Thursday, May 21, 2009

He should say, "I'm an environmental researcher who accepted $50,000 from developers to direct alumni towards the developer's website"

In a follow-up to the news that TSU is paying students to make promotional phone calls on behalf of the proposed May Town Center in exchange for a land donation, PiTW spoke with the TSU professor who accepted the developers' money.

What PiTW reproduces of the professor's comments seem to me to be a sell-out of academic claims to independence, impartiality, and fairness:
Under the contract, TSU's alumni office provides Scholars, six current TSU students, a database of 10,000 former students for them to call. Dr. David Padgett, an associate professor of geography running the program, told Pith yesterday that his only role in this is research.

"My primary interest is what's going to be the response of African Americans in this process," he said. "I'm not a lobbyist and I'm not a salesman. I'm just looking at this as an environmental researcher. Period."

But the script Dr. Padgett provided to May Town Scholars says otherwise...
When TSU alumni in North Nashville get a call from the May Town Scholars, this is what they hear:
1) Hello, my name is ________. I am a (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, grad student) at Tennessee State University .... I am not calling to ask for a donation, I just wanted to make sure that you heard the exciting news announced by TSU President Dr. Melvin Johnson on Thursday .... TSU has the opportunity to be part of May Town Center in Bells Bend .... Dr. Johnson is excited that these initiatives will create good jobs, world-class research and enhance the stature of TSU .... We would like to keep you informed as this development moves forward. Or you can go to for more information.
If Dr. Padgett is indeed conducting a research study rather than a promotional campaign for TSU, it is limited by the leading and prejudiced language of the script. Ending the call by encouraging study subjects to get more information at the developer's website violates any sense of balance. If there was a shred of intellectual honesty in this project, the callers would either not source the developers or would provide opponents' source data too.

In response to criticism, Dr. Padgett defends the project in a manner that looks like classic denial to me:
"we are NOT doing PR. For us to bias our subject pool in any way would taint our research! Scientists have to be OBJECTIVE, or we would invalidate our results."
Researchers do not arrive at objectivity simply by calling the project objective. Dr. Padgett does not demonstrate the objectivity of his research nor did he make an effort to demonstrate that those who object to the use of words like "exciting," "good," and "world-class" in research have misunderstood the meaning of objectivity.

Dr. Padgett's latest response in the comment section at PiTW is the kicker for me:
Our work is separate from any promotional efforts on the part of others in favor of the May Town Center Project.
The fact that Dr. Padgett's project is funded by May Town Center developers makes his denial disingenuous. The fact that the script ends by encouraging subjects to go to the May Town Center website for more information makes his denial self-contradiction.

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