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UAlbany Professor Removed From “Alternate Assignment” After Internal Investigation

By Shawn Ness | March 6, 2023

Dr. Carpenter in front of a drawing of a molecule.

Dr. David Carpenter, the director and founder of the Institute for Health and the Environment, was reinstated as a full-time professor at the University of Albany after the university completed its internal investigation on his involvement testifying as an expert witness in chemical company Monsanto-related toxic pollution cases.

“UAlbany’s investigation regarding Dr. Carpenter has concluded, and no discipline will be imposed based on such investigation. Consistent with procedure and practice, Dr. Carpenter is no longer on an alternate assignment and may now teach and conduct research on campus,” the UAlbany press release states. “As is standard, UAlbany and Dr. Carpenter also entered into a Conflict Management Plan to ensure future activities are carried out in compliance with all applicable laws and policies. UAlbany reiterates in the strongest possible terms our full commitment to unfettered academic freedom.”

UAlbany began its investigation after the Monsanto company sent a Freedom of Information Request (FOIL) to the university. The FOIL request aims to learn more information about his research, as well as the funding for the research.

Monsanto is being represented by an attorney with Shook Hardy & Bacon, a law firm in Missouri. They have been Monsanto’s legal counsel in toxic pollution cases across the country, according to a Times Union article.

According to Carpenter's motion, Dr. Carpenter does not use the money he gets from expert witness testimony, rather, the money is “funneled back to the university to assist students, staff, and research programs.” The money he did earn went towards travel costs.

“Apparently they think that’s illegal. I don’t quite understand why it should be,” Dr. Carpenter said. “But the people at SUNY Central are organizing a meeting to try and find some way that I can use those funds to support the students but not just give it to them directly.”

The money was diverted to a special account at the SUNY Research Foundation. According to an Albany Times Union interview with Dr. Carpenter, they discovered Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations that prohibited the use of what was considered “personal funds” into a research account. UAlbany was aware of the arrangement, as well as something Dr. Carpenter has mentioned in prior testimony.

Dr. Carpenter told the Times Union he made roughly $200,000 from expert testimony, and after a conversation with the UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development, about options for directing the payments back to the university. Dr. Carpenter said they decided on a plan for the law firms to pay students and staff directly.

“Carpenter’s historical failure to disclose conflicts continues to call into question the credibility of his opinions,” the motion reads. “[That fact] is critically important to the jury’s determination of witness credibility and bias. Defendants should be afforded the opportunity to discover the full extent of Dr. Carpenter’s conflicts and any potential disciplinary action being taken by UAlbany.”

The conflict management plan outlined a few things: Dr. Carpenter was not to give expert witness testimony without telling the university. As well as not using UAlbany letterhead for invoices, which, according to Dr. Carpenter, he had only done by accident two times out of hundreds of invoices sent. It also outlined that he is not supposed to use his office desktop for his expert witness work, which he said he used for his expert testimony work.

“It’s all trivial stuff that other faculty don’t pay any attention to. I’m certainly being singled out,” Dr. Carpenter said. “There wasn’t anything I found terribly objectionable to because there wasn’t much that I wasn’t already doing.”

Dr. Carpenter is considered to be an expert on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Monsanto was one of the leading producers of PCBs in the U.S. until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned them in 1977, according to a study done by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner initially published in the Journal of Public Health and Policy in 2018.

Dr. Carpenter serves as an expert witness in several toxic tort cases against the Monsanto company and is a key witness involved in a case between Monsanto and the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Dr. Carpenter is to testify on “general PCB toxicity, alleged human health effects of PCB exposures on members of the Tribe, and medical monitoring or screening tests he asserts are reasonably medically necessary as a result of those exposures,” the motion reads.

“Dr. Carpenter has spent his entire career working to protect people from getting sick from pollution. He is an international expert who is not afraid of standing up to major corporate polluters,” Judith Enck, a former EPA Regional Administrator said. “He is a role model for students and other faculty. SUNY should be erecting a statue of him at the Albany School of Public Health.”

“A review of UAlbany Research Foundation Records shows no research funding from either Monsanto or Bayer [Monsanto’s parent company] to UAlbany in nearly 20 years,” UAlbany Director of Media and Communications Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said. “The only research award our research staff could locate associated with either Monsanto or Bayer dates to about 2005 and was for less than $10,000. By comparison, UAlbany reported approximately $114 million in research and development expenditures to the National Science Foundation in 2021.”

There are also no records of state financial transactions between UAlbany, Monsanto, or Bayer.

“The most likely possibility [for my suspension], is that big bad Monsanto said ‘boo’ and then the university, which has small brains and absolutely no backbone, freaked out,” Dr. Carpenter said. “The first thing I was given last May was a thing to sign last May saying I should retire and that I won’t sue for age discrimination… maybe just because I’ve been around a long while and I have a higher salary than most at the university and they are just trying to push me out. I was just taking my ethics training here, if age discrimination is illegal, but you have to go to human resources to object to it, these are the people that pushed all of this. The last possibility is that someone that is high level, maybe the president or the provost, that maybe is in bed with Monsanto. Whether they have Monsanto stock or a relative that works there. That probably is not the case.”

Dr. Carpenter has co-authored 17 academic research papers on the public health concerns that PCBs cause to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. His role as the sole witness plays a key role in their claims for medical monitoring damages, according to the motion, “without him, the Tribe’s claims for past medical damages and medical monitoring damages fail.”

The Albany Times Union originally broke the story with an article in early February, it served as the catalyst for much of the information that sparked Monsanto’s inquiries to the university. The article is mentioned several times throughout the motion.

“I did agree to the conflict management plan because I needed to get back in the office for the students. There were parts of it that I didn’t like because the implication was that I had done something wrong,” Dr. Carpenter said. “And I have not done anything wrong. And it took them nine months and pressure from the SUNY Chancellor to admit that.”

The Albany Student Press will share updates as they arise.


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