Tobacco funding goes up in smoke

Students looking to do university research may now have more to worry about than ever before. An increasing number of colleges and universities nationwide have banned tobacco funding in light of the industry’s desire to get more involved with the students.

The McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin was one of the most recent schools to ban tobacco funding.

Along with a $150,000 gift, Phillip Morris, the largest tobacco company in the U.S., and its parent company, the Altria group, wanted to support events and educational programs at the business school since it recruits a number of the school’s students as employees each year.

Despite the many avenues this funding went to, from the Hispanic Students Business Association to a conference on women in business leadership, officials at the business school decided in December to ban tobacco funding.

Medical and health schools at Emory, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State, Louisiana State, the University of Arizona, the University of Iowa, and the University of North Carolina have all banned money from the tobacco industry. Their reasoning, according to the New York Times, is that tobacco companies misuse research to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking, and as a result the truth is muddled.

However, a large number of colleges and universities still accept tobacco funding.

The industry funds research at a number of colleges and universities, among them Stanford University, the University of California, and other colleges at the University of Texas at Austin.
Phillip Morris is currently providing the University of Texas at Austin with $455,000 to study the effects of cigarette smoke on cancer.

Jennifer S. Brodbelt, a researcher on the project, defended her funding by arguing in the New York Times, “We are all struggling to maintain our research programs. If we can find new sources to support meritorious research, I say let’s make the most of it.”

There are many opinions as to where to draw the line for financial support while staying within ethical boundaries.

“I believe ethics should always take a role in financial decisions. Personally, I would never feel comfortable taking funding from a tobacco company,” said Sudeep Paul, a senior business and economics major and chair of the Senate Campus Life Committee.

Faculty members of various universities argue that by banning tobacco money, the pursuit of truth is, in fact, removed completely.

University of California at Los Angeles cancer researcher James E. Ernstrom argued in the New York Times that banning tobacco money would infringe on academic freedom.

“To dictate what research is done at a university destroys the objectivity” he said.

Currently, Carnegie Mellon does not accept funding from tobacco companies.

“It does not seem likely that it will, considering the support [to ban smoking] that we’ve gotten from the administration, especially President Cohon,” Paul said.

Carnegie Mellon has brought forth a Healthy Campus 2010 proposal with the eventual goal of banning smoking on campus in 2010. The initiative can already be seen in the removal of cigarettes from Entropy and in designating smoking areas on campus.

Some speculate that accepting tobacco money could hurt the school’s efforts to ban smoking.

Dorian Adeyemi, a junior social and decision sciences major and member of the Senate Campus Life Committee, agreed with Paul.

“It would be hypocritical of the administration to accept funding while in the process of banning smoking,” Adeyemi said.

From 2002 to 2006, Carnegie Mellon partnered with Dickinson College to conduct research to identify cancer subtypes more precisely, leading to improved diagnoses and treatments. The $3.5 million funding came from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more specifically from Pennsylvania’s tobacco settlement funds, which is set aside expressly for research.

Through the settlement funds, Carnegie Mellon was able to use the tobacco industry’s money indirectly, thus staying free of the industry’s committments.

In general, Carnegie Mellon receives its funding from a variety of resources, some of which are considered controversial.

For example, Carnegie Mellon gets funding from oil companies, but as Teresa Thomas, assistant vice president for media relations, said, “The grants have tended to be for green or environmental research.”

Carnegie Mellon research is also supported by the Department of Defense.

From 2002 to 2007, Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Computer and Communications Security received $35.5 million from the Defense Department.

Carnegie Mellon’s funding from the government is often protested by members of the Pittsburgh community. The most recent demonstration was two Saturdays ago, when a group of 50 people gathered in front of the National Research Engineering Center to protest a new grant from the Department of Defense to further develop warfare machines for the U.S. army.

When asked about comparing defense funding to tobacco companies, Paul replied, “Government endorsements don’t affect the atmosphere of CMU; the school doesn’t lean in favor of the government’s decisions.”