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March 16, 1995

Assembly reaffirms research policy

In response to allegations by Pitt cancer researcher Bernard Fisher that University administrators violated his academic freedom, Faculty Assembly on March 14 unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming Pitt's policy on externally sponsored research.

The resolution also calls on the administration to work through the American Association of Universities and the political system to support academic freedom here and at all universities.

The Assembly specifically reaffirmed the following statements from Pitt's external research policy:

* "No agreement should preclude the right of researchers to publish the results of their research," with some exceptions that are defined in the University Policy on Secret Research and in the University Patent Policy.

* "Once signed and submitted, the University should not modify or change the [external grant] proposal without consultation with [faculty] investigators." Under unusual or extenuating circumstances, "changes shall be made with full consultation of the investigators." Fisher was forced out last year as head of the Pitt-based National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) following disclosure that a Montreal surgeon had submitted falsified data to some of NSABP's research studies. Further investigation by officials at Pitt and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) turned up irregularities at 11 other NSABP sites. While the officials criticized Fisher and his staff for carelessness, they did not find him guilty of scientific misconduct.

Under a corrective action plan that Pitt submitted to NCI in the wake of the controversy, University officials agreed to NCI's demand that all NSABP manuscripts be submitted to NCI for approval before submission to any publication.

Fisher said the agreement violated his right to publish his research results and represented a change in NSABP's grant with NCI — a change that Pitt's administration okayed without consulting him, Fisher said.

Richard Tobias, chairperson of the University Senate tenure and academic freedom committee that drafted the resolution, told Assembly members: "I don't know what you do when a policy like this is violated at the University. All we can do is say that we reaffirm the policy."

— Bruce Steele

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