Eric Kaler backs up U of M professor against stem cell company

About a week and a half after lawyers for an adult stem-cell company demanded that U of M President Eric Kaler do something to shut up one of his associate professors, the company has its answer.

"Professor [Leigh] Turner's February 21, 2012, letter to the FDA," the reply says, "is fully covered by [our] principle of academic freedom."


Turner, a bioethicist, sent a letter to the Federal Drug Administration over a month ago, requesting an investigation into the practices at an adult-stem cell company in Texas called Celltex. The company counts Rick Perry as its most famous client, but has also been the focus of an investigative piece by the science journal Nature. That article -- which claims evidence that Celltex is treating patients with unproven and illegal stem-cell procedures in the U.S. -- is one of the reasons Turner wrote to raise his concerns with the FDA. He later also published his letter online (read it here).

The request got a rise out of Celltex's lawyers, who claimed that the request and its presence on the web constituted defamation. They wrote to Kaler asking that if the letter hadn't been "authorized" by the university, that it be retracted, removed from the internet, and Turner be prevented from making any further requests. Turner called it an intimidation tactic. 

Late last week, Turner and Celltex both received Kaler's response via a clipped note from an attorney for the U:

In response to your questions, please find enclosed the University of Minnesota Board of Regents Policy: Academic Freedom and Responsibility. As the Regents Policy makes clear, faculty members at the University of Minnesota have the academic freedom, without institutional discipline or restraint, to explore all avenues of scholarship, research, and creative expression, and to speak or write on matters of public concern.

Read both Kaler and Turner's response letters here.

Via email, Turner says he is pleased with the back-up:

I'm satisfied . . . I know that some of my friends and colleagues wish that the university had not just replied by emphasizing my right to academic freedom but also stated in clear and unequivocal fashion that if Celltex attempts to sue me for writing to the FDA the university will provide full institutional and legal support. Let's call that the Winston Churchill way of responding to attempts to threaten and intimidate a faculty member . . . In short, Celltex's lawyer asked some questions and the University of Minnesota's General Counsel provided a sensible response to those questions. I'm fine with that approach even while I'm also sympathetic with the "to the barricades" way of replying to such threats.

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