Friday, July 03, 2009

A Blogger That Dares Not Speak His University's Name

Dr Douglas Bremner is a Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology at Emory University, and Director of the University's Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit. He has also written a book critical of the pharmaceutical industry (Before You Take That Pill), and writes a blog (also called Before You Take That Pill) that is also skeptical about certain aspects of current psychiatric dogma. Inside Higher Education reported that Emory University can apparently no longer bear to have its name mentioned in Dr Bremner's blog:

Emory University has been accused repeatedly over the last year of looking the other way while one of its prominent physicians built extremely close ties to the pharmaceutical industry and -- critics charge -- failed to adequately report those ties as required by university and federal regulations.

But what if you are an Emory professor who happens to differ with the pharmaceutical industry? Then, it appears, Emory watches you closely -- and if you are a blogger, the university can tell you that you must remove the Emory name from your Web site. That's why a recent post on the J. Douglas Bremner's blog Before You Take That Pill is called 'I Am Removing the Name of My University From This Blog.'

In the post, he notes that he was recently ordered to remove the Emory name both by the interim chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and by the medical school's executive associate dean for faculty affairs. In the letters, which he provided to Inside Higher Ed, they tell Bremner to remove Emory's name, logo and letterhead from his blog because none of them can be used for 'non-Emory business.' He was also told to report on when he had removed Emory from his blog.

The letters cite complaints that the university received about a blog post Bremner made in January in which he criticized the eviction of a man with bipolar disorder who was being forced out of his apartment for smoking. Bremner made his point in the form of a mock letter 'To Whom It May Concern' giving his blessing for the man to continue to smoke. According to Bremner's Emory superiors, complaints they received suggested that he was making 'clinical recommendations for a patient you do not know and have never examined,' and these postings made them feel the need to tell him to stop using the Emory name.

And even more concerning:

Sarah E. Goodwin, director of media relations for Emory Health Sciences, said that Emory's objection to the use of its name in non-official places was 'across the board' and not related to the content of Bremner's blog. When told about other blogs or Web sites where Emory professors' university affiliation was noted on non-Emory business, she said she didn't know why that was the case but insisted that the ban was 'across the board.'

She noted that Bremner has been 'blogging for some period of time,' and that 'if you read it over a long period of time, you can see comments he makes that may be of concern.' She declined to identify those comments.

So there you have it. It appears that faculty members, even senior faculty at Emory who make comments "that may be of concern" to an Assistant Vice President for Health Sciences, and Director, Media Relations, are not supposed to identify themselves as Emory faculty. This is the sort of policy one might expect from certain corporations. But Emory is a university. It proclaims it

is an inquiry-driven, ethically engaged and diverse community whose members work collaboratively for positive transformation in the world through courageous leadership in teaching, research, scholarship, health care and social action.

It proclaims its strategic plan is entitled:

Where Courageous Inquiry Leads

We can see where courageous inquiry leads at Emory. It leads to University executives attempting to censor faculty blogs when they included "concerning" remarks. As Inside Higher Education noted, Emory executives have not attempted to have other faculty bloggers remove references to the University, or to the bloggers' faculty status from their writing. Presumably, those bloggers were more politically correct.

We have often written about the suppression of medical research that is now a plague upon medicine, and the most dire threat to the evidence-based medicine approach. The research most likely to be suppressed is that which offends vested interests, particularly vested interests in selling particular health care goods or services. On the other hand, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for years has been fighting to uphold free speech and academic freedom on campus, but has mostly dealt with threats to politically or socially unpopular speech.

This case seems to blend these these different kinds of threats to free speech and academic freedom. It once again shows how elite universities increasingly are run like for-profit corporations, putting the prerogatives of managers ahead of the individual rights of faculty and students, and putting the mission of the university, to discover and disseminate the truth in the spirit of free enquiry, in the trash.

Dr Bremner's own comments in his blog are here. He concluded that Emory managers were "thinking more like a corporation than a university, where the free exchange of ideas, regardless of the perceived value or political correctness of those ideas, is held to the highest standard."

See also comments by Prof Margaret Soltan in the University Diaries.

ADDENDUM (15 July, 2009) - Emory has backed down, and will once again allow Dr Bremner to identify himself as a faculty member. See this post by Dr Bremner, and this post on The Torch (the FIRE blog).


Anonymous said...

This extends beyond university's and into the government itself. For a number of years, as states have faced budget problems, more and more state employees have paid their way with personal funds to attend conferences, in the case of my wife, nonprofit organizations conferences.

The result of these attempts have been the threat of firing, or at the very least a negative yearly review. The claim is that even traveling on their own money it "looks" bad. Recently a Columbus Dispatch article curtsied state travel, even paid for by the federal government, and being "politically" sensitive effectively all state travel is now banned.

Last spring my wife was banned from attending a conference. She has been told she may not be "allowed" to attend a planning meeting this fall for next years conference.

When our government and university's infringe on our right to free speech and assembly we are only one step away from those very countries we criticizes as not being free.

Steve Lucas

Anonymous said...

Typo curtsied should be criticized, and criticizes should be criticize.

The Columbus Dispatch article appeared June 14 and was titled State foots bill for fancy travel.

Steve Lucas