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Hand gives forum, claims Coca-Cola funding 'simply ran out'

Federal research dollars are down and student tuition is already expensive. West Virginia University's Dr. Gregory Hand said the solution to increasing research funding is by bringing in outside money from corporations.

Hand was on campus Wednesday to present his case to become CMU's Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies at an open forum at the Park Library Auditorium.

According to The Carnegie Classification there are three rankings of Doctoral Universities; R1, R2, R3. R1 is the highest level of research, R3 is the moderate level. CMU is an R2 which is a "high level of research activity." To be ranked the university has to have awarded at least 20 research or scholarship doctoral degrees.

When Hand started at the University of South Carolina and West Virginia University, both schools were Research 2 institutions. Under his leadership the schools advanced to Research 1.

Hand’s vision for CMU would be to focus on the “Three F’s”— Faculty, facilities and focus. Those efforts could, Hand said, be supported with funding from corporations. 

“A lot of industries provide money to universities — and we’re talking billions of dollars — because universities have the expertise and faculty and staff that can create innovative and new ideas that these industry scientists simply can’t do,” Hand said.

His efforts to secure funding for his academic pursuits drew the attention of the The New York Times in 2015. Hand received $806,500 from Coca-Cola for an “energy flux” study in 2011 and $507,000 to establish the Global Energy Balance Network. The non-profit network, which Hand said was created to study weight management and energy balance, announced plans to disband at the end of 2015 — after months of criticism from public health authorities, according to the Times.

“The network simply was trying to connect scientists all over the world who were looking at the behaviors that were causing obesity – which I can tell you is that we eat too much and exercise too little," Hand said. “Coca-Cola, just like many other industries, has been very active in terms of funding activity related things. We had a relationship with Coke and asked them for the money. Coke had absolutely no influence on any of the research.”

The network’s research stated that weight issues were not directly linked to unhealthy diets and sugary drinks, despite other published evidence to the contrary. Global Energy Balance Network represented a group of scientists who regularly published papers. However, no research or studies were authored by Global Energy Balance Network. 

“We disbanded because there wasn’t any funding,” Hand said. “We didn’t have the facilities or the resources to keep it going.”

Thirty-five researchers wrote to the Times that “the scientific nonsense being peddled by the Coca-Cola-funded Global Energy Balance Network is outrageous.”

In June 2016, Hand resigned as the founding dean of the School of Public Health at West Virginia University. He serves as the WVU special assistant to the Vice President for Health Sciences.

Claudia Douglass, vice provost for Academic Effectiveness, is leading of the search committee. Douglass sent a prepared statement to Central Michigan Life last week stating that Hand’s history with Global Energy Balance Network did raise concerns, but they are confident moving forward with him as a candidate.

Hand said he believes he was portrayed unfairly by the New York Times.

“If you look at anything I’ve ever published it would be difficult to find anything that didn’t have the same stance as the national institutes of health,” Hand said. “We eat too much salt, sugar, fat, we eat huge portion sizes, we don’t move enough. I don’t think there’s any one thing, it’s a combination.

“I want people to know that from a personal perspective, my position is that we need to be more physically active, we need to stop eating so much sugar, salt, and fat, and we need to reduce our portion sizes if we want to have a healthier lifestyle.”

David Ash, interim Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies, presented on Jan. 9 for the permanent position.

Anne Hornak, a search committee member and chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership, said both candidates are strong and bring new ideas to the table.

“We’re at an interesting time because we moved to a (Research 2) status recently, but there’s also a decline in terms of external federal dollars,” Hornak said. “It’s the time to make that move. They have wonderful ideas to help equipped faculty to help them get funding for research and both have really good ideas to help graduate students.”