A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

In 2009, the University of Michigan announced that its three campuses - Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn - would be smoke-free on July 1, 2011.

The University of Michigan's student newspaper - The Michigan Daily - wrote an opinion piece last week suggesting a conflict of interest involving University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

Coleman also earned a $230,000 salary in 2009 for sitting on the board of Johnson & Johnson. Alza Corporation, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, markets Nicorette and Nicoderm, smoking cessation products.

Three ethics experts say Coleman is not in conflict.

"She is doing a public health service," Peter Rost, a former vice president of Pfizer who has testified before Congress on the business practices of drug companies, wrote in an e-mail. "The possible income by J&J from this campus is completely and utterly negligible and will have no impact on J&J income statement. Same thing if she opened public health clinic for depressed students and happened to sit on board of (a company)  selling antidepressants. Conflict of interest should normally have some undue influence on either party. Since that is not the case I'm not troubled."

Aine Donovan, the executive director of the Ethics Institute at Dartmouth College who teaches business ethics, said she didn't see a conflict.

"This is very reasonable," Donovan said. "Johnson & Johnson has a large range of products. This is a very reasonable position she is taking and it is a very laudable one."

Timothy Keane, director of the Emerson Ethics Center in St. Louis, said it was "a bit of a stretch" to say Coleman had a conflict of interest.

"Johnson & Johnson is not trying to set up shop and sell something to the University," Keane said. "They are not being a supplier to the University. It doesn't matter if you are a smoker or not, research indicates it is bad for you."

The Michigan Education Association says members may leave only in the month of August. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has set up www.AugustOptOut.org to help inform MEA members of their rights.


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