Animal research lab violations and the Graduate School restructuring plan.

Those readers who have been following the Graduate School restructuring controversy are  aware that, in response to widespread criticism of the process, all action on the proposed restructuring has been put on hold by the administration pending reports from ad hoc committees assembled by the Faculty Senate and by the Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC).  Those reports were due by New Year’s Eve, 2009, and their public release is therefore anticipated in the very near future, perhaps even this week.

We will be very surprised if the reports endorse the wholesale restructuring pushed by Provost Paul DeLuca and Chancellor Biddy Martin.   We will be equally surprised if either the provost or the chancellor readily back down from their plan, regardless of what the reports contain.

Yesterday, January 1, 2010, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that UW-Madison has been cited for conditions found to be in violation of federal regulations governing animal research laboratories.  The citations followed from a surprise visit by federal inspectors sometime in December.

Why is this news relevant to the Graduate School restructuring plan?  Because the threat of exactly such citations and the risk of substantial fines or even loss of accreditation have been central to the provost’s case for the restructuring.  That we have not yet seen a clear explanation of how splitting up the Graduate School solves this particular problem is beside the point.

Seen in this light, the timing is interesting.   The inspection by the Ofice of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) appears not to have been random but rather was likely undertaken in response to “allegations involving animal welfare brought to [OLAW’s] attention.”    We do not know who made the allegations.

The inspections apparently took place “last month” (no date is given in the article) which means that any such allegations  were likely made not long after the November 2 Faculty Senate meeting in which the resolution criticizing the restructuring process was passed.  The WSJ article appeared exactly one day after the committee reports were due, but apparently some time (days? weeks?) after the animal lab inspections themselves took place.  We do not know who tipped off the WSJ or what their motive might have been.

Every member of the UW-Madison community should be embarrassed and chagrined by the  new revelations concerning animal care and should demand improved management and accountability by those charged with overseeing that care.    Nevertheless, we hope very much that the timing of the report is purely coincidental and was not in any way manipulated so as to blunt the impact of  the anticipated committee reports.

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6 Responses to Animal research lab violations and the Graduate School restructuring plan.

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  3. Holly says:

    I am positive the timing is purely coincidental. No worries. However, that may not stop it from being brought up in discussions of restructuring the grad school. But it would be an absolute outrage if the violations alone actually lead to wholesale restructuring of the grad school, as I’m sure (I hope?) UW officials understand the lack of severity of the violations.

  4. Admin says:

    It has just been brought to our attention that the story about the animal labs first broke here a day earlier:
    and that the Wisconsin State Journal simply followed up with its own story.
    In short, the question is no longer how the WSJ came to be aware of the story but perhaps how did. Even there, we’re aware that the inspection reports are public documents, so there may or may not have been a tipoff.

    We continue to hope the timing is indeed a coincidence.

  5. David Ahrens says:

    It is not clear from the reporting whether these violations though serious are unusual. Is it common for large animal (that is many animals) research facilities to have this scale of violations, more? less? Given what we know about medical errors in hospitals it seems consistent that for each 1000 “patient” days there would be a X serious/ mid/ minor errors.
    Should this be corrected? Of course. Or will it be more grist for the climate of fear as evidenced by the Provost’s comment that this is a “near mid-air collision.” And how exactly will that improve animal welfare?

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