U of Pittsburgh considers stripping prominent physician's name from public health school building amid controversy

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health is considering removing the name of Thomas Parran Jr., MD, from one of its buildings following public outcry over Dr. Parran's role in two syphilis research projects in the 1930s and 1940s, according to STAT News.

Here are six things to know about Dr. Parran and the controversy.

1. Dr. Parran helped found the public health school in 1950 and served as the initial leader of the organization. The school named a building in his honor, Parran Hall, according to STAT.

2. However, some University of Pittsburgh students are calling for the removal of Dr. Parran's name from the building due to his knowledge and involvement in two research experiments that took place during his tenure as the nation's sixth surgeon general from 1936 to 1948.

"This isn't who we are anymore," a second-year graduate student in the public health school told STAT. "We are still attached to this legacy … we can't have his name on our building because it venerates him."

3. During Dr. Parran's tenure as surgeon general, federal health researchers began the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male" experiment in 1932. For the experiment, researchers enrolled 600 black men — some with syphilis, some without — to document the effects and progression of the disease. Researchers failed to inform participants of their involvement and failed to provide them adequate medical treatment, according to the report.

4. Dr. Parran was also found in 2011 to have been involved in the Guatemala syphilis experiment from 1946 to 1948, during which researchers experimented on vulnerable human populations in Guatemala without their consent, STAT reports.

5. Despite the revelations regarding unethical research conducted during his tenure as surgeon general, Dr. Parran's descendants claim the physician still saved millions of lives during his career and suggest University of Pittsburgh officials keep his name on the building.

"No one is perfect," two of Dr. Parran's relatives told STAT in an emailed statement. "The name [on the building] does not 'celebrate' my grandfather and grand uncle. Rather, it honors the passion he had for furthering public health awareness and education as means for improving the health and well-being of all people."

6. University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Dean Donald Burke, MD, wrote a letter to the university's office of inclusion and diversity in January discussing the situation. He ultimately asked the office to form a committee to examine the situation and determine a recommendation on whether the school should strip Dr. Parran's name from the building.

Officials told the publication the committee's determination will be made public once it is finalized, and noted any changes to buildings' names must be voted on by the university's board of trustees.

To access the STAT report, click here.

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