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JUNIOR FACULTY members who are denied contract renewal are not expected to make waves when they leave. Nor should they file lawsuits against their one-time employer seeking reinstatement. Least of all are they expected to provoke full-scale audits by a federal agency of the University in which they worked.
Dr. Phin Cohen, a former assistant professor of Nutrition at the School of Public Health, has broken all three of these unwritten rules in the past two years since he left the University when his contract was terminated in 1975. Asserting that the University let him go because Cohen attempted to publicize Harvard's improper--and possibly illegal--administration of federal research grants awarded to him by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), Cohen has undertaken a one-man campaign to uncover the possibly commonplace abuses of such federal contracts within the University.
Cohen recently disclosed HEW documents in his possession indicating additional cases of such misuse by University researchers, materials he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. One item--a signed letter from Thomas O'Brien, vice president for financial affairs, sent to an HEW official last January--revealed the existence of instances in which various costs amd salaries related to unfunded research projects were charged to research grants awarded for separate scientific studies. Unfortunately, the O'Brien letter supplies virtually no details as to the principal researchers responsible for the alleged overcharges, the amount of funding involved, or the purpose of the involved research projects.
Cohen deserves high praise for summoning the courage to take on the University and triggering HEW's first full-scale audit of the University's administration of federal contracts received over the last three years. Harvard must now furnish to the University community and HEW all information in its possession relating to the examples of research grant misuse cited in the O'Brien letter in order to clear up doubts raised as to the efficiency and propriety of Harvard's handling of government monies. University Hall has promised to publish a financial administration manual this fall explaining in explicit detail the nuances of administering federal funds to both faculty deans and department heads, but the manual has yet to appear in completed form. Harvard must release this manual immediately if researchers are to understand when they are conforming to the provisions of an awarded grant and when they stand in violation of those terms.
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