Transparency bill debated

A bill was proposed to the Student Government Association (SGA) that will ask for more transparency in the University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).


IACUC is responsible for reviewing proposed experiments and making sure that the animals involved endure as little pain and suffering as the experiment can permit, according to Bill Falls, IACUC chair.


The committee is made up of both scientists and community members, Falls said.


Senior Gerard Williams and Adjunct Professor Lance Polya came to SGA on Oct. 4 asking for support from the senate in making IACUC’s reviews and meetings more available to the community.


Williams said he has been driven by recent discoveries to make a change.


“This type of information is released in almost every other state,” Williams said. “Including facilities [such as] Research Triangle in NC, which has the largest concentration of biomedical research facilities in the entire country.”


At the SGA meeting, Polya took the floor to give an account of his history with IACUC.


“By law, any committee that goes into executive session can keep the public out,” Polya said. “So they went into executive session virtually the whole meeting.”


Polya said that he won a Vermont Supreme Court case against IACUC in 1992; a case that declared that IACUC must make all meetings and records public.


In 1996, the Vermont Legislature effectively reversed their decision and declared the UVM’s IACUC an exception to that law, and is granting them executive session again, he said.


“We were flabbergasted because we thought the Supreme Court ruling was definitive and final,” Polya said.


Senator Tom Campbell agreed to sponsor Williams’ proposal and officially presented a bill to the SGA senate.  


“It’s not often that a student shows that kind of initiative,” Campbell said. “We’re hoping to stand in solidarity with faculty member Lance, and a student named Gerard Williams.”


Senator Anmaar Habib spoke out against the bill, citing intellectual property as the main reason for not allowing greater transparency.


“I’m a research assistant … I understand why it’s important,” she said.


The issue is that it’s hard to separate out the effect on the animals from the sensitive information in the experiment, Habib said.


Habib has worked in several labs in recent years, and said that the current regulation on IACUC is sufficient as it is.


“UVM has some pretty stringent standards,” she said. “I think if there were something really horrible going on, the students would speak out.”


Chair Bill Falls and University Veterinarian Dr. Ruth Blauwiekel addressed SGA on behalf of IACUC.


“We are not operating in a situation where there’s no oversight on what we do,” Falls said.


There are several organizations, federal as well as private, which observe and regulate IACUC, he said.


The USDA, the Office of Lab Animal Welfare and a voluntary private regulator, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Animal Care (AAALAC) are several of the organizations that IACUC abides by, Falls said.


“We’ve gone above and beyond required regulations,” he said.


Williams said he wasn’t convinced.


“UVM is one of only six accredited medical schools in the United States to use live animals for surgical training,” he said. “It seems to me that they are not ‘above and beyond,’ rather below and behind the rest of the country in a very substantial way.”


No consensus was reached by SGA, and the bill was tabled pending a referendum of no less than 800 signatures in support of the bill.


The bill will be returning to the floor once the referendum is filled and a vote on whether or not to support the bill is expected at the next SGA meeting on the fourth floor of the Davis Center on Oct. 18.