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Anti-smoking groups are taking aim at Harvard Education School Dean Patricia A. Graham, charging that her association with the RJR Nabisco Foundation is inappropriate and may be creating a conflict of interest at the Ed School.
The Boston chapter of the Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP) has called on Graham to resign from an advisory board to the foundation, which has close ties to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Graham serves on the advisory board to the Next Century Innovative Schools Program, which will donate $30 million over the next five years to elementary and secondary schools willing to "take risks" in order to improve the quality of education.
GASP officials say that the Next Century Schools Fund, while seemingly philanthropic in nature, is actually a marketing scheme intended to lure children into habitual smoking.
"It is totally inappropriate for an educational institution like Harvard to support the tobacco industry," said Brad S. Krevor, executive director of GASP.
"It is just another attempt to get smoking thought of as acceptable behavior," Krevor added. "If the Columbian drug lords wanted to invest in America's educational system, would we want to accept their money?"
However, officials at the Foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C., denied that the Fund is a marketing strategy. They said that the Foundation has a sincere interest in improving the nation's education system.
"It's a real stretch... There is no conflict of interest here," said Roger D. Semerad, foundation president. "Even if Dean Graham was an ardent and absolute anti-smoking person, that has nothing to do with her participation in Next Century Schools."
Graham, who denied having any conflict of interest, said, "They [GASP] have a right to make that accusation. And I have a right to make my decision." Graham said she intends to remain on the foundation's advisory board which includes Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Education Association.
But some outsiders say Graham's involvementwith the foundation may have already tainted atransaction at the Ed School--a charge Grahamstrongly denies.
Richard A. Daynard, a Northeastern Universitylaw professor who chairs the non-profit TobaccoProducts Liability Project, said Graham'sassociation could have been the reason behind theEd School's decision not to accept a grant fromthe makers of Nicorette--a gum designed to helppeople quit smoking.
According to Daynard and other sources,Nicorette's manufacturer offered the Ed School agrant, so that a "reading expert" there couldrewrite the product's usage instructions, so thatmore consumers could understand it.
Daynard said he suspects Graham might haveinfluenced that decision to maintain the supportof the RJR Nabisco Foundation. "It is certainlysomething that deserves further explanation,"Daynard said. "I suspect that there might be aconflict of interest."
Graham, however, said she has "no knowledge" ofany such grant. An individual faculty member, shesaid, may have turned down the grant withoutconsulting the Dean's office.
Daynard in December wrote Graham a letter andformally asked her to resign from the advisoryboard. He charged that RJ Reynolds was trying to"insinuate itself into the schools" through theNext Century Schools Fund.
The letter went on to say, "No matter what goodthis program promises, the implicit legitimationof RJR and its cigarettes will produce vastlygreater negative consequences in terms ofaddiction, disease and death."
"I think on balance RJR has made a carefulbusiness decision because it will earn more than$30 million by undermining the anti-smokingmessage coming out of the schools," Daynard latertold The Crimson.
But Janie M. Grant, the foundation's executivedirector, dismissed such accusations, saying thatany attempt to persuade children to smoke throughthe Next Century's Schools Fund would be futile.
"I can't imagine a single kid in the U.S. whoknows what RJR stands for," she said. "Thecorporate leaders have a long history of interestin education that predates their involvement withRJR Nabisco."
The 17-member advisory board will meet in lateMarch to help Foundation officials determine whichschools should receive the first round of $100,000to $250,000 grants. More than 1000 elementary andsecondary schools applied for the 15 to 18 grantsthat will be awarded in March, Semerad said
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