Hand to interview for research, Grad Studies job amid controversy

An administrator from West Virginia University who is a candidate for Central Michigan University's Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Dean is linked to a controversial non-profit group that accepted money from Coca-Cola while promoting the idea that a lack of exercise may have a larger impact on obesity than unhealthy diets.

Gregory Hand, West Virginia University special assistant to the Vice President for Health Sciences, will be the final candidate to interview for the position. He will be speaking at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18 in Park Library Auditorium.

The New York Times reported in August 2015 that Coca-Cola gave Hand funding to establish the Global Energy Balance Network — a non-profit group that promoted the view that weight issues were caused more by lack of exercise than unhealthy diets and sugary drinks. The soft drink company gave Hand $806,500 for an “energy flux” study in 2011 and $507,000 to establish the Global Energy Balance Network, according to the Times.

“As long as everybody is disclosing their potential conflicts and they’re being managed appropriately, that’s the best that you can do,” Hand told the Times. “It makes perfect sense that companies would want the best science that they can get.”

Vice Provost for Academic Effectiveness Claudia Douglass is leading the search. Douglass declined to be interviewed Wednesday but sent a prepared statement to Central Michigan Life.

“CMU always conducts background checks before bringing candidates to campus for formal interviews," Douglass stated. "The background check on Gregory Hand did raise concerns, but these concerns were effectively addressed by the candidate. As a result, we were confident moving forward with inviting him to campus to interview for this position.”

Harvard’s School of Public Health Department of Nutrition Chairman Walter Willett and 34 other researchers wrote to the Times that “the scientific nonsense being peddled by the Coca-Cola-funded Global Energy Balance Network is outrageous.”

“The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provides compelling evidence for the causal link between sugary drinks and disease, as well as the need for exercise,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, Coca-Cola and its academic helpers won’t accept the well-documented evidence that sugary drinks are a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”

In June 2016, WVU announced Hand, the founding dean of the School of Public Health at West Virginia University, would step down from that role and serve as special assistant to the Vice President for Health Sciences. His current job is "developing partnerships that enhance the mission and work of health sciences at WVU," according to a university press release. During Hand’s tenure as dean, the School of Public Health achieved national accreditation for the first time, and expanded its offerings to include an undergraduate program.

David Ash, interim Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, is also a finalist for the position. On Jan. 9, Ash presented his case for the permanent position. Ash said he wants to improve Central Michigan University’s research standing and broaden the research portfolio.

Editor's Note: News Editor Evan Sasiela and Staff Reporter Sarah Clinkscales contributed to this article.