COMMENTARY | Public Health Scientist Vindicated

Colleen Teubner

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Public health Scientist Vindicated

Dr. David Carpenter, a long tenured professor and the founding Dean of the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, will not face discipline by the university and “is no longer on an alternate assignment and may now teach and conduct research on campus” after PEER filed an academic freedom complaint on his behalf.

Since May 27, 2022, Dr. Carpenter had been forbidden from teaching and barred from coming to campus by university administrators on the grounds that he was the subject of an ongoing investigation. In June, he was allowed to advise his PhD students, provided he do so by email or from “an alternate work location” – his home. Beginning in December, the University allowed Dr. Carpenter to resume work on grants he had been awarded.

After nine months of patient inquiries being met with silence and inaction, Dr. Carpenter decided to make his rightful indignation known. Dr. Carpenter and PEER were concerned that the ongoing investigation was prompted by information requests by a law firm acting on behalf of a chemical company, Monsanto, now owned by Bayer. Dr. Carpenter’s longtime public interest work and testimony in numerous lawsuits aiming to impose restrictions on human exposure to harmful chemicals and to compensate the injured have drawn the ire of the chemical industry.

On February 21, 2023, PEER submitted an academic freedom complaint on his behalf, seeking an investigative hearing and 1) immediate restoration of his teaching privileges and campus access; 2) formal censure of the university administrators; and 3) adoption of procedures requiring that subjects of university administrative investigations be informed of the nature of alleged misconduct at the outset, absent a public declaration that doing so would compromise the investigation.

While Dr. Carpenter’s restoration is an unqualified victory, serious questions remain as to why the investigation took nine months to complete and why Dr. Carpenter was never questioned throughout the course of the investigation.

Dr. Carpenter’s troubles began after a law firm representing the chemical company Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, Inc., had filed Freedom of Information Law requests with the University seeking details on grants awarded to Dr. Carpenter. Further, a motion for discovery into Dr. Carpenter’s qualifications as an expert in a pending PCB toxic tort case was filed based on the investigation the company’s lawyers instigated. That motion has since been dismissed.

Fortunately, PEER’s academic freedom complaint was discussed at the United University Professions’ (UUP) Executive Committee meeting. A motion was introduced and passed by a unanimous vote to endorse PEER’s request that the University Senate hold an investigation into the origin of Dr. Carpenter being placed on alternate assignment. Even though Dr. Carpenter’s case has been resolved, the University at Albany UUP hopes to address the broader academic freedom issues that this case has opened.

Colleen TeubnerColleen Teubner is a Litigation and Policy Attorney at PEER and a lover of backpacking, books, and board games. 

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