April 7, 2012
First, a quick update on my post on the Social Pedagogy BA at Aberdeen University. No doubt helped by the intervention of a prominent scientist, the University has confirmed that the course is now under review. It insists the review is routine – part of the “standard cycle of reviewing collaborative partnerships” – but says the concerns raised in my post will be considered. The findings of that review, and any action that will be taken as a result, should be published shortly.
While doing some background research on that post, I noticed that the Anthroposophic Health, Education and Social Care Movement (AHaSC) – based at the Camphill Medical Practice in Aberdeen – planned to open a new Centre for Integrative Health, Education and Social Care at the University.
According to the AHaSC’s fundraising materials, the Centre would be “the focus for anthroposophic medicine … in the English speaking world” and would “be key to furthering the anthroposophic healthcare approach worldwide.” It would not only carry out research into anthroposophic medicine, but also provide postgraduate degrees in it.
It said the Centre had been “agreed in principal [sic]” with the University, but I suspected this was just bluster. After all, the Social Pedagogy degree was acquired, along with several other courses, through a merger with a teaching college. It seemed far more likely that the University administration had never really taken much notice of the course, than that it was actively promoting anthroposophy.
But the internal correspondence disclosed to me through a separate freedom of information request suggests the University’s relationship with the anthroposophical movement is deeper and more extensive than I had imagined.
The documents reveal that Dr Stefan Geider, co-ordinator of the AHaSC and anthroposophical doctor at Camphill Abderdeen, first proposed that the University host a centre for anthroposophic medicine in late 2010.
For almost a year, Geider was in ongoing discussions with Professor Neva Haites, vice-principal and head of the College of Life Sciences and Medicine. Out of those discussions came a proposal for the Dunlop Centre for Integrative Health and Management comprising a Professor – the Dunlop Chair – and a senior lecturer, with administrative support. (Daniel Nicol Dunlop was a prominent anthroposophist who dedicated his life to the movement after meeting Steiner in 1922.)
The correspondence shows that millions of pounds has been pledged by anthroposophical organisations to fund the Centre’s work. The bulk (£1.5m) will come from the foundation of the Raphael Centre, a private anthroposophical clinic in Kent that works with those suffering from complex neurological disabilities and from cancer. The Centre’s treatments include eurythmy, chiropractic, mistletoe therapy, oil-dispersion bath therapy and therapeutic hyperthermia.
A further €1.5m has been pledged by the Software AG Foundation. The Foundation – the charitable arm of a German software firm – funds various anthroposophical projects around the world, including the Steiner Academy in Hereford. (See Alicia Hamberg’s blog for more on Software AG’s relationship with anthroposophy.)
However, donations of more than £1m – and those that are to establish a new area of work – must be considered by the University’s Governance and Nominations Committee. The Committee considers the benefits of the donation, and weighs them up against the reputational, ethical and financial risks in accepting the funds and pursuing the work. It met to consider the Centre in January, and received a paper which outlined the following risks:
“The association with the anthroposophic medical community which this Centre would formalise carries with it the possibility of the University’s scientific and medical research credibility being questioned due to commonly held perceptions about its beliefs and practices. For further information see http://ivaa.info/userfiles/file/System_AnthroposophicMedicine2011_online.pdf”
“Irrespective of the scientific rigour with which the Centre’s research is carried out, there remains the possibility that external observers would question its robustness due to the source of funding. This could create a conflict of interest, either real or perceived. Any complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) body must necessarily have a vested interest in trying to prove the effectiveness of its approach is supported by the scientific community. Therefore, if any such body was to provide 100% of the funding for a Centre with the stated aim of objectively investigating the efficacy of CAM approaches, this could potentially leave the scientific integrity of the University open to question as well as attracting negative publicity.”
This demonstrates that at least someone within the University understands the huge reputational damage that the Centre could cause.
But the College seems unperturbed. Professor Mike Greaves – who took over from Professor Haites as head of the College in September last year – submitted a revised paper to address the Committee’s concerns. In it he stressed Dr Geider’s medical credentials and the clinical reputation of the Raphael Centre and recommended that the donation be accepted.
Professor Greaves’s paper was emailed to the members of the Committee on March 29. They have been asked to indicate whether they consent to the donation – and therefore the establishment of the Centre – by Tuesday April 10.
You can download the key documents below:
- Starter paper and draft invitation to tender
- Draft job description for Dunlop Chair
- Governance and Nominations Committee paper
- Professor Mike Greaves’s response
Update, April 10
The University has emailed to point out that the redactions in the above documents are “not sufficient to obliterate the information which is exempt”. I’ve been asked to remove them until they send me new ones “with the same redactions but unreadable”.
Update, April 29
I’ve finally got round to uploading the properly redacted versions of the key documents. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
Topics, individuals and organisations mentioned in this article:
anthroposophic health education and social care movement • anthroposophy • camphill • dunlop centre for integrative health and management • raphael centre • software AG foundation • stefan geider • steiner • university of aberdeen