Intended for healthcare professionals

Richard Smith's letter of resignation

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Sir Colin Campbell
Vice Chancellor
University of Nottingham

16 May 2001

Dear Sir Colin

I’m writing with regret to resign my position as professor of medical journalism in the University of Nottingham. I’m doing this because the University has taken money from British American Tobacco to fund an International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. This is a serious mistake and has damaged the University.

If the University were to decide to return the money, then I would be delighted to retract my resignation.

We have both had ample opportunity to express our views on this issue, and I’m grateful to you both for debating with me at the medical school in Nottingham and for publishing your views in the BMJ.

As I hope you have observed, we had a great many responses to our debate – and they are still coming in. I’m enclosing with this letter copies of the responses. You will see that they overwhelmingly take the view that the University has done the wrong thing in accepting this money and that it should give the money back.

You may be most interested in the two responses [1, 2] from the Cancer Research Campaign. You give the impression in your article that the Campaign said that it was all right for the University to accept the money so long as it was spent in a part of the University that received no funding from the Campaign. In fact, the Campaign makes clear that it does not approve of the acceptance of the money and that it thinks that you have breached the protocol that it agreed with Universities UK. Perhaps this will make you want to reconsider taking the money.

As you also know, we held a vote on our website on whether the University should return the money to BAT and whether I should resign if it doesn’t. A total of 1075 people voted: 84% voted that you should return the money, and 54% voted that I should resign if you don’t.

The vote on whether or not I should resign was much closer because people were divided over whether I should dissociate myself from the University or stay in position and argue my case. I am resigning both because I said that I would do what the BMJ’s readers said I should do and because I’ve argued so strongly that the University shouldn’t have taken this money. I’m also privileged to be in a position where it will be possible for me to continue to contribute to the important debate on the relationship between Universities and tobacco companies.

Finally, I want to thank the University for giving me the opportunity to interact with medical students and young researchers. I’ve learnt at least as much – and probably more – from them than they might ever have learnt from me.

Yours sincerely

Richard Smith

Copy: Professor Peter Rubin, Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH

Read the background to this resignation letter