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A University of Pittsburgh cardiologist who faced backlash over an opinion piece he wrote criticizing affirmative action is suing his employers, the American Heart Association and the company that published and then retracted his article, alleging that he was demoted and defamed because his views were unpopular.
Dr. Norman C. Wang, who is a faculty member in Pitts School of Medicine and a doctor with University of Pittsburgh Physicians, was removed from his position as director of UPMCs clinical cardiac electrophysiology fellowship program in August days after his article was noticed by other cardiologists on Twitter.
Whats remarkable about this is that he was not punished for an inappropriate joke or an intemperate remark in the classroom, but for publishing a thoroughly researched article in a peer-reviewed journal, said Terry Pell, the president of the Center for Individual Rights, which is representing Wang in his suit.
This should concern anybody concerned about academics and free speech regardless of whether it challenges conventional thinking.
Wang filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court alleging that university officials retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. The complaint also includes claims for defamation, breach of contract, tortious interference and retaliation under Pennsylvanias Whistleblower Law.
Named defendants include the University of Pittsburgh; UPMC; University of Pittsburgh Physicians; the American Heart Association; Wiley Periodicals Inc., which publishes the Journal of the American Heart Association; Samir Saba, who is the chief of cardiology at the school of medicine and Wangs supervisor; Mark Gladwin, the chair of the department of medicine; Kathryn Berlacher, a professor in the cardiology division; Marc Simon, a cardiology professor and several people who are unnamed.
David Seldin, a spokesman for Pitt, said in a statement, We are aware of the complaint and will respond appropriately. The University of Pittsburgh took no improper action against Dr. Wang, and we remain fully committed to advancing the value of academic freedom.
Wang, who is an American citizen and ethnically Chinese, wrote an article called Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity: Evolution of Race and Ethnicity Considerations for the Cardiology Workforce in the United States of America From 1969 to 2019, that was published by the Journal of the American Heart Association in March.
The article traced the history of the use of race and ethnicity relative to admission into medical school, residency programs and fellowships. Wang said in the article that the use of racial preference in bringing minorities into medical schools can put them at a disadvantage in the long term and concluded that it hasnt worked to diversity the medical profession.
None of that is controversial, Pell said. Its based on data. Its been written about before.
The article, Pell continued, was peer-reviewed and went through the journals traditional process. It was published in March, but didnt become a hot-button topic until months later.
At a July 31 meeting, Wang told Saba and Berlacher that the School of Medicines selection process violated federal law because of the preferences used for selecting and favoring some applicants over others based on race and ethnicity.
Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit said, Saba removed Wang from his role as director of the clinical cardiac electrophysiology fellowship program. In addition, the lawsuit claims that a few days later, after the tweet storm began, that Wang also was forbidden from having contact with any people in UPMC fellowship programs or with residents or students in the medical school.
Colleagues and other took to Twitter to criticize both Wang and the Journal of the American Heart Association and its editors for allowing his article to be published.
Among those offering opinions were Dr. Robert Harrington, a past president of the American Heart Association, as well as Dr. Sharonne Hayes, the Mayo Clinics director of diversity and inclusion, who wrote: Rise up, colleagues! The fact that this is published in our journal should both enrage & activate all of us. She included #BeAntiracist.
At the same time, the lawsuit said, several unidentified Pitt Medicine or UPMC employees began a systematic attack campaign against Wangs article, alleging it contained miscitations and misquotations.
They called on the American Heart Association and Wiley to retract it, which they did, without providing Wang any evidence of the wrongdoing or errors it contained, the lawsuit alleged. The article can still be viewed online with the words retracted article in bold on every page.
On Aug. 3, the journal editor Barry London issued a statement saying that the article does not reflect in any way my views, the views of the JAHA Editorial Board, or the views of the American Heart Association. We condemn discrimination and racism in all forms.
In a statement announcing the retraction, the AHA wrote: The authors institution, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), has notified the Editor-in-Chief that the article contains many misconceptions and misquotes and that together those inaccuracies, misstatements, and selective misreading of source materials strip the paper of its scientific validity.
In another statement the following day, they wrote that the views expressed in the article are a misrepresentation of the facts and are contrary to our organizations core values and historic commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in medicine and science.
The American Heart Association claimed Wangs article was inaccurate and wrote that it can and will do better, the lawsuit said.
Wang claims in his lawsuit that the statements made by University of Pittsburgh employees were false and that the American Heart Association published them with malice and reckless disregard for the truth.
He contends that they damaged his reputation in both medicine and in academics.
Pell said that no one has been able to show Wang any evidence that his article misquoted or misstated anything.
It was a serious, researched article and shouldnt have been lumped into anti-black speech and silenced, Pell said. The fact is, Wang supports education diversity.
In the conclusion of his now retracted article, Wang quoted a previous article in the New England Journal of Medicine: We will have succeeded when we no longer think we require black doctors for black patients, Chicano doctors for Chicano patients, or gay doctors for gay patients, but rather good doctors for all patients. Evolution to strategies that are neutral to race and ethnicity is essential. Ultimately, all who aspire to a profession in medicine and cardiology must be assessed as individuals on the basis of their personal merits, not their racial and ethnic identities.
Pell said that what happened to Wang is part of cancel culture.
University officials, unfortunately, caved from the pressure of these tweets without looking at the article or the claims in it, he said.
As the tweet storm continued, Pell said, the university ratcheted up its discipline to appease the people who were criticizing it.
In our view, the job of a university is to protect its researchers and faculty members from anti-intellectual mobs, Pell said. Instead, university officials joined in the mob attack and simply silenced him.
Separately, on Oct. 7, the U.S. Department of Education sent a 13-page letter to University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in which it said officials were aware of facts suggesting the university improperly targeted Wang with a campaign of denunciation and cancellation because of the article.
The letter informed Gallagher the department was opening a civil investigation regarding previous non-discrimination assurances the university executed, which allowed it to spend $1.6 billion in Title IV funds from fiscal year 2015 to 2020.
On Oct. 27, a vice provost and dean of the School of Medicine rescinded the order precluding Wang from having contact with medical students. However, the rest of the prohibitions remain in place, the lawsuit said.
Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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