The professor who said the University at Albany barred him from campus and offered him a resignation deal after a Monsanto Co. lawyer filed a records request with the university says things are looking better now.
David Carpenter said a vice chancellor of the State University of New York system, of which UAlbany is a part, took the initiative to set up what became a six-hour meeting among Carpenter, his attorney and representatives of UAlbany and the SUNY central administration.
“He said, ‘You guys are going to sign an agreement or you don’t go home,’” Carpenter said Wednesday.
“That actually works,” he said.
“It was really the SUNY central people that were pushing for resolution,” he said. “They felt the controversy was damaging the reputation of the whole SUNY System.”
Carpenter, a tenured public health physician and professor, frequently testifies against Monsanto in lawsuits alleging harm from toxic environmental pollutants called PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls.
The Albany Times Union revealed Carpenter’s situation on Feb. 5, and Inside Higher Ed followed up on the story Monday. Additionally, Carpenter said over 2,000 signatures supporting him were delivered to UAlbany’s president, the SUNY chancellor and the New York governor.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for me personally and for the general concept of academic freedom,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, UAlbany released a statement that, unlike its previous comments, confirmed it had investigated Carpenter.
“UAlbany’s investigation regarding Dr. Carpenter has concluded, and no discipline will be imposed based on such investigation,” the statement said. “Consistent with procedure and practice, Dr. Carpenter is no longer on an alternate assignment and may now teach and conduct research on campus. As is standard, UAlbany and Dr. Carpenter also entered into a Conflict Management Plan to ensure future activities are carried out in compliance with all applicable laws and policies.”
Carpenter said that plan “was dramatically revised” from what UAlbany previously asked him to sign. Spokespeople for the SUNY system and UAlbany didn’t comment beyond the UAlbany statement.
“It’s very clear that the reason for the investigation was concern that I was mixing my academic responsibilities with what I consider as my professional responsibilities, but from their point of view, that doesn’t include things that involve being reimbursed,” Carpenter said—even though he uses what he earns from giving expert witness testimony to support students and staff, rather than himself.
He said one of the concerns was he was using his university office address for things like invoices. He said he has viewed holding big polluters accountable as part of his job.
“That isn’t just a matter of writing scientific articles, but it’s also a matter of testifying against them,” he said. “But I do see the university’s position that that should be done sort of on my own time and without any implication that the university supports my particular position.”