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Academic Freedom and Nutrition

If these allegations are true -- and a provocative and popular course has been withheld due to political considerations -- then it might make sense for the Provost to conduct a full academic audit of the Division of Nutrition Sciences. As things stand right now, this doesn't quite pass the sniff test:

About a month ago, over 1,000 people first started signing a petition lobbying for the return of Nutritional Sciences 200: Vegetarian Nutrition, a former course taught by Prof. T. Colin Campbell, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field. The petition claims that Cornell’s abrupt removal of the course and refusal to disclose an explanation was “clearly a violation of academic freedom.”

The course was pulled back in 2005, and Campbell has spent the last few years attempting to settle the matter internally with the University.

“The course was terminated with no consultation with me … and without allowing me to seek the opinion of the curriculum committee who originally approved it on behalf of the faculty,” Campbell explained. “I did everything possible to resolve this from the inside.”

Still, he received no information. However, he does have some ideas as to the reasons behind the abrupt decision.

“The person who did this was a major consultant to the dairy industry … and the direction of my research for the past four decades has many unfavorable implications for a number of industries.”

The “person” Campbell is referring to is Cutberto Garza, the director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences when the course was canceled but has since moved to Boston College as academic vice president. According to Alan Mathios, dean of the College of Human Ecology, course catalogue decisions ultimately lay in the hands of department directors — in this case, Garza. Garza has been a consultant for a number of companies, including the Dannon Institute, one of the world’s most prominent dairy lobbying groups.

Although Garza could not be reached for comments, the current Division of Nutritional Sciences Director Patrick Stover said, “The decision to no longer offer the course was made for educational reasons and has absolutely nothing to do with the division’s alleged ties to the dairy industry.”

Full disclosure: I consume dairy and meat products, although I mostly enjoy meat from the farmer who lives in my town.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on April 16, 2009 (#)

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