set up conflict of interest policies until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, they have to trust the ethics of their employees:
"For the reality is that universities can set all the conflict of interest standards they like, but a university is not a policing agency. It will always tend to respect, trust, and support its professors in their research, and it will seldom have the investigative capacity to find financial or research wrongdoing, or the judicial capacity to punish it in a serious way. If universities can no longer trust their professors to do honest science and to remain intellectually and morally independent of drug companies, the universities have a couple of choices open to them:
1.] They can hire a permanent team of financial investigators of the sort Grassley has on his staff, and this team can regularly investigate faculty who receive grants and who have financial interests in various companies. Professors would be called in for questioning, their tax documents might be scrutinized, their business associates interviewed. In short, the university can make itself over into a policing agency.
2.] The university can relax and accept the fact that because ” drug makers have displaced the U.S. National Institutes of Health as the primary source of research financing,” some of its professors in the sciences are not professors at all, but contract employees of drug companies. Leave research integrity to the National Institutes of Health; our campus is about enhancing the profits of drug companies and enriching our researchers."
Her post today was short, but to the point. She links to this article by Bernard Carroll, calling it "expert and eloquent testimony against a professor at Stanford University who seems, like Harvard’s Joseph Biederman, to have allowed greed, arrogance, and deception to guide his clinical work. Our function relative to these men, our job as ordinary American citizens, is to:
1. subsidize their already commercially subsidized work with our tax dollars;
2. buy and take the insufficiently or inappropriately tested medications they’re selling; and
3. swallow the stories their universities are telling about their integrity."
Perhaps the most interesting part of Soltan's original article is in the comments section, where Ian Hsu, from Stanford's Public Affairs Office, tries to explain what the heck Stanford was thinking all of these years. Understanding his explanations (in three separate comments) may require that you consult this translation of Bureaucratic Speak.