OPINION: Professor Settles Sexual Harassment Claims, Still Receives Taxpayer Money


Ross Marchand Director of Policy, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
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The #MeToo movement has affected the lives of millions of women across the country, giving them a voice that is finally being heard. Movies, actors and products are being boycotted.

But it appears the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) never got the memo, considering that they just awarded a $20 million grant to a research center headed by Dr. Stanton A. Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who’s been accused of sexually harassing multiple employees

A settlement (of an undisclosed amount) with one of the accusers was reached last month by UCSF.

On top of rewarding Dr. Glantz’s unscrupulous behaviors, federal agencies continue to bankroll a narrow subset of “prestigious” institutions for little reason and to little avail. Unbeknownst to many involved in the world of higher education, universities have federal support well beyond student aid programs.

Decades ago, agencies such as the FDA realized that there were many gaps in research underpinning federal rules. The decision to fund research on America’s campuses seemed like a no-brainer, and groundbreaking research helped shore-up rulemaking.

But, as with many federal programs, the effort became captured by America’s most prestigious universities. Research by Dr. Wayne Wahls at the University of Arkansas finds that, for NIH funding over the 2006 to 2015 time period, 1 percent of funded institutions get more than one-third of all research dollars. Further, “10 percent of funded investigators get about 40 percent of the money.”

It’s easy to dismiss these findings and state the obvious: top-notch institutions may just have better, more prolific researchers that line up with the NIH and the FDA’s research needs. But Wahls finds that the favored institutions actually generate less publications and citation impact per taxpayer dollar than less-prestigious institutions. This work feeds into a large, ongoing debate about whether prime research universities are indeed more productive, and there are no easy answers.

But what is clear is that honing in on a small number of favored institutions makes it harder for regulatory agencies to examine divergent views. Take, for example, the FDA and NIH’s joint $20 million grant to the University of California-San Francisco to study the health effects of new tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes.

The funded program is directed by the aforementioned Dr. Stanton A. Glantz, who co-authored a 2018 study claiming that daily e-cigarette usage doubles the risk of having a heart attack. According to a 2014 Forbes article, Glantz said that he “thinks the FDA should block new tobacco products until cigarette manufacturers remove traditional cigs from the market.” This is a clear bias and does not help the FDA or NIH consider new reduced risk tobacco products.

In contrast, the UCLA School of Medicine’s e-cigarette research has not received similar funding, despite producing important evidence that e-cigarettes don’t significantly increase heart risks. While USCF’s research program is more prestigious, studies that come to a different conclusion from a well-respected school should not be put at a disadvantage.

Instead of disadvantaging research institutions for lack of prestige, the FDA should consider taking a step back from selectively funding universities. Research efforts at top colleges, after all, are not plagued by a lack of funds, but rather surging administrative expenses and seldom-attended courses.

Meanwhile, across the country, colleges dish out tens of millions of dollars of expensive stadiums, sports complexes and, yes, avocado toast, while begging for more federal (and state) dollars.

In other words, the FDA and NIH needn’t rely on a selective system of funding that amplifies some researchers and mutes others. Knowledge that universities are going to get special funding no matter what breeds hostile, unaccountable cultures that can be seen at UCSF.

If the Federal Government tied continued federal general funding to greater spending accountability, there can be even more tobacco science research without dubious grant initiative. Going this route, instead of doubling down on favoritism, would benefit taxpayers and the scientific process at large.

And, in addition to being evaluated for their research, grantees must also be held accountable for their actions. Just like any CEO would have an obligation to fire somebody who has settled sexual harassment allegations, federal agencies must prohibit taxpayer funds from being sent to institutions with serious problems like this one.

Ross Marchand is the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Ross Marchand