Professors Find Testifying Is a Trying Experience

Following controversial news reports about a doctor's triple involvement as a medical journal editor, researcher and legal consultant, the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital last month rewrote its conflict of interest policy to limit expert testimony.

The policy now requires doctors hoping to serve as expert witnesses to obtain permission from their department heads.

Like their peers in the medical profession, members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) frequently serve as expert witnesses--and examples of FAS professors' testimony in court rarely fail to be memorable.

In the fall of 1993, Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. '53 testified in a Colorado court to determine the constitutionality of the state's Amendment Two, which would have prevented cities from enacting gay rights statues.

In his testimony, Mansfield called homosexuality "shameful" and said it "eventually...undermines civilization."

Outraged students called for the University to censure Mansfield.

"That remark is absolutely offensive and repulsive, and we're ashamed he's a professor here," Dennis K. Lin '93-'94, then co-chair of the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association, said at the time.

"I think the University should look into this and react to this," Lin said.

But Professor of Philosophy Warren D. Goldfarb '69, who has been a vocal advocate for gay rights, said that Mansfield's testimony was not the University's concern.

"A professor is free to have whatever opinions he has and say them wherever he wants," Goldfarb said.

No Restrictions

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) places no restrictions on its professors testimony in court as expert witnesses. Faculty members are asked to testify frequently, on issues from legislative redistricting to patents.

Those in the legal profession say the use of professors and academics as witnesses is appropriate and desirable.

"People who are teaching are very up-to-date in their particular field. They're up-to-date on the technology and knowledge," says Carol J. Sherman, co-CEO of Technical Advisory Service for Attorneys, which helps lawyers locate expert witnesses. "I think that would be a definite advantage."

But several professors who have served as witnesses, including Mansfield, say they would never do so again.