Nearly a month after Gordon Lamb, interim president of the University of Missouri System, spoke against a ballot initiative to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer research, the Board of Curators has offered public support for Lamb.
Doug Russell, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, was the only curator to vote last week against a resolution supporting Lamb’s statement that accused the organization behind the initiative of “controlling and impeding Missouri’s research agenda.”
Curators David Wasinger and John Carnahan abstained from voting.
The resolution gives the board’s support to statements made against the amendment by Lamb, the UM System chancellors and the Intercampus Faculty Council. It also stated the board’s “unwavering commitment to the principles of academic freedom and intellectual inquiry.”
Curator Warren Erdman said before the meeting that he agreed with Lamb’s statement.
“The university should take positions on important state issues,” he said.
Lamb made his statement Sept. 7, shortly after Cures Without Cloning submitted proposed ballot language to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for an amendment to ban any form of human cloning, including somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Lamb criticized the group, saying the proposed amendment “could permanently destroy the future of research in the state and in its universities.”
In the five days following his statement, Lamb received dozens of messages congratulating him on his stance. The e-mails and other documents obtained through Missouri Sunshine laws included praise from former MU Chancellor Richard Wallace, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton and Thomas Payne, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
Retired MU professor of surgery Lenard Politte sent an e-mail to the Board of Curators the day the statement was released.
“It is great to have an interim president who is not afraid to express his honest opinion about the issues that impinge on academic freedom and how these will determine the future of a great university,” Politte said.
Lamb also heard from Wasinger, who voiced his concern that MU was getting involved in a political debate. “I hope this press release has not alienated the university with members of our legislature,” Wasinger wrote in an e-mail, “and has not put our future president in an awkward position.”
Wasinger also forwarded a complaint from one of his constituents to the board and Lamb.
Wasinger declined to discuss his complaints, instead referring questions about how legislators would react to Rep. Bob Onder, a freshman Republican from St. Louis.
Onder, who was on the board of Missourians Against Human Cloning and has often taken a stand on bioethical issues, called Lamb a “loose cannon.” He said it was inappropriate for Lamb to make the statement, which Onder characterized as “political.”
However, Onder said, Lamb’s statement will not have a long-term impact on the university.
“Ultimately, we appropriate money not to make President Lamb look bad or good,” he said. “We appropriate money for the good of students and institutions in the state.”