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September 09, 1993 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-09-09

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8 - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 9, 1993

Former employees sue 'U' for
scientific misconduct, cover-ups

IBACK-TO-SCHOOL BLUES

By BRYN MICKLE
DAILY STAFF REPORTER
Four years ago, Carolyn Phinney
became suspicious of her mentor in the
University's Institute of Gerontology.
Phinney, a researcher in aging trends,
believed Marion Perlmutter had taken
her intellectual properties and used them
to obtain a research grant from the Na-
tional Science Foundation (NSF).
Alarmed at this prospect, Phinney took
her concerns to the head of the Institute,
Richard Adelman.
Phinney said Adelman assured her
he would take care of the matter. But, in
the months that followed Adelman dis-
credited Phinney with false reports and
made threats to terminate her employ-
ment with the University -unless she
agreed to drop her charges against
Perlmutter.
The Institute stood to lose a $6.1
million research grant from the federal
government if Phinney's allegations
were publicized.
Faced with being discredited by the
scientific community or persisting with
her attempt to regain her intellectual
properties, Phinney took Perlmutter and
Adelman to court - and won.
In May, a Washtenaw County Cir-
cuit Court jury agreed with Phinney's
allegations and awarded her more than
$1 million. The jury said Perlmutter had
stolen Phinney's properties and agreed
that Adelman had failed to protect her
under the state's Whistleblower Protec-
tion Act - a law that protects state
employees who report the misuse of
state and federal funds.
Phinney'scaseisnotonly aexample
ofacurrent trendinresearch, butalsoan
example of a growing tendency at the
University. An increasing number of
former employees have identified the
University as the leader and best in
scare tactics and intimidation.
After Phinney's victory, University
President James Duderstadt said the
school must re-evaluate its procedures
for handling future whistleblowing al-
legations. This case was not the first
occasion on which the University was
criticized for its investigative policies.
Last year, a National Science Foun-
dation investigation made highly criti-
cal observations about the University's

It apears that there Is a conflict of interest with the
Office of the inspector General's decision not to
investigate a case Involving a university whose
president also serves as chair of OIG's governing body.'
- Walter Stewart
federal investigator

ability to police its research depart-
ments. In his report on the Phinney case,
the investigator said the University's
filing was "flawed to such an extent that
if this had been a more serious case we
would not have been able to accept this
investigation."
Citing a lack of funds, the NSF did
not investigate the case further and
would not comment on any future ac-
tions that might result from the guilty
verdict in Phinney's lawsuit.
Although federal investigators in-
volved with the Phinney case said
Duderstadt had no direct involvement
with the their investigation, conflicting
statements were given about the extent
of Duderstadt's involvement in the pro-
ceedings.
Duderstadt -- as chair of the Na-
tional Science Board (NSB) - over-
sees investigations of allegations ofsci-
entific misconduct that involve the NSF.
The investigations are run by the Office
of the Inspector General (OIG).
"If the inspectorgeneral (of theNSB)
is investigating the University, I would
be forced to step aside," Duderstadt
said. "But this has not happened."
An NSB attorney, speaking on the
condition ofanonymity, said otherwise.
He said it was likely Duderstadt was
involved in the federal investigation.
The attorney, however, stressed that only
the inspector general can start, continue
or end an investigation - without the
input of Duderstadt.
One nationally recognized fraud in-
vestigator said Duderstadt' srole as chair
of an organization that provides large
amounts of money to the University
constitutes a definite conflict of inter-
est.
"It appears that there is aconflict of
interest with the Office of the Inspector
General's decision not to investigate a
case involving a university whose presi-

dent also serves as chair of OIG's gov-
erning body," said federal investigator
Walter Stewart.
While Phinney's victory is the most
publicized case against the University,
the school has been plagued by arash of
alleged whistleblowing violations.
At least five former employees have
accused the University of violating the
state's Whistleblower Protection Act
and claim the University has partici-
pated in several cover-ups to protect
researchers in important positions.
Among the court cases, both pend-
ing and resolved, are:
Marianne Zorza, a former re-
searcher, alleged the University vio-
lated the Whistleblower Act when it
botched an internal investigation of her
allegations of scientific misconduct.
Zorza accused the University of amas-
sive cover-up that extends from the
Veteran's Administration Hospital up
to Duderstadt's office. Her case is cur-
rently under appeal in the Michigan
Appeals court.
Walter Roberts won a $65,000
judgment after a Washtenaw County
Circuit Court agreed with his allega-
tions that the University took steps to
punish him for reporting software pi-
racy by doctors in the department of
radiation oncology.
The University will most likely ap-
peal the Phinney judgment because of
the size of the award.
An appeal will extend a legal battle
thathasalreadycosttheUniversitymore
than $127,000 in legal fees alone.
Buteven if Phinney's victory is over-
turned on appeal, the University still
faces institutional charges that it failed
to shield her under the state's
Whistleblower Act.
A guilty verdict in that case could
cost the school an additional million
dollars.

A

AP PHOTO

Hopefully, most first-year students will not cry when they begin classes at the University today. Here, Marcus Greimer, 5, sobs
as he waits for the school bus to take him to kindergarten. His mother, Dawn, tells him to get over his anxiety and try to enjoy
his first day.

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