Madison.com news (Wisconsin State Journal/Cap Times) is a frequent source of inspiration for this blog.
Most recently, the Cap Times published an article on the grand opening of the new 205 million dollar Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery research building at UW Madison, which was formally opened yesterday, Dec 2, 2010.
The purpose of the new research building and the ethical concerns raised by peaceful protesters outside took a back seat to the coverage of a union labor dispute over food workers to be employed in the new building. The union dispute dominated the grand opening, dominated the Cap Times article and dominated the ensuing online discussion.
It is odd the Cap Times article and discussion should consider a restaurant labor dispute to be of higher importance than the PURPOSE of the new building which was the subject of the grand opening, or more important than the ethical questions raised by the existence of the building and by the peaceful pro-lifers protesting outside. Granted, the union protesters were unruly and disruptive, but the Cap Times should not have given them the platform they were trying to demand. The Cap Times should also have devoted more space to the discussion of the real issues, and should have represented both sides of the embryonic stem cell research debate, rather than favoring the morally controversial research.
In actual fact, a major motivation behind building the Institutes for Discovery at
UW Madison was to facilitate embryonic stem cell research by UW scientists, at a time when federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was forbidden due to moral concerns. The majority of Americans still now oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and numerous moral authorities continue to oppose this research. EMBRYONIC stem cell research is to be distinguished from ADULT stem research, which is morally acceptable (see Stem Cells).
The Institutes of Discovery plan was to erect a building in which one half was devoted to faculty doing research permitted by the U.S. government, while the other half of the building was devoted to doing private research, for which government approval was withheld. Thus, scientists doing controversial research could comfortably move back and forth within the building, continuing the controversial research without losing their federal funding for other research projects.
Basically, the Institutes for Discovery created a loophole to allow forbidden research to be carried out on the UW campus.
Now that President Obama has permitted federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the Institutes for Discovery is actually an expensive and unnecessary embarrassment. The building may come in handy if the next administration again forbids federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; however, the next administration might be too smart to fall for this evasion, so that will not be certain.
The fact that this amount of money could be spent in an effort to evade federal regulations, while staff salaries are being cut by UW Madison and employees are required to take “furlough” due to the economy, is disappointing and shocking. The initial idea was equally shocking – that UW would insist on carrying out research that was morally opposed by more than half of America (57%), and was forbidden on federally funded grants.
Such irresponsible spending and disregard for the ethical concerns of most Americans is just as suicidal in a University as it it in a nation. UW is making some pretty big mistakes. We need a more fiscally and morally responsible administration.