U regents hear grad student woes, drug-trial worries

Protesters disrupted a University of Minnesota regents budget forum today over the 2004 suicide of a university drug-trial patient.

Three dozen people gathered outside McNamara Alumni Center during the meeting to commemorate Dan Markingson. The 26-year old died during a clinical test of an anti-psychotic drug after critics say university researchers exploited him.

They held signs with slogans such as “Justice for Dan” and “Shame on U,” and stood near a black coffin to symbolize his death.

They’re calling for an independent investigation into his death, and the release of the number of research patients who have died or been seriously injured since 1999.

About 12:45 p.m., some vigil participants interrupted a forum speaker and began placing flowers silently on regents’ desks.

They left after the chairman told them to stop or he’d clear the room.

Bioethics professor Leigh Turner later told regents at the forum that failing to investigate the case properly could have legal and financial consequences.

“Will you remove President Kaler and other university officials from their positions if it emerges that research misconduct occurred and yet they resisted repeated calls for an investigation?” he asked.

A U spokesman says Markingson’s death has been investigated credibly multiple times, and current accreditation shows the U has a high-quality psychiatry department.

Also during the forum, regents heard public comment on the U’s proposed $3.6 billion budget.

President Eric Kaler was praised for freezing undergraduate tuition and fees while holding increases in room and board costs to 1.2 percent or less.

His budget freezes tuition for medical and veterinary students.

But it increases graduate and professional tuition by an average of 3 percent.

Andrew McNally, president of the Council of Graduate Students, said state and university leaders have neglected grad students even though they do much of the teaching and research on campus.

“When we ask for the resources to succeed,” he said, “we’re most often told that the value does not merit the investment — that unlike undergraduate education, pursuing an advanced degree represents a personal choice and a private good, unworthy of public commitment.”

McNally urged regents to increase funding for graduate fellowships.

The U would cut $20 million in administrative costs in the proposed budget. That would put the U ahead of its timetable in meeting Kaler’s goal of cutting $90 million by Fiscal Year 2019.

The budget would also boost funding to the Duluth campus by 13 percent — or $4.2 million.

That campus faces a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.