Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and medical adviser to seven U.S. presidents, will speak to graduating students at Washington University School of Medicine in May, the school announced Thursday.
But the speech by Fauci – who has become a figure of contempt among some Republicans for his actions during the coronavirus pandemic as director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – comes as Washington University comes under increased scrutiny by GOP officials for a day care center for transgender children and adolescents.
Three Missouri agencies are currently investigating allegations by a former case manager at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital that minors were given puberty blockers and gender transition surgeries, often without first providing mental health care or adequately inform parents of the risks.
The whistleblower provided an affidavit to Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey setting out his allegations. Bailey subsequently called for a moratorium on puberty blockers and hormone therapy at the center, which was rejected by the school and BJC HealthCare, which owns St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
News of Fauci’s early May speech, which came so soon in the wake of the uproar over the transgender center, has further fueled Republican criticism of the school.
“For a research medical school where you assume everyone is smart,[Washington University]is politically stupid and the leadership has no common sense,” James Harris, a longtime lobbyist and GOP policy adviser, tweeted Friday. “Horrible timing. Horrible speaker.”
Fauci served as director of NIAID from 1984 until he retired in December. He has garnered praise for his role in addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but has become a true national figure during the COVID-19 pandemic, where he has been the face of the nation’s public health response under presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
“His leadership in the testing and development of treatments and vaccines has saved countless lives in the United States and around the world,” said Dr. David Perlmutter, dean of Washington University School of Medicine, later adding, “He is the model par excellence for medical scientists and exemplifies all the virtues that science has contributed to improving health in our society.”
Fauci also spoke to students and faculty at the university in 2021.
But in dealing with the pandemic, Fauci has also become a controversial figure, especially to those who blamed him for what they believed were heavy government restrictions put in place to help prevent the virus from spreading. Republicans in Congress have vowed to investigate his response to the pandemic.
The Missouri attorney general’s office deposed Fauci last year as part of its lawsuit alleging that the federal government colluded with social media companies to suppress free speech.
“It’s not that he’s polarizing. It’s that he’s a proven liar,” said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft of Fauci, who testified last month in support of legislation that would ban transgender children from seeking gender-affirming care.
“The idea that an institution of purported higher learning carries an individual who is probably more notorious for misleading people than anything else is, I think, heinous,” Ashcroft said.
US Senator Eric Schmitt slammed Washington University’s decision to invite Fauci to speak.
“I’ll get ‘out of touch bubble of academia’ for $500, Alex,” Schmitt tweeted.
Washington University, a private college in St. Louis, has already been targeted by the GOP.
In 2021, some lawmakers pushed through legislation that would have implemented a tax on Washington University’s endowment. The motivation was the medical school’s connection to abortion providers. The bill was unsuccessful, though it did inspire some of the university’s biggest movers to give a political action committee involved in the controversial legislative primaries last year.
The university was also the motivator in 2019 for a legislative push to shift the balance of rights and protections in federal Title IX cases away from the accuser and toward the defendant. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education.
The bill collapsed when the Kansas City Star revealed that the architect of the legislation was a longtime lobbyist whose son was expelled from Washington University for allegedly harassing another student.
In response to the latest controversy surrounding whistleblower allegations against the Transgender Center, University of Washington leadership has assured state and federal officials they are taking the situation seriously and “establishing additional oversight.”
“We have initiated the process of reviewing practices and protocols at the Transgender Center to ensure we are upholding the highest standards of care in serving our patients and their families,” said Richard Liekweg, president and CEO of BJC HealthCare and Washington University Chancellor Andrew Martin, in a letter to the attorney general’s office. “We are committed to providing evidence-based lifesaving care in line with the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
The Transgender Center is the only place in Missouri where transgender youth “can access the care they need to ensure their mental and physical well-being,” the letter states. For this reason, “we cannot institute a moratorium that would deny critical, standards-based care to current and new patients.”
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.