Washington University will close ethics center

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Washington University has announced it will close its ethics center just as two people connected to the university have had high-profile ethical lapses, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

This week, former senator Jeff Smith pleaded guilty to federal felony conspiracy charges for trying to cover up campaign violations from 2004. The St. Louis Democrat was a part-time lecturer in the university's political science department.

And last month, Dr. Timothy Kuklo, an orthopedic surgeon, resigned after federal investigators claimed he had falsified research results. The university also told a Senate investigation that Kuklo hid his consulting ties to a company that made one of the drugs he was studying.

Dr. Ira Kodner, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the two ethical transgressions are exactly the kind of issues that the center tried to highlight. Kodner is disappointed with the university's decision.

The university is closing the center in June 2010 for budget reasons. It said gifts or endowments to support the center on a permanent basis were lacking.

The university's endowment was $5.4 billion in July 2008, but has tumbled during the recession by as much as 25 percent. Chancellor Mark Wrighton said last spring that the endowment losses mean the university will have to find up to $25 million in savings in the next fiscal year.

But Kodner said the center's budget was just about $200,000 and that the center has raised more than $2 million from private donors since it was founded in 2003.

"When the economic times got bad -- I think this is the really tragic part of it -- the first program they cut was the ethics and human values center, which I think is a poor choice," Kodner said. "This center accomplished a lot. It was a treasure for the university and the community."

The university said it regrets the need to close the center but believes other schools and departments can pick up its work.

The center has funded research and hosted lectures and forums on such topics as embryonic stem cell research, gay rights, prostitution and the treatment of veterans.

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