University Takes Control of Grant

SPH faculty expressed concern about handling of $107 million grant

In an unprecedented move toward centralized control, top University administrators last summer took direct authority over the administration of a high-profile federal government grant that was awarded to the Harvard School of Public Health (SPH).

Now, SPH faculty are expressing concern over the way the grant was handled and the school’s dean expressed regret for his role in the situation at a faculty retreat last month, according to one SPH professor.

In February 2004, the White House awarded a team led by Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases Phyllis Kanki $107 million to fight AIDS in Africa as part of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the government program entrusted with disbursing $15 billion to help eradicate AIDS in Africa. The grant commits Harvard to treating thousands of patients a year with anti-viral drugs and implementing clinical drug delivery mechanisms in three African countries—Botswana, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Worried about the scope of the project and reportedly angered about being left out of the loop—University President Lawrence H. Summers is said to have learned of the SPH grant in a newspaper—central administrators took a series of drastic steps to take control of the grant.

To Provost Steven E. Hyman and other central administrators, these measures were necessary to ensure that the project—funded by the largest government grant Harvard has ever received—was managed properly. But to many at SPH, these steps were a heavy-handed power grab.

Last year, the central administration attempted to force Kanki to co-manage the grant with Dr. Bruce D. Walker, a Harvard researcher at Mass. General Hospital who had also applied for a PEPFAR grant, according to one SPH professor.

Top administrators then forced Kanki to submit to having an executive director oversee the project and report directly to Summers, Hyman, and SPH Dean Barry R. Bloom.

In a letter sent last August and obtained by The Crimson, Bloom outlined for Kanki the new hierarchy of the PEPFAR project, including the executive director. Kanki and other project administrators were also prohibited from contacting the government and local partners about the without first consulting the executive director.

“Your voices are critical to the program’s success, and must be heard, but there may well be decisions made with which you disagree,” Bloom wrote. “If and when this happens, you must respect those decisions and work to implement them.”

The letter also stated that Kanki should refrain from speaking out about the administrative structure being imposed on the grant.

“Any complaints about the history of this grant should cease,” the letter says.

According to faculty members who attended an SPH faculty retreat last month, Bloom said that he now finds the letter “hurtful and onerous” and that he hoped the letter would be retracted.

Chair of SPH’s Department of Nutrition Walter C. Willett said that Kanki herself “wants to get the letter rescinded.”

“She’s extraordinary committed to getting the work done and really wants to get the letter resolved and get the work done,” Willett said. “It remains an issue.”

Willett said yesterday that Hyman told him two weeks ago that the letter was being rescinded.

“According to my knowledge, that hasn’t happened,” he said.