FAS Not Planning To Defy Federal Law

Letter to the Editors

To the editors:

Someone glancing quickly at the headline in The Crimson of Jan. 13 might conclude that Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) intended to disregard federal law or turn its back on all biodefense research (News, “FAS Won’t Align Science Research Rules to Fed. Law”). Both inferences would be false.

Insofar as the law is concerned, the Faculty is complying fully in all respects and has every intention of continuing to do so. Insofar as biodefense research is concerned, discussions are underway in a University-wide committee on ways in which fundamental scientific problems bearing on biodefense may be safely and securely investigated under conditions that meet USA PATRIOT Act restrictions and preserve basic academic principles (the free and open exchange of information, an open campus, etc.). That committee will report this spring, giving due consideration to the major differences in the missions, the student and faculty populations and the operating policies and practices of the three most relevant Faculties: the Medical School, the School of Public Health and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The FAS Committee on Research Policy, which has recently consulted with the departments in FAS that might participate in such research, believes that the interests of both the nation and the University would be far better served if Select Agent research subject to PATRIOT Act restrictions were conducted in dedicated buildings. The Committee will continue to consult with these departments.

No research that requires Select Agent registration under the PATRIOT Act is being conducted on the College campus now, and neither Harvard’s Acting General Counsel nor I stated, let alone “emphasized the threat the Act poses to research being done in FAS.” Of course, time and effort have been expended in surveying laboratories for Select Agents and assuring that investigators are aware of, and complying with, the law.

In short, the Crimson story implies that some action was taken by FAS when none has been. Our goal at the meeting was to apprise Faculty Council members of Federal legislation, to summarize existing Faculty legislation and to review some issues that could arise. No issue attributable to the PATRIOT Act poses a serious threat to any current FAS research. Any conflict that arises will be addressed lawfully and, we trust, also wisely.

Paul C. Martin ’52

Jan. 14, 2003

The writer is FAS Dean for Research and Information Technology.