An official from the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) said yesterday that Mass. Hall’s control of a Harvard School of Public Health (SPH) grant may infringe upon the academic freedom of the professor who was awarded the grant.
A team led by Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases Phyllis Kanki was awarded a $107 million grant in February 2004 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.
Under the terms of the grant, Harvard must treat thousands of AIDS patients each year for five years with anti-viral drugs and implement clinical drug delivery mechanisms in Botswana, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
Harvard received $17 million of the grant in the first year of the program and is expecting $35 million more this week.
Worried by the scope and size of the grant, University officials decided last summer to appoint an executive director—reporting directly to University President Lawrence H. Summers and Provost Steven E. Hyman—to oversee the administration of the PEPFAR grant.
But professors have expressed anger at what they see as the displacement of Kanki’s role. In particular, professors have been irked by a letter that SPH Dean Barry R. Bloom sent to Kanki last August, outlining the new administrative structure of the grant and telling her that she must report to an executive director.
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.
Jonathan Knight, director of the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, said that Harvard’s administration of the PEPFAR grant was unusual.
“I can’t think of the same situation arising elsewhere,” Knight said yesterday.
Knight sent Kanki a letter on April 1 which stated that the University was right to be concerned about the scope of the grant, but that Bloom had taken steps that impeded Kanki’s ability to fulfil the terms of the grant, according to a professor familiar with the contents of the letter.
Bloom’s letter, obtained by The Crimson, states that Kanki’s group’s “failure to observe the terms of this letter may have serious consequences not only for your individual roles within the program but also for the program itself.”
The AAUP letter from Knight questioned the operating principles set forth by Bloom because they inhibited Kanki’s right to speak freely with colleagues about how the grant is being supervised and its terms implemented.
Knight’s letter also stated that Bloom’s stipulations might be at odds with “principles of academic freedom,” according to the professor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The University, however, maintains that issues of liability compelled Mass. Hall and the Joint Committee on Inspections, a monitoring group comprised of members of the Corporation as well as the Board of Overseers, to claim control of the grant.
In recent months, the University has come under scrutiny for a $34 million federal grant to the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) meant to help rebuild the Russian economy. The program was under the leadership of Jones Professor of Economics Andrei Shleifer ’82, who is now under investigation for allegedly making personal investments in the Russian economy while advising the Russian government. Harvard was absolved of fraud charges in June, but could still face damages of up to $34.8 million in connection with the grant.
Corporation Senior Fellow and Chair of the Joint Committee on Inspections James R. Houghton ’58 said the University’s actions on the Kanki grant were not related to the HIID investigation.
“It was a large grant that we just felt in that part of that world needed controls,” Houghton said. “I don’t think that that’s an abridgement of academic freedom at all.”
Houghton said the University’s handling of the PEPFAR was not indicative of a broader effort to centralize control of government grants.
“Hyman is the one who brought it to us. We listen to that,” Houghton said.
“We’re not dealing with every grant that goes through the School of Public Health. If there are specific issues that come up with a grant, we deal with them, but otherwise, we don’t.”
Houghton said he had not seen Bloom’s letter to Kanki.
Kanki declined to comment for this article.
—Staff writer May Habib can be reached at email@example.com.