The University of California at Davis

The University of California at Davis

Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?

By Nicholas Goldberg

On a recent morning in December, I joined a group of scientists, who were protesting the University of California at Davis from the steps of the campus library.

The protest was organized by student activists at UC Davis — a relatively small school, and an increasingly vulnerable place given the administration’s attempts to eliminate academic freedom. At the time of the protest, UC Davis was in the middle of a very hot dispute with the administration over the school’s decision to remove a professor from the faculty who had been a vocal critic of the school. That professor, Professor Mark A. Rosenberg, had written an op-ed against the administration’s decision to fire him and had also written a public letter on the topic; that letter was obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education and circulated to the faculty and students.

In addition to Professor Rosenberg, the faculty was protesting the fact that the school’s tenure process is now filled with conflicts of interest, in part because the school has been unable to find candidates to fill several important jobs. There is now a significant likelihood that someone in the administration will be hired to take over a vacant position. And the administration is apparently working to eliminate tenure altogether.

Among the signers was Richard Weiss, a professor of molecular biology. He was a member of a committee that recommended firing Professor Rosenberg, while denying the faculty’s request to hold a hearing. He is also the director of the Center for Bioethics at UC Davis. The other signers were a biologist, a sociologist, and a lawyer.

By the time the demonstration ended, a number of people were standing in the cold. A few had brought umbrellas or other forms of winter clothing, because, as one supporter said, “We are concerned about the future and the students are the future of this university.”

The meeting was also attended by a number of faculty members, faculty leaders, and the president of the school’s faculty union.

I took a seat next to Professor Weiss, to listen to what the other professors in

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