Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of University Democrats on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here

Texas hasn’t indicted a sitting governor in 97 years. On Aug. 15, Gov. Rick Perry broke that streak with his two-count felony indictment for abuse of power and coercion.

Though the indictment does not paint a pretty picture of Texas politics, it would be far worse to sweep corruption under the rug in the interest of saving face. As embarrassing as this process is, the indictment proceedings demonstrate a judicial process devoted to uncovering truths Perry’s office would rather keep hidden.

Fundamentally, this case illuminates the investigation the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) was conducting into a scandal involving the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Accusations that CPRIT was funneling funds intended for life-saving cancer research toward Republican donors prompted an investigation. In December, a former CPRIT official was indicted for improperly handing grants to a company backed by a wealthy Perry donor.

Naturally, this must have made Perry extremely nervous. It has been said that God helps three kinds of people: fools, children and drunkards. It was certainly a stroke of luck for Perry that the elected official responsible for the PIU, Rosemary Lehmberg, picked this time to drive drunk. Providence helped her from hurting anyone other than herself. With this providential windfall, Perry immediately began calling for her resignation — a win-win situation. Either she resigned or he would veto PIU’s funding, and either way the CPRIT investigation would halt.

Yet an odor of mendacity permeated the good governor’s self-righteous demand. Two other district attorneys — curiously, both Republicans — have been convicted of DWIs during his administration. The governor made no demands that they step down. Of course, neither DA was investigating the shady financial dealings of organizations closely tied to the governor’s office.

Governor Perry offered a quid pro quo — DA Lehmberg’s resignation in exchange for continued funding of the PIU. Without question, Perry has the constitutional power to veto legislation. What the constitution does not grant him is the power to coerce the resignation of a public official. The indictment was never about the veto. It was about Perry threatening to defund the PIU unless DA Lehmberg resigned and offering to restore funding only if she resigned.

Texans deserve a high standard of behavior from their publicly-elected officials. Expecting the executive branch not to stoop to coercion and abuse of power isn’t a terribly stringent standard; it is the bare minimum we should demand from our public servants. Ultimately, we have rules in our democracy and instead of respecting those rules, Perry, apparently too long in office)decided they didn’t apply to him.

Though right-wing pundits would have people believe otherwise, this felony indictment showcases the impartiality of our judicial system. The initial complaint was the result of an independent investigation by a nonpartisan group of citizens. The presiding judge, Republican Bert Richardson, is a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Richardson appointed Michael McCrum as the special prosecutor to oversee the investigation. Every Travis County Democratic official has recused themselves from the case. And it would be a trifle ridiculous to claim that the randomly selected grand jury is a group with a partisan agenda. It is difficult to discern the pattern of partisan abuse in this case.

This is how our judicial system is supposed to work. A grand jury reviewed witness testimony and evidence for months before they decided that there was enough to issue a two-count felony indictment. Perry will now avail himself of our judicial system, though at least he has been publicly shamed into paying his lawyers out of pocket, rather than with the tax dollars he had been using.

CPRIT officials engaged in questionable financial dealings. When the government office responsible for investigating became involved, Rick Perry panicked and responded with threats and intimidation. Now his only recourse is to shift blame from his own questionable actions onto a DA who has already paid her debt to society. Texans are smart enough to see this for what it is — the last resort of a man backed into a corner.

Regrettably, the entire situation is embarrassing for Texans. Our state’s highest office is held by a man who has clearly demonstrated flagrant disregard for the rule of law. The felony indictments are just the latest example of corruption from Texas’ longest-serving governor. Perhaps it is time for Texans to show our governor that we will not stand by while he reduces our office of the governor to the level of a playground bully hopelessly mired in partisan squabbles. Let us take a page from his playbook and call for his resignation and cross our fingers that he doesn’t further embarrass us with yet another run for president.

Adams is the communications director for the University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.

Photo Credit: Andrea Kurth | Daily Texan Staff

While many universities continue to grapple with unclear policies regarding recently popular electronic cigarettes, UT set a clear ban on them during the 2012 tobacco-free initiative. 

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, director of UT’s Human Resource Services, said the decision to include other smoking devices that do not directly use tobacco, including e-cigarettes, in the tobacco-free campus initiative was based in part on the unknown potential health risks e-cigarettes pose to nonsmokers.

“E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the FDA and there is not sufficient safety information available to address bystanders’ concerns of being exposed to e-cigarette vapors,” Howarth-Moore said. ”The University benchmarked the definition used by other institutions already tobacco free and consulted with the Austin Travis County Health and Human Services Department.”

Howarth-Moore said banning e-cigarettes was part of the stipulation for tobacco-free campus funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT.

“CPRIT does include e-cigarettes as a prohibited item for purposes of certifying an entity as meeting their tobacco free criteria,” Howarth-Moore said. “To allow e-cigarettes would jeopardize CPRIT funding.”

According to Howarth-Moore, there was a student survey given in 2011 about opinions toward cigarettes on campus, but there was never a similar survey for e-cigarettes. Howarth-Moore said the ban on e-cigarettes was approved by representatives from multiple organization on campus, including Student Government, Staff Council and Faculty Council.

English junior Alexa Capareda said she doesn’t think e-cigarettes are bothersome in the same way as regular cigarettes. But she said when people are allowed to smoke them in enclosed spaces, it can be uncomfortable.

“They don’t smell so they aren’t as bad, but I saw someone smoking one on the bus and it caught me off guard,” Capareda said. “Maybe people shouldn’t be allowed to smoke them in enclosed spaces, like on a bus.”

Elysse Alvarado, international and global relations junior, said she believes e-cigarettes do not seem to be a problem on campus.

“I’ve never seen anyone smoking an electronic cigarette, I didn’t even know they were banned,” Alvarado said.

Aaron Dugan, part owner of smoke shop Austin City Vapors on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, said having an on-campus ban on e-cigarettes has not been detrimental to business.

“I don’t feel like the ban has affected business because this is something that people are using to quit,” Dugan said. “If they want to quit, they are going to use it.”

UT researchers across the state have been waiting for their grant money from the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas for months. At one point, UT-Austin researchers had $9 million in cancer research grants on hold.

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

UT faculty who have struggled to continue their cancer research projects because of an ongoing moratorium on the state’s cancer research institute may get their promised money in the next few weeks.  

Wayne Roberts, the interim executive director for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, said there are talks about releasing the 118 cancer research grants totaling $110 million soon. Some say it is likely the grants will be released after Gov. Rick Perry signs a bill overhauling CPRIT, which is currently under criminal investigation. 

It is unclear whether the criminal investigation on the institute will continue. Perry cut funding on Friday for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, which investigates corruption in state agencies. Travis County could vote to fund the institute, but officials have given no indication of doing so.

Perry froze the research grants after it was discovered the institute had awarded some grants without scientific review. The bill automatically became law on June 16 because Perry did not veto it.

UT researchers said not having their money has prevented them from hiring graduate student assistants and beginning certain aspects of their projects. Although UT has provided some money to keep research projects afloat, it has not been enough to continue with work as scheduled. 

The moratorium has affected UT researchers in Austin and across the state. At one point, $108 million in grants for UT researchers were on hold, including $9 million for UT-Austin.

On top of the frozen CPRIT grants, UT-Austin could lose up to $18 million research dollars this year under the across-the-board federal spending cuts known as the sequester.

This crunch on research dollars is raising red flags statewide and has many worried that decreased funding will discourage students and researchers from coming to Texas. 

Laura Suggs, an associate biomedical engineering professor at UT, was supposed to receive about $900,000 for a project aiming to prevent the spread of cancer using infrared light.

Without her CPRIT money, Suggs said the project has not been able to acquire the animals to conduct live testing and take her research to the next level.

“We have been able to do only benchtop work and not any of the proposed animal studies,” Suggs said. 

Suggs said UT has provided temporary funds to help the project, but it has not been enough to continue the project as scheduled. Suggs said she is liable for the money if her CPRIT grant does not come through.

CPRIT reform bill SB 149, by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, aimed to reform the troubled cancer agency by clarifying rules on conflicts of interests, tightening the peer review process to increase scientific rigor, improving methods to monitor grantee expenditures and increasing transparency in the grant review process, among other reforms.

Texans voted to create CPRIT in 2007 and authorized it to award $3 billion for cancer research over the next 10 years.

Roberts said the institute is committed to meeting the criteria in the bill and working hard to improve operations and end the moratorium.

“We are currently developing rules and procedures necessary to implement SB 149,” Roberts said. “We will move carefully and deliberately in implementing these changes.” 

Greg Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, said the biomedical engineering department has not been able to recruit new researchers because of the moratorium.

Fenves said CPRIT funding has been invaluable in promoting cancer research in Texas and attracting talented faculty to UT. 

“It has funded truly innovative advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Fenves said. “I hope the program continues with the needed changes to assure its integrity.”

James Tunnell, an associate biomedical engineering professor, has also been unable to recruit new researchers, which he says has delayed his project to develop a method for a noninvasive diagnosis of skin cancer. 

“If the funds come in, we won’t have appropriate overlap and training of the new researchers,” Tunnell said. “Knowledge will be lost, and it will take significantly more effort to get these projects up and running again.”

The state’s troubled cancer agency suffered another blow Tuesday after the foundation that supports the agency announced it would close its doors within 60 days.

The CPRIT Foundation, which is undergoing investigation along with the agency it supports, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, sought to rebrand itself as the Texas Cancer Coalition to distance itself from controversy surrounding the Institute. 

Officials from the Institute foiled that plan by asking the Texas Attorney General’s Office to make sure the foundation gave its remaining funds to the state.

The foundation’s executive director Jennifer Stevens told the House Committee on Transparency in State Operations that the foundation would still have $258,457 of its $613,513 remaining cash on hand to pay for its lingering commitments to CPRIT among other costs, according to the Austin American-Statesman. 

CPRIT came under fire in 2012 for mismanaging three grants totalling $56 million, and also received criticism for its lack of transparency and insistence on keeping its donor list confidential. Voters approved the agency’s formation in 2007. The agency received $3 billion in bonds for the purpose of funding cancer research statewide.

The Legislature established the foundation in 2009 and tasked it with raising private donations to support salaries for the institution’s executives. 

Editor’s note: On Friday, March 1,  UT will become a 100 percent smoke-free campus. Some 15 signs currently designating smoking areas will have been removed by then. Below, Daily Texan columnists Roy Cathey and Zachary Adams take opposing stances on the smoking ban.

POINT: BAN BRINGS NEEDED FUNDS FOR CANCER RESEARCH

March 1 will mark the first day UT goes absolutely tobacco free by removing the 15 designated smoking areas around campus, and students — smokers and nonsmokers alike — are blowing steam over why exactly it’s happening. The University has made no secret of the $30 million in research grants (and up to $80 million in the future, according to UT’s press release) from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) that would have been lost if UT didn’t go tobacco free. This transparency has given rise to criticism around campus, with many accusing the University of making itself hostage to moneyed interests.

I’m holding the torch for UT’s decision to take the money and run. No one can deny the attractiveness of the CPRIT deal.

Still, critics remain. “I understand the politics behind it, but it doesn’t make it right,” said Nicholas Velez, a government and social work freshman who is against the campus smoking ban.

And although many other students with whom I spoke echoed Velez’s views, no one mentioned that they wanted to see UT miss out on the opportunity to get money that would aid cancer research. Despite the inconvenience of the ban, students seemed to understand that if UT wants to continue to be a bastion of cancer research, it’s going to need $30 million every now and then, which may end up coming from organizations that hold their recipients to a certain standard.

If cancer research isn’t worth the walk off campus for a cigarette, opponents of the ban can be optimistic about the low level of enforcement that UT implements to keep smoke out of the 40 Acres. The press release issued by the University announcing the ban last spring went so far as to suggest using signage and polite reminders to keep students and faculty from lighting up. I asked someone to put out a cigarette right outside the doors of the Belo Center for New Media, and the person was kind enough to take it to the sidewalk. Even boldly assuming that students will follow the rules, the policy’s jurisdiction ends the second you step off of campus.

 “I think it [the ban] is a pretty thin wrist slap,” said Rory Harmon, a government senior. “The only thing that it accomplishes is punishing the people who are so addicted to tobacco that they can’t bear the idea of not smoking between every single class and can’t run across the street for a smoke break.” Harmon himself is a tobacco user, and he criticizes the bill for its lack of conviction in lowering the amount of smokers enrolled at UT.

Whatever the true motive may be and whether people plan on following the rules, the result is clear: UT-Austin will call itself tobacco free. As someone who grew up in a cloud of cigarette smoke and hated every breath of it, I am proud to be enrolled. Many, myself included, think the smoking areas are a fair offering to smokers on campus, but the compromise seems microscopic in importance when compared to the millions of dollars in grant money that will be given to help forward cancer research. So, if ever you’re walking to the Drag for a drag, think of yourself as a martyr in the fight against cancer.

Cathey is a journalism sophomore from Dripping Springs.

COUNTERPOINT: BAN IMPINGES ON STUDENTS’ FREEDOM

The other day, I was relaxing behind Batts Hall on one of several benches under the big oak tree. I could overhear a conversation between a student and a professor having a cigarette on the bench next to me, but I tuned it out to surf the web and give my brain a break before my next class. However, the last thing the student said caught my attention: “You know these smoking areas are going away soon? What are you going to do after that?” she asked. “Just... still smoke?”

 “Yup!” the professor replied with a smile.

At that point, I realized I was sitting in a designated tobacco use area. What I had just overheard was puzzling. Why would they take away the few areas on campus where professors and students can smoke, and what difference will it make?

Last April, UT officially became a tobacco-free campus. However, the effects of this were minimal, as the University allowed designated smoking areas to remain present until March 1 of this year. When that day comes, students and faculty will no longer be permitted to use tobacco products anywhere on the grounds of the University. While UT seems well-intentioned in trying to discourage tobacco use, is it not students’ right to have somewhere on the 40 Acres where they can smoke?

My initial assumption was that the University was taking a progressive step in trying to discourage tobacco use because of its proven adverse effects. But I learned this issue wasn’t just about the University’s commitment to a “healthy and sustainable environment,” which, according to the UT website, is the primary reason for the policy. The true motivation is money.

UT admits on its website that “the impetus for accelerating our decision came in February 2012, when the Cancer Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced future funding of research would be contingent on certification of an entity’s adopted tobacco-free policies.” The explanation downplays this statement, however, arguing that the school has been on the track to stricter tobacco use policies since its initial ban on indoor smoking in 1991. Apparently, the $30 million a year in research funding from the CPRIT was just the final push. The website then goes to on to list the numerous and well-known health consequences of tobacco use, as well as its supposed financial burden on the state because of resulting health care costs and productivity losses.

Although this is a logically coherent argument, it by no means justifies a policy that is both invasive of students’ basic rights and incoherent with the core values of the University. This policy clearly violates students’ basic liberty to smoke if they please. They’ve already been confined to a few designated areas throughout campus, with most students and faculty complying gladly. But to restrict smoking anywhere on University property is disrespectful to a part of the UT community that has an undeniable right to exist.

Like the professor I overheard, many tobacco users will continue to smoke on campus unless this policy is strictly enforced, which is not likely. The UT website states, “The expectation is that persons will voluntarily comply with the policy.” This is an unrealistic expectation. Have most students not witnessed underage drinking and the use of other illicit substances on campus, even in spite of real consequences from the University and the state such as expulsion and arrest? And in the case of tobacco, UTPD doesn’t even have legal grounds to enforce the new rules. At the end of the day, this policy will be impossible to truly establish.

Besides that this policy will be ineffective, it has other significant implications. The University is establishing a precedent that it may regulate the lifestyle choices of students on campus, and more importantly, that students’ rights are secondary to the demands of research donors.

The University’s honor codes says that members of the University are expected to uphold its values with “respect toward peers and community.” While some will argue that second hand smoke is a risk to everyone, a recent study by Stanford University concludes that the risk posed by second hand smoke is insignificant about six feet from a lit cigarette, depending on the direction of the wind. The smoking sections don’t hurt anyone except the people using them, unless you choose to hang out in close proximity.

Unfortunately, the smoking ban has met with little resistance, most likely because many nonsmokers either support the policy or don’t really care about it. But I do. I think the University should respect the rights of its students — who pay to be here — to make their own lifestyle choices as long as those choices aren’t directly affecting others and are within the confines of the law. 

Adams is a government freshman from Aiea, Hawaii.

University officials are still unsure of how proposed funding cuts to a troubled state agency would affect the $30 million to $40 million in cancer research grants it has recieved from the agency.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency formed by a constitutional amendment in 2007 for the purpose of issuing $3 billion in bonds for cancer research funds, is currently under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Travis County District Attorney’s office for how it approved and distributed grants. The Texas Legislative Budget Board recommended cutting all state funds to CPRIT for the 2014-15 biennium while lawmakers sort out how CPRIT made its decisions.

UT and CPRIT have different numbers for the amount of money the agency has allocated to the University in grant funds, and neither institution was able to explain the discrepancy.

Green said UT has been awarded $29.3 million by CPRIT so far, while the agency’s website states CPRIT has granted $38.4 million to UT since 2010. The page lists individual grants awarded by CPRIT. 

CPRIT information specialist Ellen Read said financial employees at the agency do not know why there is a discrepancy, but that they believe the agency granted $37.9 million to UT-Austin, not $38.4 million.

Tim Green, spokesman for the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, said he does not know what effect the potential cuts would have on cancer research projects at the University.

“At this point, we aren’t sure what the impact of a cutoff of funding would be,” Green said.

CPRIT awarded Tanya Paull, molecular genetics and microbiology professor, two grants to conduct cancer-related research in 2010 and 2011.

Paull said she does not know if her grants, which total about $1.6 million, would be affected because she does not know if CPRIT’s current situation will impact grants that have already been contracted.

She said she believes CPRIT can still deliver on its mission despite the turmoil surrounding the agency.

“If they can fix the oversight issue, there’s still a lot of good that the program can do,” Paull said.

A January report by the State Auditor’s office revealed that three members of CPRIT’s executive team had offices located on campuses of higher education institutions that received grants from the agency. The office also found that three grants, two involving the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, failed to follow state law and the agency’s own procedures for approving grants. 

Members of the Legislature are considering reforms to the agency. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and state Rep. James Keffer, R-Eastland, have each filed legislation that would require CPRIT to implement certain changes to its practices, including publishing an annual report that outlines its process for awarding grants, the dollar amount of grants awarded that year and the recipients of those grants.

At a Senate Health and Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday, Nelson said she hopes to prevent individuals within CPRIT from taking “egregious liberties” with policy determined by the Legislature.

“I am disappointed. I am angry but I am also determined to prevent the poor judgment of a few to derail the hopes of millions of Texans suffering directly or, through a loved one, indirectly from this disease,” Nelson said.

After hours of testimony and extensive questioning, lawmakers did not receive a clear answer about how a $25.2 million grant awarded to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston wound up in the pockets of a now-defunct nonprofit.

Texas voters approved the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, also known as CPRIT, through a constitutional amendment in 2007, which authorized the state to issue $3 billion in bonds for cancer research funds. The institute is the second-largest funding source for cancer research in the United States after the National Institute of Health.

The institute is currently under investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office and the Travis County District Attorney’s office for how it approved and distributed grants. As a result, the Texas Legislative Budget Board recommended cutting all state funds to CPRIT for the 2014-15 biennium.

On Wednesday, the Texas House Appropriations Committee questioned CPRIT officials how a grant initially intended for MD Anderson went to the Statewide Clinical Trials Network of Texas, or CTNeT, a nonprofit clinical network that ceased operations last week. CTNeT closed its doors after auditors found that the network used $1.3 million in grant money for non-research purposes such as purchasing furniture, granting salary increases and bonuses and reimbursing travel expenses. At the time, the network had received about $8 million of the grant.

CPRIT awarded MD Anderson a grant in June 2010 to create a statewide network of universities conducting cancer research, but then transferred it to CTNeT, which formed in August 2010. 

“It’s more [about] the idea of bringing together all of these entities,” said Kristen Doyle, general counsel to CPRIT.

Wesley Harrott, executive director of research administration at MD Anderson, said MD Anderson prepared the initial application for the grant but was not informed on why CPRIT transferred it to the nonprofit. While MD Anderson did not help start CTNeT, it supplied some matching funds to the nonprofit, which the Texas Constitution requires of institutions applying for grants.

Harrott said the university did not ask why the grant had been transferred because the university did not intend to be the sole recipient of the grant, which was designed to be distributed amongst institutions participating in the research network.

“We certainly thought that CTNeT was an important idea for the state,” he said. “Getting clinical trials available to everyone in the state is something that MD Anderson thinks is a very worthwhile effort.”

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie and committee chairman, said he did not understand why MD Anderson did not ask CPRIT why the grant was transferred.

“So, if I get a grant for $25 million and they don’t give it to me, they give it to [Vice Chairman Sylvester Turner, D-Houston], are you all going to ask where the $25 million grant was? I’d sure find out where it went,” Pitts said.

State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, said she does not understand how one institution applied for and was awarded a grant that another
organization received.

“If you come back and tell me that the applicant was CTNet, I’m good. If you come back and tell me that the applicant was MD Anderson, then we need to continue the conversation,” Giddings said.

Printed on Thursday, February 7, 2013 as: No answer for CPRIT's shady grant distributions

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 28, 2012, but it was updated to include corrections on November 30, 2012.

On Nov. 27, Gene Powell, the chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, announced the creation of the Task Force on Best Practices Regarding University-Affiliated Foundation Relationships. A move towards increased oversight of the appropriation of University and affiliated foundation funds is welcome. Recent controversies over compensation at UT System institutions, including the law school in Austin and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, demand corrective action.

Ronald DePinho, president of M.D. Anderson, came under scrutiny this summer after claims that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a state entity charged with furthering innovation in cancer research, had awarded his institution $18 million in grant money without following its own peer review process. The bulk of the grant money went towards the Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), which is headed by DePinho’s wife, Lynda Chin, and so-called “incubator projects” that would ostensibly serve earlier-stage programs.

The controversy arose following the resignation of Alfred Gilman, a Nobel laureate and CPRIT’s chief scientific officer. Gilman was outraged by the grant’s approval benefitting the project led by DePinho’s wife — the first award not subjected to both commercial and scientific review since CPRIT began. Gilman called the grant a “back door” submission, and in an email sent to top managers at CPRIT decried that as a result, “the citizens of Texas will be deceived; the integrity of science in Texas will be soiled.”

When voters approved legislation to establish the CPRIT in 2007, they expected the bond money set aside to fund research, not private business interests. That expectation is codified in the institute’s mission, which states, “All CPRIT-funded research will be conducted in state by Texas-based scientists and reflect CPRIT’s mission to attract and expand the state’s research capabilities and create high quality new jobs in Texas.”

Unfortunately, CPRIT failed in its enforcement of ethical practices in the distribution of state money. Its governing body, the 11-member Oversight Committee largely comprised of political appointees, did not fairly apply the rules of grant awarding. In bypassing appropriate oversight of DePinho and Chin, who may have had more business interests in seeing the grant approved than scientific ones, the committee compromised the integrity of its entire institution. DePinho, as a high-ranking official in the UT System, threatened the system’s reputation with his disregard for ethical procedures.

The Houston Chronicle published DePinho’s response to the criticism. In the article, he argues that the decision about how to review the IACS grant was simply a matter of opinion. He writes, “IACS is a game-changer — not a traditional research undertaking — that provides a robust pipeline for successful drug development … M.D. Anderson and Rice applied for the grant based on a request for proposals issued by CPRIT. Our final proposal presented a solid business strategy to enhance drug development and new company formation.”

But then in a live interview on CNBC, DePinho inappropriately extolled the success of his own biotech company.

DePinho said, “A company that I was involved in founding, Aveo Pharmaceuticals, one of the more successful biotechs … has exploited science driven drug discovery and it’s about to announce, or  has announced already publicly, and it will present in detail at ASCO, a very effective drug that has a superior safety profile for renal cell cancer, a major unmet need. So these are massive advances in our ability to do something about a disease that has long been very refractory.”

In a subsequently issued apology, DePinho wrote, “I am a public official in a position of trust, and I should never comment on any of my personal holdings or give investment advice.”

DePinho’s actions demonstrate the need for better oversight and serve as a warning for the rest of the UT System to remain vigilant. The M.D. Anderson episode exposes the real possibility of large-scale scandal. If the University wishes to remain at the forefront of cancer research, it must remain legitimate in the public’s eye. Just as the Livestrong Foundation was forced to sever ties with Lance Armstrong in the interest of remaining a credible player in the battle against cancer, the UT System must distance itself from these muddled affairs by taking corrective action and moving forward. The creation of the task force was a necessary step, although further disciplinary action against DePinho should be explored.

The resignation of Gilman, a  prestigious scientist, could have been avoided. It is imperative that UT take serious, direct action to avoid similar missteps in the future. The implementation of the highly anticipated medical school in Austin should not be sullied by a similarly egregious lack of oversight.

This article has been corrected to address the following: The original Nov. 28 article misspelled Ronald DePinho's name, and incorrectly said that M.D. Anderson was awarded a $20 million grant. The amount was $18 million,  not $20 million. The Nov. 28 editorial incorrectly said the $18 million grant went towards the formation of the Institute for Applied Cancer Science. The grant was intended to go towards, not towards the formation, of IACS. The editorial incorrectly stated that the IACS was a commercial enterprise. The incubator proposal was a commercial enterprise, not the IACS.

 

Rice University initiates partial smoking ban to comply with Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which grants Rice and UT-Austin alike. (File photo illustration)

Photo Credit: Shea Carley | Daily Texan Staff

The battle over tobacco use on university campuses continues to heat up as Texas schools take different policy approaches.

UT banned tobacco campus-wide earlier this year after the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas changed its grant application, announcing a provision prohibiting tobacco use in areas of campus where institute-funded cancer research takes place. The institute is a state-funded organization that works to fight cancer through research funding and other initiatives and has awarded UT more than $33 million for cancer research.

This past Saturday, Rice University also announced it was adopting a tobacco-free policy to comply with CPRIT guidelines. However, Rice only implemented a partial tobacco ban, leading some to question whether UT’s full ban was necessary. Rice’s partial ban consists of 13 designated areas on-campus where tobacco use is allowed.

Whichever route to compliance CPRIT-funded entities choose, Heidi McConnell, chief operating officer for CPRIT, said as long as they follow grant rules, their funding will not be affected.

Adrienne Howarth-Moore, UT director for human resource services, said the University thought a partial ban would not have been cost-feasible because of the logistics of where CPRIT-funded research happens at UT.

“There are a multitude of buildings on-campus that have CPRIT research going on, and those buildings can change from semester to semester as each semester comes around and new research initiatives are proposed,” she said.

“Administratively, from a cost-and-resource perspective, that would mean we would have to re-map and potentially move locations every semester.”

UT’s 431-acre campus received $20.4 million in CPRIT funding last year, while Rice’s 285-acre campus received $10.8 million, according to CPRIT and U.S. News & World Report.

In an interview with the Rice Thresher, Rice’s university campus newspaper, Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration at Rice, said a campus-wide tobacco ban would not have been appropriate at Rice due to other feasibility concerns.

“For us, a complete ban was not practical or enforceable and would lead to unintended consequences like people moving to nearby neighborhoods or sidewalks around campus,” Kirby said.

Howarth-Moore said she is not sure how the possible effectiveness of only a partial ban at Rice could affect the policy at UT, but she believes higher education is going toward a tobacco-free direction. She said the University worked on several initiatives to make UT tobacco-free prior to the new CPRIT regulation and a national tobacco-free university initiative is being introduced by the U.S. government later this month.

Since the beginning of the tobacco-ban at UT last spring, the administration has mainly been focused on communicating the new policy to the UT community, as most violations have been due to lack of awareness. With the placement of signs around campus over the summer, however, Howarth-Moore said UT will now begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the new policy.

“We’re really planning to do an assessment this semester, as it’s the first with the policy and signage in place,” she said.

Howarth-Moore said plans are still in place to completely ban tobacco on UT’s campus this February. There are currently designated areas throughout UT’s campus where tobacco use is allowed in order to make the transition to a tobacco-free campus easier.

According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, 562 colleges have enacted campus-wide tobacco bans.

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: Rice passes partial ban on tobacco 

Point-counterpoint: Campus-wide tobacco ban

Editor’s note: On Feb. 9, Pat Clubb, vice president for University operations, and Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, sent a University-wide email alerting the campus community that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas will no longer fund research at institutions that do not have a tobacco-free campus policy. University administrators are expected to reach a decision on whether to impose a campus-wide tobacco ban by March 1.

UT recently sent out a mass email telling us all that we will be converting to a tobacco-free campus in the next couple of months. The reasoning? Money, of course. In order to qualify for more than $80 million in new research grants — and to maintain more than $30 million in grants we already have — from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the University must become smoke-free.

I feel like I should be jumping on an anti-administration, anti- “the man telling me what to do with my own body” kind of rant. But I can’t.

The first thing I thought about when I heard about the ban was an experience I had freshman year. I had a one-hour break in my schedule, so I used to go to the Honors Quad, pull out my book and lay in the sunshine and read. Birds would chirp, squirrels would frolic and boys would play frisbee; it was a quintessentially collegiate scene.

But my tradition was prematurely ended with the arrival of a man and his cigar. He would light up, and the breeze changed from a welcome coolant to a harbinger of repulsiveness. Even 20 feet away, I could still smell it. My study spot was ruined.

So while my freshman-year self is rejoicing at imminent punishment for the cigar smoker and all his foul-breathed brethren, I can’t help but wonder: Is it fair? Just because I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, is it fair for the University to make it so no one can smoke? As a self-professed “crazy liberal,” don’t I believe that people should have the freedom to choose what they do with their own body (as long as it doesn’t harm others)?

Sure, there’s the issue of secondhand smoke, but if it’s outside, we can just do what I did freshmen year when confronted with cigarette smoke: walk away. And how can I judge faculty and staff that work hard all day at their jobs? Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy a cigarette during their break without having to walk several blocks to get off campus?

But faculty members that smoke are adults who are used to going to restaurants, visiting libraries and using public means transportation that are smoke-free. Plus, millions of other adults work in tobacco-free environments across the country.

The biggest worry I have is whether letting UT take away this choice from us will be the first step toward metaphorically Patriot Act-ing away other freedoms as well. What if UT decided to stop selling sodas and shut down Wendy’s and Taco Bell because the food is too unhealthy? When it’s Frosties instead of cigarettes on the line, all of a sudden, I’m a lot more upset about losing a freedom.

But here’s the thing: The freedom to smoke cigarettes is essentially the freedom to participate in an activity that slowly, painfully and most assuredly kills you from the inside out. And while Frosties aren’t exactly healthy, they will not turn your lungs black or require you to get a hole drilled in your throat so you can continue breathing.

Many things are carcinogenic or unhealthy for you, but usually only if they’re used in excess, like drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods and using the microwave.

Every single time you smoke a cigarette, it’s bad for you. There’s something profoundly disturbing to me about a university that decides to stand idly by and watch young people in the prime of their life, or any people for that matter, throw away their future health and vitality with tobacco.

Even though it pains me to be on the side of the establishment, big money, Student Government, the administration and poor spelling (for anyone who saw the University-wide email), I firmly support our University’s decision to adopt a policy that ultimately cherishes the health and well-being of our student body above all else — even if it wasn’t decided for that reason.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.