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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Live What You Believe In

It’s hard to believe I attended Main Street Vegan Academy two years ago already! You may recall that our class got to hear Ingrid Newkirk (founder of PETA) speak at NYU, and later on in that blog post I told you about one of my fellow NYU students back in the day, Lauren Gazzola. Lauren was part of the animal rights group on campus protesting the vivisection of macaque monkeys in NYU labs, and got in touch after I wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Square News in support of the protest.

Well, the internet makes the planet feel a whole lot smaller sometimes! Recently Lauren stumbled upon my 2013 blog post and got in touch on Twitter:

That tweet gave me such a thrill. I’d thought of Lauren over the years and wished our paths had crossed again. (Read: I wish we’d become friends back then so her passion and dedication could have rubbed off on me. I know, I know, I have to be gentle with myself, but I will never shake the feeling that I went vegan a decade later than I should have. On the upside, that nagging feeling keeps me squarely on the path, and I do feel awesome about that.)

I asked Lauren if I could repost her letter to the editor (in response to the university spokesman’s rebuttal of my original opinion piece, published October 16th, 2000)—to complete that circle, if you will—and she graciously agreed. It’s a long piece, but well worth reading to the end if you are at all interested in animal rights and/or university (a.k.a. corporate diploma mill) politics:

Congratulations ought to be extended to Camille DeAngelis for finally invoking words from the hitherto mute perpetrators of vivisection at NYU through her outstanding piece, “Tuition money should not go to animal research.” (WSN, Oct. 11).  

Unfortunately, however, John Beckman’s response is only that: words. It is neither credible nor convincing. Beckman makes unsubstantiated, blanket statements such as, “virtually every advance in medicine has been based on research that involves animals,” (WSN, Oct. 12). He offers no support for this expansive claim and fails to acknowledge that many significant gains in medicine were attained without the use of animals. As Dr. Richard Klausner, Director of the National Cancer Institute, stated in May 1998 in the Los Angeles Times, “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn’t work in humans.”  

Students for Education on Animal Liberation at NYU (SEAL) has repeatedly challenged the University to a debate on the alleged merits and necessity of experiments being conducted at NYU. Such a debate would certainly allow for the “diversity of opinions and the thoughtful and intelligent exchange of ideas” that Beckman claims are “core value[s] in academia.” However, it appears NYU holds these values on the bottom of its hierarchy. Beckman claims that animal advocates on campus “care little or not at all about the science involved; the actual value, scientific or academic, of the researcher’s work is never the point.” But that is exactly what we are interested in. For two years, members of SEAL have written to and held meetings with University officials asking for a discussion over the merits of specific animal research taking place at NYU. The University has continuously either rebuffed or avoided our questions. In 1998 they agreed to a forum on “animal research in general,” while expressly prohibiting the discussion of any current NYU animal research at this event.  

If higher education is about reasoned debate, why is NYU so afraid of one?  

The University has been equally unresponsive regarding any efforts to replace animal research with non-animal methods, such as epidemiological studies, computer modeling, artificial tissue, human skin cultures, autopsy, and non-invasive imaging (MRI, CAT, PET). Eight months ago, Dr. John McArdle, the director of Alternatives Research Development Foundation, an organization committed to replacing animal testing with non-animal based research methods, contacted T. James Matthews, chairman of NYU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. McArdle offered to search for a non-animal alternative to Lynne Kiorpes’s strabismus (crossed eyes) experiments on juvenile monkeys. NYU did not acknowledge McArdle’s letter; the University did not even communicate that it was not interested in his offer.  

Even more distressing is Beckman’s claim that “great care is taken throughout the research to prevent suffering…an obligation to reduce suffering is a part of the law that governs the use of animals in research, with which [NYU] strictly compl[ies].” How, we must ask, did such strict compliance result in NYU’s nearly 400 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), for which the University was assessed a fine of $450,000—the second largest fine ever by the USDA for violating the AWA? (It is important to note that the Animal Welfare Act merely regulates such simple things as adequate food, water, space, exercise and veterinary care, and places no restrictions whatsoever on what can be done to animals in actual experiments.)  

SEAL has chosen to highlight Lynne Kiorpes’s strabismus experiments because they are a prime example of the unnecessary, wasteful and cruel experiments being conducted on 50,000 animals in hidden laboratories every year at NYU. Beckman’s claim that we are waging a campaign of “harassment and intimidation” is simply NYU’s attempt to take the attention off the dead and suffering animals by becoming the victim. Who are the real victims here: the monkeys in Kiorpes’s lab who are having holes drilled into their heads, microelectrodes inserted into their brains and are then subjected to hours of brain wave recording sessions, or the person who is having a flyer circulated on campus about her experiments?  

With increasing numbers of scientists and doctors speaking out against animal experimentation, the availability of non-animal research methods, AWA fines and outraged students and faculty, one wonders why NYU would continue to carry on with these activities.  

Ms. DeAngelis hit the nail on the head when she claimed NYU profits from animal experimentation. Beckman is correct when he says that animal experimentation costs a lot. But luckily (for NYU) it brings in more. All universities receive sizeable monetary allotments from faculty grants. According to E.H. Ahrens, author of The Crisis in Clinical Research: Overcoming Obstacles, “direct costs support the research of the PI [primary investigator], while indirect costs are paid to meet the overhead costs of the institution in which the PI works.” In his book, Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, Ray Greek, M.D., says, “In some cases the institution receives more money from the grant than the researcher.” NYU receives millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money in grants from the National Institutes of Health—a cycle of vivisectors rubberstamping vivisectors.  

SEAL calls upon NYU to begin to address this abuse of research money and animal lives by implementing a program that would reallocate five percent of its annual funding for animal research toward non-animal based research methods. This modest plan would gradually eliminate the use of live animals while freeing up resources for innovative, new technologies. Otherwise, NYU will no doubt remain in the past and continue to hide behind wordy statements.  

The animals need more than banter in the school newspaper. They need the electrodes removed from their brains. They need to live outside of cages. Save the PR, we want changes.  

Lauren Gazzola
Gallatin Senior and SEAL representative

If you read Lauren’s bio on the Center for Constitutional Rights website, you’ll see she’s been campaigning tirelessly for the rights of non-human people throughout the nearly fifteen years (!) since this letter to the editor was published. We may live in a world in which powerful corporate interests can send peaceful activists to jail, and in which institutions of “higher learning” go on quietly torturing animals by the thousands. But what are you going to do—give up?

No way. The animals are depending on us! So thank you, Lauren, for being such an amazing human. We need many more people like you in the world.  

 

1 Comment to Live What You Believe In

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    July 16, 2015 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    We all need room to grow into the person we will become 😉

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.