University revokes name, rescinds awards in light of questionable practices

September 30, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Upholding the University’s commitment to ethical conduct in research and the principles of respect, beneficence and justice, Penn State officials have decided to revoke the Distinguished Alumni and the Alumni Fellow awards conferred upon Dr. Albert Kligman in 1998 and 1999 respectively. The Kligman name also will be removed from the Print and Drawing Study Room in the Palmer Museum of Art, as well as from four scholarship/fellowship endowments created by Kligman and his wife.

Since the 1950s, Albert Kligman conducted decades of research at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison and other institutions. Kligman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1939 from the University, was not a faculty member at Penn State and none of his research was conducted as a Penn State researcher. Despite claims that Kligman’s experimental protocols were customary for the time, his work has since raised serious ethical questions, including that his experiments disproportionately involved imprisoned Black men, many of whom were illiterate. Kligman reportedly paid inmates to test a variety of substances that in some instances deliberately exposed prisoners to pathogens responsible for skin infections. By the 1970s, it was widely understood that paying prisoners for their participation in research studies was “coercion and corruption of consent.”

As an early adopter of research ethics training for researchers, Penn State remains steadfast in its commitment to the ethical conduct of research, which includes informed consent as a foundational underpinning. Kligman’s controversial and troubling history of human experimentation, all of which is documented, is counter to Penn State’s values as an institution and to compliance with morally acceptable standards.

“After considering Dr. Kligman’s work in its entirety and the expectation that those we recognize must uphold our values and accepted ethical practices to be considered examples to follow – we have determined that we must change moving forward how Dr. Kligman and his research are acknowledged,” said Rich Bundy, Penn State vice president for Development and Alumni Relations.

These decisions regarding philanthropy and the honors bestowed are consistent with Penn State’s policies.

Both Kligman and his wife volunteered for and supported the University prior to his death in 2010.

Last Updated September 30, 2021