Dear Pitt Public Health faculty, staff, and students:
I write to you now about calls to remove the name of Thomas Parran from our main Pitt Public Health building. I take this issue very seriously. Indeed, six weeks ago I wrote a letter to the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion to formally consider this issue (bit.ly/parranltr). In addition, the school has scheduled a symposium with invited experts on the history of Tuskegee, Thomas Parran, and ethics to be held on March 29. Details on the symposium will be forthcoming.
This is difficult problem. Thomas Parran was one of the most important and effective progressive voices in public health in the first half of the 20th century, yet his legacy is marred by the unethical and racist venereal disease studies that were conducted under his leadership of the US Public Health Service. In response to my request, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is in the process forming a committee to study the issue and recently asked the University Senate leadership for nominations for faculty, staff and student representation. This follows an established University process that allows anyone to bring up concerns such as these and have them evaluated.
Commitment to high ethical standards, celebration of diversity, and respect for others are fundamental values shared by everyone in the Pitt Public Health community. All of us should give thought to these important issues and participate in the discussion as we reflect on the legacy on Thomas Parran.
Donald S. Burke, MD
Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy
UPMC Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health
Dean, Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh