STILLWATER — Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis told faculty Thursday that he erred in not talking to OSU scientists before quashing a research project that involved euthanizing baboons.
Hargis said he wasn’t influenced by animal rights activists but said his decision was complicated and there were "confidential factors” that he couldn’t discuss. "To go through every lurid detail is simply not prudent,” he told the OSU Faculty Council. He said not speaking first to campus scientists was a "rookie mistake” and pledged better communication with researchers. Hargis said he spoke to outside scientists and universities before deciding last month to prevent research funded by the National Institutes of Health that would have tested anthrax treatments and vaccines on live baboons, which later would be euthanized. The baboons were not yet at OSU’s veterinary medicine biosecurity lab, and the project had not yet been funded. OSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee had approved the projects after months of study. That committee asked the OSU Faculty Council to consider a resolution asking Hargis to talk with them and scientists directly involved in projects before shutting down research. The resolution was referred to a faculty council committee. Charlotte Ownby, chairman of the animal care and use group, said scientists feel Hargis bowed to political views and external pressure when making his decision. Hargis said he’s committed to OSU’s research mission and his decision has no bearing on other projects. "There’s the sense that the president is arbitrary and capricious and anti-research,” Hargis said. "That is absolutely untrue.” Hargis said other research involving bioterrorism and lethal pathogens would continue at Oklahoma State University. The baboon research started at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, but was to be moved to OSU’s new Level 3 biosecurity lab, the only one in the state. The project’s lead investigator, Shinichiro Kurosawa, was at OMRF but now is at Boston University, where he’s seeking a new site for the baboon lab, according to a statement from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Extramural Research. Although the NIH hadn’t yet funded OSU’s part of the project, it had expectations OSU would follow through on its commitment, the statement said. "NIH fully expects institutions to honor these assurances and commitment to complete NIH supported projects as requested, approved and funded, whether they are a direct recipient or a subawardee on a special project.” In April, OSU announced that animals will no longer be euthanized in teaching labs at the veterinary school.