Mary Sue Coleman defends Johnson & Johnson board membership after conflict of interest questions
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman this morning defended her membership on the Board of Directors of health care giant Johnson & Johnson after the New York Times placed a spotlight on her relationship with the company.
"I don’t think it’s a conflict at all," Coleman told AnnArbor.com after a forum where U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke named her to a National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. "And, in fact, I sought approval from the (U-M) board years ago before I joined the company. They were thrilled that I was going to be there, so I don’t view it as a conflict."
Coleman's involvement with J&J has become a topic of discussion after the university last month decided to reject funding for continuing medical education from pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.
The decision, which reportedly could lead to a $1 million funding drop for the university, was aimed at eliminating potential conflicts of interest for doctors who could be pressured to promote specific products over others. J&J is a massive conglomerate that sells various drugs, devices and diagnostic products.
The New York Times story questioned whether Coleman's relationship with J&J is being properly scrutinized in light of the new rules. Coleman was paid $229,978 in stock and cash in 2009, the Times reported.
"Conflict of interest? Conflict of policies? If the med school and mere professors could be tainted by drug money, what about the university president?" the story said.
But Coleman told AnnArbor.com that she believes her membership on the J&J Board of Directors is fruitful and said she isn't doing anything unethical.
"We have strict policies, I adhere to all those policies, so I’m not at all concerned about it," she said. "In fact, I think it’s my duty to be out there understanding what the commercial world is doing and I think if it perfectly aligns with what we do in terms of our engagement in economic development, I think it’s important."
She added: "I don’t treat patients, I’m not an MBA, I have no control over any interactions or anything, so I’m very far removed and I feel very comfortable with the relationships, as I believe my board does."
Coleman said she endorsed the university's new policy of rejecting commercial funds devoted to postgraduate medical education.
"That’s an issue that was debated by the faculty," she said. "The clinicians decided that’s what they wanted to do, and I fully support them."