VP candidate attracts protesters

P. Michael Conn believes researchers should talk to the community.

But a handful of student activists said the candidate for vice president of research ignored them Tuesday when they questioned Conn about poor treatment of monkeys at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, where Conn is associate director.

?We are concerned about where our tuition money is going,? said Lea Banks, a member of USF?s Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. ?And he didn?t take any questions from students.?

Banks and three other SETA members stood in the back of the room Tuesday, wearing T-shirts that said ?Keep Primate Tester Dr. P.M. Conn Out Of U.S.F.? as Conn spoke about his goals if hired.

He wasn?t distracted by the quiet protest. Instead, he focused on answering questions from the 12 search committee members surrounding him. Five minutes before the hourlong meeting was to end, animal rights activist Gael Murphy raised her hand.

Murphy questioned the ORPRC?s use of electro-ejaculation on monkeys, which often involves placing vibrating probes on the foreskin of a monkey?s penis.

Conn said his center places metal foil around a monkey?s penis then sends currents of electricity through the foil to induce ejaculation. The sperm is used for research about artificial reproduction.

?The name (of the procedure) is unfortunate,? Conn said.

But he insists the process is safe.

?I?ve wrapped the device around my finger and turned it up three times the electricity we use,? he said.

Sara Newton, president of USF?s SETA, said Conn tested the wrong part of his body.

?Slam your finger in a door, and then slam your penis in a door,? she said. ?Tell me which one hurts more.?

Murphy, education coordinator of Florida Voices for Animals, said she?s seen reports that at least two monkeys? penises were burnt from the procedure.

?You make up a few half truths and put them on a listserv, and you get bombarded,? Conn said, adding that the ORPRC fully complies with all regulatory authorities.

?Animal research is very important, and I make no apology for it,? Conn said.

Besides, Conn said, it?s animal rights activists that have a reputation, not researchers. He said the FBI classifies animal rights groups as the No. 1 domestic terrorist group in the United States.

?But if we (researchers) are treating animals good, then I?m OK,? Conn said.

He wants to bring his experience and ideas to USF. Conn said the university has a lot of space for growth because it?s relatively young, has an enthused faculty and new leadership with President Judy Genshaft.

?People have to realize Tampa is where the I-4 Corridor begins,? Conn said.

And it?s a matter of time before the technology area between Tampa and Orlando offers USF more opportunities for research.

Meanwhile, the university should concentrate on integrating its disciplines, he said. USF should recognize excellent researchers, whom Conn defined as a those respected by their peers and seen as important contributors to advancement.

And learn to prioritize.

?Some areas (at universities) are clearly underfunded,? Conn said.

He?d like to see more Florida universities partner with one another to maximize on their research strengths.

?That?s how to make Florida strong,? he said.

USF?s research department brought in more than $170 million in 1999-00. That figure was up $10 million from the year before when research funds were at about $160 million.

But the million-dollar department has been without a leader since October 2000. That?s when George Newkome resigned as vice president to return to his hometown of Akron, Ohio to become research vice president at the University of Akron.

The two other candidates for USF?s vice president for research are Jack Crow, director for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, and Janet Greger, a nutrition and environmental toxicology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Contact Kevin Grahamat oracleeditor@yahoo.com