Glaxo suit dropped, activists carry on

Principal Leggett shakes hands with Glaxo President Paul Lucas at the opening of the Glaxo Wellcome Clinical Education Centre this past November.
Principal Leggett shakes hands with Glaxo President Paul Lucas at the opening of the Glaxo Wellcome Clinical Education Centre this past November.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of the Queen's Gazette

Glaxo Wellcome may have dropped their lawsuit, but student activists pledge to continue the fight against corporate involvement at Queen's.

"The suit was dropped but there remains the dying," said Scott Clerk, former head of communications for Queen's Project on International Development (QPID).

Last month, Glaxo Wellcome—now GlaxoSmithKline— and 38 other pharmaceutical giants announced that they were dropping their lawsuit challenging a South African law enacted to provide cheaper AIDS drugs to millions of Africans infected by the virus. This ended what had become a public relations nightmare for the companies.

"The dropping of the suit probably had a lot more to do with a cost-benefit analysis... but it [also] said a lot for the power of the people's movement," said Clerk.

Glaxo Wellcome, whose million-dollar contribution financed the Glaxo Wellcome Clinical Education Centre, came under fire from several student organizations for its involvement in the lawsuit. Students who participated in the April 5 "Glaxo NOT-Wellcome" protest, in which Principal William Leggett's office was occupied for over an hour, were thrilled that the pharmaceutical companies dropped the suit, regardless of their motives.

"This represents a great victory for patients over profits, and demonstrates that people acting at the local level can make a difference at the global level," echoed Jesse McLaren, a member of the Queen's Coalition Against Corporate Globalization.

Although the controversy surrounding Queen's involvement with Glaxo is over, the debate over corporate involvement at Queen's continues. A task force was set up by the University last year to deal with the issue of corporate involvement at Queen's.

"This task force was influenced meaningfully by a very constructive and balanced AMS-sponsored report on corporate involvement at Queen's," said Leggett.

Nevertheless, some students criticized Leggett for putting the financial need of the University above ethical considerations. "Principal Leggett, upon being presented with the mountain of signed petitions, refused to write a letter on behalf of the students asking for the lawsuit to be dropped," said McLaren.

Leggett strongly denied that he ignored students in this matter.

"Queen's takes the interests of students on this (and other substantive issues) very seriously," Leggett wrote in an email to The Journal.

The task force, which includes two student representatives and various other members of the administration, will continue its deliberations over the summer.

In an interim report released on May 11, the committee said that they are "not going to try to propose specific policies for every aspect of corporate involvement at Queen's per se," but will try to lay down principles to guide an over-arching policy.

Ultimately, it will be up to the individual faculties to determine what specific policy they adopt.

For McLaren, this is far from adequate.

"The only way to keep universities...functioning in the interest of the public is to have them funded by the public," said McLaren.

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