University under fire for handling of professor who testifies against Monsanto

By Carey Gillam
(UPDATED to include news that University drops restrictions on Carpenter.)

University officials in New York are wrongfully restricting the activities of a long-tenured professor and are helping Monsanto-owner Bayer AG undermine the professor’s credibility as an expert witness in litigation over the harmful impacts of toxic chemicals, according to a complaint submitted to the university on Tuesday.

The complaint was filed with the University at Albany by the Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an advocacy group representing public employees involved in environmental work, on behalf of David Carpenter, director of the university’s Institute for Health and the Environment. The university is part of the State University of New York (SUNY).

The University at Albany has come under fire for taking various actions to limit Carpenter’s work over the last year, including banishing him from campus and barring him from teaching classes. The complaint alleges that the university did so because of pressure from the chemical industry, causing “social, emotional and reputational harm” to Carpenter.

“Dr. Carpenter’s work has drawn the ire of chemical companies because it provides scientific evidence of the toxicity and health impacts of their products and supports compensation for those who have been injured,” PEER states in its complaint. “It appears that the actions taken against Dr. Carpenter make the University complicit in an effort to silence him and undermine the credibility of his research and expert testimony regarding the health impacts of toxic chemicals.”

Supporters of Carpenter are planning a rally at the state capitol building in Albany on Thursday. They have also set up a website to support him, and have launched a petition drive demanding he be fully re-instated at the university. Roughly 900 people had signed the petition as of Monday.

The university issued a statement Tuesday saying the issue with Carpenter is a “matter of compliance and is wholly independent of the content of the testimony, the parties to the litigation or the work being performed.”

The university further said that it has a responsibility “to operate with the highest legal and ethical standards, and to follow the law and procedures without undue consideration of external influence and pressure.”