About 20 months ago, Dr. Michael Wilkes of UC-Davis and a colleague wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, “PSA tests can cause more harm than good.” He questioned his institution’s public event for men focusing on prostate cancer screening. Excerpts of the editorial:
“Sadly, most men are never told the facts about the test, nor are they encouraged to make their own informed decision. The UC Davis course doesn’t even acknowledge a problem with prostate cancer screening. Its expert presenters – including two urologists and a professional football player (!) – will tell you that you need to “know your (PSA) statistics” beginning at age 40. …
We can’t say why UC Davis offers this course that ignore scientific evidence, but we wonder whether it just might have to do with money. Testing for and treating PSA-identified cancer is a large part of the practice of many urologists so it may not be surprising that urology groups take a far more positive stance on the test than almost any other doctors. They also fund a pro-PSA lobby that now includes the National Football League.
Health care spending is threatening to wreak greater and greater havoc on our economy. That’s not to say we shouldn’t invest in treatments that lead to improved health, even when they’re expensive.
And UC Davis, the NFL and surgical device companies have the right in our society to promote events in order to increase their profits. But we worry when companies and doctors with a conflict of interest sponsor what could be considered an infomercial endorsement to unsuspecting men without telling them they might end up being harmed as a result of a simple PSA blood test.”
Last week, InsideHigherEd.com reported that hours after that editorial was published, UC Davis administrators kicked off a series of steps to remove Wilkes from leadership positions he had held. Excerpt:
Now, a committee on academic freedom at the university that investigated allegations of intimidation and harassment against Wilkes has found them to be true. The faculty committee said in its report, a copy of which was obtained by Inside Higher Ed, that the actions of the university administrators cast doubt on its ability to be a “truthful and accountable purveyor of knowledge and services.”
The group has asked the dean and other top officials at the university’s school of medicine to write letters of apology to the professor, admit to errors of judgment, stop proposed disciplinary actions against him and take steps to prevent future violations of academic freedom.
At the end of last week, the UC Davis Academic Senate Representative Assembly voted 52-0 to:
1. Accept promptly and publicly responsibility for serious errors in judgment;
2. Write individual letters of apology to Professor Wilkes;
3. Rescind in writing all disciplinary actions that have been stated, proposed, or taken
against Professor Wilkes.
1. Take concrete steps to prevent future violations of rights of academic freedom and
report to the Davis Division the steps that have been taken to this end.
2. Have the Dean of the School of Medicine take appropriate training to prevent
academic freedom violations.
Finally, in a 50-0 vote, the Assembly added a resolution:
That the Representative Assembly condemns Health System and Campus Legal Counsels for drafting inappropriate and apparently threatening letters that violated a faculty member’s right to academic freedom.