Volume 95, Issue 15
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
U of T sued by former profBy Oonagh Baerveldt
The University of Toronto was hit with a $9.4 million lawsuit yesterday by a prominent British psychiatrist citing breach of contract, defamation and breach of academic freedom.
The claim stems from an incident involving Dr. David Healy, who in the summer of 2000 accepted a position with the university's faculty of medicine in conjunction with a position of leadership at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
On November 30, 2000, Healy made a presentation to the centre commenting on the negative effects of Prozac, a drug used to treat depression. The makers of Prozac, Eli Lilly Canada Inc., are major donors to the centre.
Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer representing Healy who is also a U of T professor, said his client's offer of employment was rescinded seven days after Healy's November presentation.
CAMH delivered a letter to Dr. Healy, criticizing him for his "extreme views, the nature of which shocked staff." According to Rosenthal, this letter led Healy to believe he could not receive their support.
"Professors here speak freely and criticize government, business and even the university itself. The professors are free from constraint," said U of T vice-provost Vivek Goel.
"I've never seen any evidence that what students are being taught in the classroom is being affected by business or corporate interests."
Goel maintains, however, the decision to rescind the offer of employment to Dr. Healy was that of the CAMH.
The CAMH, in a prepared statement, said they want to be clear there has never been any influence on their hiring decisions by any outside donor, funder or individual. "We are very proud of our academic freedom," the centre said.
Eli Lilly maintained they were not involved with the decision to rescind the offer of employment.
"Lilly does not get involved in the employment matters of other companies, institutions or organizations," said manager of communications Laurel Swartz. "This is a matter between the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto and Dr. Healy,"
Goel said there have been several high profile research cases in which negative conclusions were reached by U of T staff and there were no reprisals.
Specifically, he cited a study done at the university that found Teflon coating, when heated to a certain point, becomes harmful to humans. The study was sponsored by Dupont, the makers of Teflon.
The suit has been likened to other recent high profile cases involving hospital research and drug companies, including that of Dr. Nancy Olivieri and the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
"I don't think these cases could be more different. The Olivieri case is frequently used as a cause-celebre for the perceived David and Goliath battle between drug companies and researchers," said Cyndy DeGiusti, spokesperson for the hospital.
Goel said students should not be as concerned with this specific case, rather they should worry about the lack of funding universities receive overall for research and other specialized programs.
Copyright © The Gazette 2001