I like Tufts. I'm a voluntary faculty member there, and recently the university promoted me to associate clinical professor of psychiatry (from "assistant") even though I'm a loose cannon in the world of psychiatry.
But Tufts officials just made a silly mistake when they rescinded an invitation to Paul Thacker, one of Senator Charles Grassley's aides, to speak at a conference on conflicts of interest in medicine and research. See full coverage of this issue in today's Boston Globe.
According to Christine Fennelly, a Tufts spokesperson, the decision to disinvite Thacker was made because Senator Grassley has sent a letter requesting financial disclosures to Dr. Helen Boucher, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts. The Globe article quotes Fennelly thusly:
"Indeed . . . the administration felt it prudent to not engage someone from the Senator's office while we respond to the Senator's inquiry."
I don't know who made this decision, but it is a poor one for many reasons. It sets a tone of antagonism rather than cooperation, of opacity rather than transparency. It also deprives the Tufts community of Thacker's opinions. I've had several conversations with him and have found him to be a fascinating person, extremely knowledgable about the effects of conflicts of interest in medicine and in many other fields, and someone with a strong moral compass. Before working for Grassley, he was an eminent and award-winning investigative journalist--you can read about some of his accomplishments in this Wikipedia entry. Some of you may recall this influential article in Salon.com entitled "A Climate-Controlled White House," in which it was revealed that the Bush administration pressured top federal scientists to toe the party line on global warming (please--let's just call it "climate change," shall we?) That was Paul Thacker's work.
Thus, in this decision, Tufts is doing everything a top academic center should never do. It is limiting academic freedom, it is ignoring a contrarian point of view, it is rejecting a distinguished thinker, and it is alienating a vocal portion of its own academic community.
Hopefully, the officials will change their minds. I'm pretty sure Thacker won't be offended if he is re-invited, even under conditions of public relations duress.