Harvard muzzles med students


Sept. 11 update — Harvard backs down

Do not even get BHN started on the topic of free speech on campus. Let’s  just say that many thin-skinned universities apply the concept of academic freedom very selectively.

Harvard Medical School is apparently one of them. When doctors-in-training got a copy of their updated student handbook , they were surprised to find this item. From the Globe story:   

All interactions between students and the media should be coordinated with the Office of the Dean of Students and the Office of Public Affairs. This applies to situations in which students are contacted by the media as well as instances in which students may be seeking publicity about a student-related project or program.’’

Harvard has since removed the policy from its website saying it “was being misconstrued as an infringement on freedom of speech…” 


The students say this policy appeared after Harvard members of the American Medical Student Association spoke to The New York Times about the kind of education they were getting from some industry-sponsored profs.  The group graded schools on “the presence or absence of a policy regulating the interactions between their students and faculty and the pharmaceutical and device industries.” Harvard got an F.

 From the NY Times story in question:

 BOSTON— In a first-year pharmacology class at Harvard Medical School, Matt Zerden grew wary as the professor promoted the benefits of cholesterol drugs and seemed to belittle a student who asked about side effects.

 Mr. Zerden later discovered something by searching online that he began sharing with his classmates. The professor was not only a full-time member of the Harvard Medical faculty, but a paid consultant to 10 drug companies, including five makers of cholesterol treatments.

 “I felt really violated,” Mr. Zerden, now a fourth-year student, recently recalled. “Here we have 160 open minds trying to learn the basics in a protected space, and the information he was giving wasn’t as pure as I think it should be.”

 Here’s more on Harvard’s backpedal. From today’s Globe:

After some students complained, the medical school removed the policy from the online student handbook and said it did not intend to interfere with students’ speech.

“We did not back off the guideline, but took it down temporarily because it was being misconstrued as an infringement on freedom of speech – and that was never the intention,’’ Dr. Nancy Oriol, the medical school’s dean of students, said in an e-mail interview. “The next step will be to work with the students to . . . ensure there is clarity of our intent.’’

Fortunately, this policy did not apply to the UConn student I interviewed at a recent conference on the topic

Finally, the Globe also had this unintentionally related wire story today.

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors hit Pfizer Inc. with a record-breaking $2.3 billion in fines yesterday and called the world’s largest drug maker a repeating corporate cheat for illegal drug promotions that plied doctors with free golf, massages, and resort junkets.


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