In line with our concerns, Duff Wilson, writing in the New York Times, reported:
When Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann was named chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, last summer, she took over a medical institution focused on world health generally and tobacco control in particular.
But she forgot one thing in adjusting to her new role: personal stock holdings listed last year in the range of $100,000 to $1 million in Altria, owner of Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes. Altria has been blamed for thousands of deaths and repeatedly criticized by the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the university.
Last week, a day after The New York Times inquired about the Altria stock, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann and her husband, also a doctor, ordered it to be immediately sold and imposed 'values screening' on their personal investments.
Experts on tobacco control were aghast:
Dr. Stanton A. Glantz, director of the university’s tobacco control center, said he was unaware of Dr. Desmond-Hellmann’s Altria stock, which was contained in a university filing but not made public until now, after a public records request by a former student who passed it on to The Times.
“I do find that kind of shocking, but at least she got rid of it,” Dr. Glantz said on Monday, adding that Dr. Desmond-Hellmann had been very supportive of the center.
Dr. Kenneth E. Warner, dean of the school of public health at the University of Michigan and a national antitobacco leader, said, “I find it frankly a bit appalling that the chancellor of a major medical center would have held such stock. It strikes me as unthinking, frankly.”
We should give Dr Desmond-Hellmann credit for selling her Altria stock as soon as its connotations were made plain to her. (And at least she was not on the board of a tobacco company, to our knowledge, as was one former president of a university and large health sciences center.)
However, this little incident underlines the clash between the culture that dominates large health care corporations and the mission of medical schools and academic medical centers. In the last 30 years, academic medicine has rushed to embrace the reigning corporate culture, not to mention corporate money. I submit that this embrace has been at the peril of the fundamental academic and patient care missions.
Academic medical leaders need to promote better patient care, and honest, responsible teaching and research. To do so, they may have to give up some of the glitz, glamor, and cash proffered by industry. If they do not make this sacrifice, they risk losing the trust of an increasingly skeptical, if not cynical public.