Building That Honored a Leader of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to Be Renamed

In early January 2018, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh received a letter from Donald Burke, dean of the Graduate School of Public Health, requesting that the office form a review committee to consider the renaming of Parran Hall. The building, named for former U.S. Surgeon General Thomas Parran, is home to many of the programs of the Graduate School of Public Health.

Parran served as Surgeon General from 1936 to 1948 and was the inaugural dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh from 1948 to 1958. Parran Hall was named in his honor in 1969.

As Surgeon General, Parran presided over the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where researchers observed the course of untreated syphilis among hundreds of previously infected African-American men. Infected patients in the study were not treated, despite being told that they were, even after the discovery of penicillin. Parran also was Surgeon General when American researchers intentionally exposed more than 1,300 Guatemalan people including prisoners and mental institution patients, to syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid without informed consent.

The review committee recommended that Parran Hall be renamed and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher agreed. He urged the board of trustees to rename the building. In a letter to the board, Chancellor Gallagher wrote:

“At issue in this case is that certain information was unavailable at the time of the Board’s original decision due to the secret nature of the experiments in question. This information, I believe, would have impacted the Board’s consideration of the proposal to name the building. In my view, there is a reasonable likelihood that if the Board knew of Dr. Parran’s involvement in the two studies at issue here, which took place before he was Dean, one could easily conclude that the decision to permanently honor Dr. Parran would not have taken place. Both studies conducted human trials on vulnerable populations without informed consent. These actions are fundamentally at odds with the University’s core values.”

The board recently agreed to rename the building.

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