Medical bigots and political bullies

Published Jan. 2, 2005|Updated Aug. 24, 2005

Dennis Jones may have cause to question the animus of some medical professors toward a proposed chiropractic school at Florida State University, but his indignance just gets in the way. When a powerful state senator characterizes the objections of faculty members as "professional bigotry" and invites them to resign, he is coarsening an already brutish debate.

That Jones is also a chiropractor only makes it that much more personal.

The real controversy over an FSU chiropractic school is less about medical bigotry than it is political coercion. Jones, the past Senate majority leader, used his influence to seed $9-million for a new academic program that the university system never even considered, much less approved. If he can't understand why educators would take offense at such manipulation, then he probably also doesn't understand why voters in 2002 approved a constitutionally empowered Board of Governors to oversee the university system.

Jones is right that traditional medicine has much it can learn from alternative approaches, and that some medical doctors too easily dismiss all alternatives as lacking credibility. But it is also true that major public universities are organized around certain academic and research principles that don't easily square with the way current chiropractic colleges operate.

Applicants to chiropractic schools, for example, don't need a bachelor's degree or a graduate exam or high grade-point average to be accepted. Also, not many chiropractic colleges are engaged in the kind of research that is characteristic of modern medical schools.

FSU provost Lawrence Abele has done a commendable job in putting together a chiropractic plan that attempts to bridge those gaps and establish loftier academic standards, but, in doing so, even he felt compelled to distance himself from some practices. "Our first commitment is to a rigorous scientific educational program, one that would explicitly reject some current chiropractic activities, such as many of the articles published in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research," he wrote. The Journal includes such "peer-reviewed science" as: the benefits of spinal manipulation to promote fertility in infertile women, or to reverse multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

The point is not whether chiropractic medicine is quackery or science but whether a politician gets to impose his personal will on a college campus. If the university system needs to invest $9-million in the first such facility in the nation, then the debate belongs to the Board of Governors, the university trustees, and, yes, the campus faculty.

Jones may feel understandably bruised by some of the distortions about chiropractic, but he has himself partly to blame. Universities ought not be bullied by politicians with personal grudges.