By MARTY LEVINE
“The biggest question that everybody has is whether proof of vaccination will be required” for the full return of research to campus, Mike Holland, vice chancellor for science policy and research strategies, told the latest meeting of the University Senate’s Research Committee, on April 30.
While cautioning the committee that administrators were still discussing all the parameters for research’s full return by the fall term, Holland noted that “the American College Health Association just made a statement advising universities to require vaccinations of students.” The statement says that, “where state law and available resources allow, ACHA recommends COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all on-campus college and university students for fall semester 2021.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education on May 4 listed 209 college campuses that are thus far requiring students to be vaccinated for a return in the fall.
Research, Ethics and Society Initiative
The research committee also received a preview of a new website for the equally new Research, Ethics and Society Initiative, a consultation service for researchers concerned about how to ethically conduct all varieties of research.
Lisa Parker, director of the Center for Bioethics and Health Law, said that RESI was announced in late April after Pitt’s research office decided that the campus needed a way for researchers to consult colleagues with expertise and experience in specific research issues.
“The focus is very much on the way research affects people,” Parker said, “but the planet and the animals through that (are) also part of the focus.” The initiative’s mission says that “research of all types — from theoretical to the most immediately practical or applied — can present ethical challenges.”
Although Stanford and Duke have similar organizations, Parker said, “ours will be the first research consultation service that includes anything other than clinical health sciences research.”
The initiative is not designed to replace regulatory bodies or other oversight on campus, she emphasized. It’s meant as a voluntary service to researchers — “not another regulatory hoop to jump through,” she said.
Asked by committee members whether RESI consultant advice might differ from the edict of an institutional review board, which is charged with approving a researcher’s methodologies, Parker said that RESI would provide “collegial consultations,” not decisions or official rulings. “It is the best of the experience of the individual (consultant).”
Considering ethical questions in research includes acknowledging the relation between research and racism historically, she added. The website includes the statement that “people in many communities have reason to mistrust science — and research in general — because research is not immune to the racism that infects society. Technology development, science and other research have participated in and reinforced structural racism. Biases persist in the conduct of research. Research ethics requires eliminating biases related to sex, gender, culture, disability and racism that continue to influence who joins in research, as well as which questions are studied, and how.”
The website lists available members of RESI’s research ethics consultation service, as well as other links to related, existing Pitt programs, national regulations and other resources.
Committee members suggested that RESI should particularly try to attract researchers on campus who employ animals or do Department of Defense-funded work, who may benefit from consultations. Holland added that the risk of inadvertently exposing research subjects’ personal data on the internet was an important current issue that RESI also ought to counsel its clients concerning.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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