Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Chiropractors, doctors feud over FSU plan

Posted on Thu, Jan. 13, 2005


Chiropractors, doctors feud over FSU plan

A new chiropractic college that the Legislature awarded to Florida State University has started a fight between chiropractors and doctors.


TALLAHASSEE - If there's any university in Florida that has enjoyed a good relationship with the high and mighty over the past 20 years, it's Florida State University.

Its wrought-iron gates and brick towers lie less than a mile from the Capitol, where powerful alumni in the Legislature have used their clout to help their alma mater. They've given FSU a medical school, the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and tens of millions to wrap the football stadium with a sprawling classroom complex.

But the latest gift from state lawmakers -- a guaranteed $9 million a year to create and run a new chiropractic college -- has triggered a backlash from FSU faculty and stirred up long-standing hostility between doctors and chiropractors. Along the way, it has also become the chief example of why some say Florida's university system is riddled with political interference.

The proposal was pushed into law last spring primarily by two Republican legislators, former Senate President Jim King and one of his top allies, Sen. Dennis Jones, a chiropractor from Pinellas County.


''We have heard over and over again how much resources are needed in this university,'' said FSU social work professor James Orcutt earlier this week at a faculty meeting held to discuss the proposal. ``To have that call unanswered and to get a program out of the blue, basically laid on us is . . . an insult, so misguided, so political . . . This is not something we asked for. Period.''

Faculty grumbling over legislative mandates is nothing new in Florida. But the newest twist is that, for once, the Legislature may find itself on the losing end.

That's because in November, the Florida Board of Governors -- the constitutionally created panel that oversees the entire state university system -- told FSU that despite the Legislature's action, the university needs the board's permission to set up the college.


On Friday, FSU's own board of trustees is expected to vote to send a detailed chiropractic college proposal to the Board of Governors for its Jan. 27 meeting in Gainesville -- which is where both critics and supporters expect the proposal to meet its doom.

A briefing paper for the board prepared by the Division of Colleges and Universities openly questions the need for more chiropractors in Florida, since there is already a private school in Port Orange and the state already exceeds the national average in chiropractors.

If the chiropractic college is killed, those FSU alumni who helped spark its creation say the ultimate result is that state lawmakers will take back the $9 million in annual funding they had set aside for it.

''I would never do anything to harm that university, but reality has to be viewed,'' said King, the Jacksonville Republican who was Senate president last year. ``I can guarantee you that the Legislature did not vote $9 million as a windfall for FSU.''


There also are fears that this could be the start of serious infighting between the Legislature -- which controls the purse strings for state universities -- and the Board of Governors, created in 2002 by an amendment pushed by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

Such a battle could have widespread repercussions not only for FSU, but for the state's 10 other public universities.

''I don't think any university wants to alienate lawmakers,'' said FSU President T.K. Wetherell, himself a former House speaker who guided millions to FSU as a legislator. ``When the people of Florida speak, through the Legislature, and you turn your nose up at them, you better have pretty solid ground you are standing on.''

The lead-up to the Board of Governors meeting later this month has triggered a massive public relations and lobbying effort by doctors, scientists and chiropractors.

Dr. Ray Bellamy, a Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon and adjunct professor with FSU's fledgling medical school, has asked faculty members in biology, math and the medical school -- and even the university's two Nobel laureates -- to sign letters in opposition. The Internet is now rife with several sites ridiculing the proposal, with one FSU professor drawing up a mock map of the FSU campus that envisions the school with a ``Bigfoot Institute.''

Meanwhile, an e-mail to Wetherell from Jones, the senator who is a chiropractor, says that the Florida Chiropractic Association is launching its own media campaign and has hired a lobbyist to buttonhole members of the Board of Governors.


The battle has intensified because the addition of a chiropractic college at FSU wouldn't be just another academic enterprise. It would be a major victory for a profession eager to improve its image.

If the school is approved, FSU would become the first public university in the country to award a chiropractic doctorate. The proposal -- which calls for hiring more than 100 faculty members and a start date of 2006 -- would make the university's chiropractic college one of the largest in the nation. Such a move could go a long way toward giving more credibility to chiropractors.

The dispute over whether chiropractic is based on actual science has some faculty members worried that the new college could keep it from obtaining a cherished prize: admission into the American Association of Universities. The select group of 62 research universities is among the most exclusive in the nation. The University of Florida in Gainesville is the only Florida member.


Chiropractors complain that professional jealousy is fueling the opposition to the college. Chiropractors point out they are licensed by the state and their services are accepted by private insurance as well as government-run programs like Medicaid.


In its proposal, FSU flatly stated that the college would reject some of the more controversial teachings of chiropractic, such as ''subluxation'' theory, which contends spinal misalignments can cause a myriad of health problems.

The five-year doctoral program would require students to take courses that would earn them a master's degree in such areas as public health, aging studies and food and nutrition. FSU says it hopes to plug into some of the $117 million awarded each year by federal authorities to study alternative medicine.


But even FSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Larry Abele has acknowledged that the struggle to establish the chiropractic college could damage FSU's bid to enter the AAU. And he conceded that it would be a ''challenge'' to lure professors to teach topics such as anatomy and biology in a chiropractic college.

Abele, however, maintained that something needs to be done to alleviate the pain of the millions of Americans who now suffer from back ailments. He said that FSU can in fact, establish a scientific-based curriculum.

''If it were really done to the highest scientific and academic standards, in cooperation with the appropriate groups, it wouldn't have to be a negative,'' Abele said. ``I think it is a legitimate issue . . . to seek to create an educational and research entity focused on one of the single, most important chronic health conditions in Western nations and that is back pain.''