Wednesday, January 29, 2014

There have been no public comments from the University of Illinois as to whether it is investigating the misappropriation of the University's name in support of a private company in a recent national advertising campaign in the New York Times.  That private use of the University's reputation is prohibited under its code of conduct, under the University's administrative procedures, and (likely) under state law.  Here's the specific language from the Campus Administrative Manual:

In general, the University cannot permit its image to be used in any commercial announcement, in a commercial or artistic production, including the World Wide Web or in any other context where endorsement of a product, organization, person, or cause is explicitly or implicitly conveyed.

People inside and outside of the University are curious to see how the Board of Trustees handles this issue.  They remember that the previous President of the University and many of the Trustees were forced to leave office after the Chicago Tribune published an expose in 2009 about favoritism in the admissions process.  The current board contains many luminaries, including the former U.S. Attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.  It is inconceivable to me that people of the moral character of Mr. Fitzgerald would stand idly by in the face of this kind of misbehavior.  While we should grant the Board appropriate time to reach a conclusion, it would certainly raise public confidence if they were to at least announce that they were investigating this situation--and, more importantly, the kind of environment that would lead to approval of these kinds of advertisements.

To do so, the Trustees need to conduct an independent appraisal of the Department of Surgery.  What kinds of financial support, direct or indirect, has been given to the faculty by the firm sponsoring the advertisement? You can't just look at consultant payments.  You have to go further and look at support for research laboratories, equipment, and the like.  By covering such expenses, more funds can be made available for salary support and perquisites for faculty.  You also have to look at conferences in other locations, where UI faculty may have received honoraria, travel expenses, and the like at resorts and other meeting places, conferences which themselves were the result of corporate sponsorship.

Perhaps the University, too, should examine why the surgical residency program at UIC is currently under probation by the ACGME, the national accreditation body.  This is a huge embarrassment for any institution, but especially one of the prestige of UI.  I'm betting that part of the reason is that surgical residents do not get enough time actually participating in the use of its surgical robots.  How ironic that the department's emphasis on this technology might be the very cause of a lower programmatic standing.  Probation can cause prospective residents to choose other training programs, weakening a department for years to come.

Of course, the person who would have most interest in the status of the residency program is the Dean of the College of Medicine, but we have already discussed his own conflicts of interests, serving on "one of the highest-ranked pharmaceutical and healthcare companies by sales in the world."  Perhaps the University might request the person with oversight of the Hospital and Health Sciences System, the VP for Health Affairs, to explain whether he was ever informed of the Dean's outside activities.  Perhaps the University should review the travel schedule of the Dean to see whether his "duty of care and loyalty" to Novartis--a condition of membership on that board--has ever conflicted with his obligations on campus, in terms of missing important meetings or other University obligations.

The Board of Trustees has a standing Committee on Governance, Personnel, and Ethics.  It's role is:

[T]o oversee the structure and functioning of the Board of Trustees and attend to matters involving its members, and to ensure a proper "tone at the top" including definition of and compliance with proper standards of ethical conduct for the board and University personnel.

According to the Trustees' website, the next meeting of this committee was scheduled for February 17, but that session has been cancelled.  I wonder, then, when the work related to this current issue will be discussed.  As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the silence is deafening.


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