Pubdate: Fri, 18 Jul 2014
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2014 The Arizona Republic
Author: Ken Alltucker
Page: A3


She Blames Political Pressure for Her Ouster.

A University of Arizona researcher who claimed she was dismissed after
she lobbied for her study of marijuana for veterans with
post-traumatic stress disorder is fighting to get her job back.

Sue Sisley has filed a formal appeal with the University of Arizona
asking that she be reinstated as assistant professor with the
Department of Psychiatry, assistant director of the Arizona
Telemedicine Program and as a researcher. And a petition to
bring back Sisley so far has collected more than 31,000 signatures.

Sisley blames political pressure that she believes came after she
clashed with state lawmakers over her research. The University of
Arizona has denied political pressure played a role but otherwise
would not discuss Sisley's expiring contracts, saying it does not
comment on personnel matters.

"The main goal is to get me reinstated to conduct research that is so
important to the veterans of this state," Sisley said. "I'd be back
tomorrow to implement the study."

Sisley's lawyer, Jason Flores-Williams, acknowledges the appeal to
reinstate her UA employment for a non-tenured position likely has
little chance of success.

Flores-Williams said university officials have stonewalled his
attempts to get documents, e-mails or other written material that may
shed light on why Sisley's contracts were not renewed. In the absence
of such information, her written appeal inferred that outside
political pressure was to blame for her dismissal.

"The university can put an end to these inferences if it provides the
reason for her dismissal," Flores-Williams said.

The university allows non-tenured professors to appeal within 15 days
of receiving notice of a decision to not renew a contract. A
university dean or provost will decide whether to reinstate Sisley,
who won't get a hearing or other external review.

Flores-Williams said if the appeal is unsuccessful, Sisley would
likely pursue a case in federal court.

UA spokesman George Humphrey said outside political influence wasn't a
factor, adding the university has supported medical-marijuana research.

"To my knowledge, the UA has not received political pressure to
terminate any employee, or any research we do, or who does it,"
Humphrey said in a written statement.

Humphrey said that UA supported legislation last year that allowed
university researchers to conduct medical-marijuana research on
campus. He added that the university contacted the non-profit
organization that is sponsoring Sisley's research, the
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) of Santa
Cruz, Calif., to bring the clinical trials to fruition.

"The University of Arizona is committed to ensuring the
medical-marijuana research gets done," Humphrey said.

Sisley's study evaluating the benefits of medical marijuana as a
treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD received approval earlier
this year from the federal Public Health Service.

Sisley then lobbied on behalf of state legislation that would allow
the Arizona Department of Health Services to partially fund her study
with fees collected from medical-marijuana patients and dispensary
operators. The legislation sailed through the Arizona House of
Representatives and was assigned to the Senate Education Committee,
chaired by Sen. Kimberly Yee.

Yee refused to place the bill on her committee's agenda because of
"significant concerns" voiced by members of the Arizona Prosecuting
Attorneys' Advisory Council.

That prompted medical-marijuana advocates and veterans to launch a
short-lived attempt to recall Yee. Although the effort fizzled, Sisley
said university administrators began to question whether she was involved.

On April 4, UA's senior vice president for health sciences, Joe "Skip"
Garcia, asked Sisley to account for her political activism related to
marijuana research, Sisley said. Garcia cited a flier to recall Yee
that included a University of Arizona logo, Sisley said.

Sisley said she told Garcia that while she has freely talked about
barriers to medical-marijuana research, she was never involved in
Yee's recall effort and had nothing to do with the UA logo that
appeared on the recall flier.

"I made it clear that I'm not a fan of her (Yee's) choices. I never
suggested she should be recalled," Sisley said.

Garcia, who also serves as the UA College of Medicine's acting dean,
could not be reached on Wednesday.

Sisley's written appeal noted that she has received positive
performance reviews and that her efforts have brought national
recognition to the UA.

"The decision to effectively terminate seemed to take place in an
environment of outside political pressure, but these assumptions
cannot be verified due to the university's aforementioned refusal to
provide grounds, evidence or a hearing," Sisley's appeal said.

Sisley said her contract does not end until the last week of
September. If she is not reinstated, she will look to land another
academic research position and will take her $1 million study with

She said she has had preliminary talks with Arizona State University
and Northern Arizona University, and she also has communicated with
out-of-state universities.

"Everyone keeps asking me, 'Why would you return there,' " Sisley
said. "I'm an Arizonan. I lived here for over 30 years. I refuse to
turn my back on these veterans, many who have stood shoulder to
shoulder with me."

If a professor is terminated from one Arizona university, that does
not prevent another Arizona university from hiring that person. That's
a decision of the hiring university.

"There is no policy that would preclude ASU or NAU from hiring Sue
Sisley," said Katie Paquet, vice president for public affairs and
external relations for the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees
the state's universities.

MAPS, the non-profit backing Sisley's research, also has asked UA
administrators to reinstate Sisley. MAPS Executive Director Rick
Doblin said in a letter to UA that Sisley has worked on the research
project for more than four years, gaining key approvals from the Food
and Drug Administration, Public Health Service and UA's Institutional
Review Board, which provides oversight to medical studies.

A petition by Iraq war veteran Ricardo Pereyda had
collected more than 31,000 signatures as of Thursday evening. Pereyda,
who did not return a call or an e-mail, said in the petition that he
is "outraged that the university is putting politics before the care
of our nation's veterans."
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MAP posted-by: Matt