With almost a decade of prodding by a couple of state legislators, John Thrasher (the chair of FSU's Board of Trustees) and TK Wetherell (FSU's president) are pushing to have a chiropractic program established at Florida State University. I am not kidding. This would be the first chiropractic program at a university that claims to have a focus on serious research. The program will be a part of an entirely new college focusing on integrative health -- independent of FSU's medical school -- and will be accompanied by substantial new resources for the university.
A core, Thrasher and Wetherell are politicians -- apart from their administration at FSU, neither has spent any time at a university other than as a student -- so it is not surprising that this new program is moving forward on their watch as a substantial legislative boondoggle. In fact, it will bring to FSU resources in the range of $9 million annually. FSU's proposal, drafted by an outside consultant, also alleges that the new program will result in substantial new research dollars for the university. This is a specious claim (how much did NIH spend last year on chiropractic research in comparison to research in other fields?) and a highly questionable strategy for a university that is not even the leading university in Tallahassee in terms of current NIH dollars (for the past two years, FAMU, a much smaller university, has brought in more NIH dollars than FSU; several other Florida universities also bring in more NIH dollars than FSU). As anyone who has spent time at a research university, or in competitive national grant processes, will tell you, if FSU wants credibility as a research university it must earn it -- not use politics to contract around it.
So far there has been no serious faculty discussion of the chiropractic program proposal, but thanks to the Faculty Senate's Graduate Policy Committee the proposals for the new program can be viewed online at http://www.fsu.edu/~fasenate/forms/chiropra.doc and http://www.fsu.edu/~fasenate/forms/Chiro.pdf. A meeting is scheduled on this for the week of January 10.
As science, chiropractic practice rests on a very thin thread -- if any at all -- so it is not at all clear why a research university that purports to take science seriously would want to establish such a program. It is especially puzzling why a university would establish this as a new college on campus, rather than try to integrate it into existing programs in medicine or elsewhere. FSU's medical school was just established a few years ago and does not yet even have its feet on the ground in terms of serious scientific research; it certainly could benefit from some attention to its own research programs and a chiropratic program may undermine the ability of FSU to build a high quality medical school in the future. More important, the substantial harm a chiropractic program will do to FSU's reputation more generally in undeniable, as FSU continues to make it into jokes on late night television for its programs and decisions. It certainly will make it into publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, which reports on higher education and faculty governance issues, and the Skeptical Inquirer, which reports on misunderstandings of science.
Other research universities have consistently rejected proposals to adopt a chiropractic program, largely due to opposition by academic administrators and science faculty. For example, the York University faculty debated and rejected such a proposal a few years ago. A description of their debates on this, published in the Skeptical Inquirer in 2002, can be found online at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2843/is_1_26/ai_80924581.Come January, hopefully FSU's faculty will have an opportunity to discuss this new proposal, although it would come as no surprise if the state and local politicians that run FSU's campus will try to ram this through with little or no faculty discussion. Perhaps FSU's faculty will, as York University faculty did, take control of their destiny -- see http://www.ndir.com/chiro/.
If FSU does establish this new program, I think it will substantially harm FSU's reputation in the scientific community. For a university that is still trying to build its national stature as a serious university, or even as a top 50 public university (FSU used to be in this group, until a few years ago), this might even cause irreparable damage.
Here are the key dates to watch in the deliberations about the chiropractic program:
- Jan. 13, 3 p.m.- Graduate Policy Committee of the Faculty Senate, chaired by Professor George Bates in the biology program, is expected to consider the proposal. A committee of faculty, this committee has little power in the larger scheme of things, but this may be one of the only opportunities for faculty input on the proposal.
- Jan. 14, 1 p.m. - The FSU Board of Trustees, chaired by John Thrasher, is slated to consider the proposal. It is expected that the Board, which generally does not debate substantive issues and is largely deferential to its chair and the university president, will adopt the proposal.
- Jan. 27 in Gainesville - The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees all universities in the state, will consider the FSU chiropractic program proposal. There will be debate here, but a lot of it will focus on the powers of the respective Boards, as well as the merits of FSU's proposal.
A fan of rigorous debate, FSUblius is optimistic that reason will prevail over raw politics on FSU's campus. It is common for FSU loyalists to oppose expanding the powers of the Board of Governors, out of distrust of central governance, but in this case the Board of Governors might have an opportunity to save FSU's Board of Trustees from doing serious harm to FSU. If FSU is to have any future as a serious research university or a top 50 public university, it must do so.