University of California, Davis: Retaliation Against Medical School Professor over Newspaper Column

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of California, Davis

In September 2010, UC Davis School of Medicine professor Michael Wilkes, a recognized expert on prostate cancer screening, published an article in the San Francisco Chronicle criticizing the effectiveness of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Wilkes also criticized UC Davis’ co-sponsorship of an event he felt excessively promoted the test. The same day the article was printed, Wilkes was notified of UC Davis’ decision to reduce Wilkes’ teaching responsibilities and to cut funding to an exchange program Wilkes helped coordinate. An attorney for the UC Davis Health System threatened Wilkes with possible legal action, claiming that several claims in the editorial may have constituted actionable defamation. UC Davis’ Academic Senate unanimously called on the university to retract all threats of retaliation made against Wilkes in violation of his rights of free speech and academic freedom. In January 2013, however, an administrative review panel appointed by UC Davis largely rejected the Academic Senate’s findings that Wilkes’ rights had been violated, casting further doubt on its commitment to academic freedom.