In the 1940s, `50s and `60s, Harvard had extraordinarily close ties to a Waltham school for the retarded where University researchers performed tests which exposed unwitting students to radioactivity, according to a 1959 report.
The report, which was obtained by The Crimson, discusses the details of cooperative training programs between universities and residential facilities for the mentally ill. It cites Harvard as having close, although informal, ties to the Fernald State School in Waltham.
"There are currently no formal contacts between Harvard and Fernald, although lectures and tours of the facility are given each semester at Fernald to groups of residents in psychiatry from the Children's Hospital who are in the Harvard Resident Training Program," says the report, which was authored by Darrel A. Hindman.
The 1959 report is significant because it shows that Harvard used Fernald for more than just experiments with radioactivity.
Scores of Medical School, School of Public Health and other graduate students attended annual lectures, workshops and demonstrations at the Waltham school, according to the report.
Each semester, between 40 and 50 students from the School of Public Health came to Fernald for a lecture on mental deficiency and a demonstration clinic, according to the report.
The published study lists several Medical School professors as having close ties to the school. None of the professors are currently listed as Harvard faculty members, and many are believed dead. None could be reached for comment.
Harvard physicians and students also attended an annual series of lectures given at Fernald by "outstanding specialists in the fields of neurology and psychiatry," according to the report, titled "Cooperative Programs of Training and Research in Mental Retardation."
Last month, Harvard assembled a task force to investigate its connection to experiments performed at Fernald by Dr. Clemens Ernst Benda, a Medical School instructor who was also the director of clinical psychiatry at the school for the retarded.
In 1954, Benda published the results of a study in which students at the school were fed radioactive milk with their breakfast cereal without their knowledge in an attempt to
The complete papers of Benda, who died in 1975,are stored at the Countway Medical Library at theMedical School.
In stark contrast to officials of the generallysecretive U.S. Department of Energy, which hasopened many of its files on radiation experimentsto the public, Harvard lawyers ordered the Bendapapers sealed two weeks ago.
Because Benda's files are now closed, theextent of his experimentation on the students isnot known. There were reportedly several otherstudies involving radioactive tracers done at theschool during Benda's tenure. But it is not clearif Benda or other Harvard researchers weredirectly involve.
Dozens of scientists and radiation protectionexperts from across the country have said ininterviews with The Crimson that the amount ofradiation used on Fernald students did not pose asignificant health threat.
But Harvard ethics and mental health expertshave expressed shock and outrage that such testingwould occur on a vulnerable, segregated segment ofthe population. Students used in the experimentshave said repeatedly that they were not informedof the radiation involved in the tests.