UCSF Transgender Research Drama Puts Future of Academic Program in Question

Tooru Nemoto, a 56-year-old researcher from Japan, had spent much of the past decade-and-a-half tracking the sexual behavior of San Francisco’s transgender community. While working for UCSF, Nemoto was instrumental in procuring funding for Transgender Resource and Neighborhood Space (TRANS) -- the city’s only transgender drop-in center, which provides substance abuse outreach, HIV prevention, and other services like job training and life skills classes -- and other programs which sought to curb the rise in HIV in the Asian Pacific Islander community. That was until a couple weeks ago, when Nemoto packed up his office after being let go, after 16 years of service, by UCSF.

UCSF supported Nemoto four years ago when Republicans in congress tried to cut funding for his programs. Now Nemoto and his former employer are at odds over money and diversity.

Nemoto cites the reasons for the split as racially motivated, and that his superiors were disdainful of his clinic’s clientele, although it was reported that exorbitant rent for the drop-in center -- $10,000 a month -- was a big factor in the decision. According to Nemoto, the rent was to be split three ways with other programs that were supposed to share the facility. Nemoto said that he had asked for budget numbers from his superiors, but instead his supervisor, Dr. Talmadge King and Dr. Stephen Morin, placed a receivership over him -- barring him from spending any more money.

“I think the problem is that Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) and UCSF accounting office have not provided me with the accurate and reliable accounting information of my project accounts in a timely manner,” Nemoto wrote in an email. “I have been conducting research studies as the PI since 1993 and have managed multiple project accounts professionally. It was the first time during my 14-year services to the university as the PI that I was informed about three overdraft accounts over $50,000 in October 2006.”

Nemoto, upset by the decision, filed grievances against Dr. King and Dr. Morin on December 20, 2006. It was while he waited for the decision of his grievance that he was told his adjunct faculty appointment would not be renewed beyond June 30, 2007.

The programs looked as if they might be in peril, since Nemoto, the principal investigator for the projects, was also responsible for the bulk of the fundraising efforts. That meant that the $400,000 federal grant that is needed to run TRANS might be forfeit. But supervisor-extraordinaire Bevan Dufty asked the city controller Ed Harrington to look into having the city provide the services instead, which “thrilled” Dufty. The city will cover the costs of the programs until the federal grant kicks in (in October).

The San Francisco Department of Public Health will now oversee the programs with JoAnne G. Keatley at the helm. Keatley worked with Nemoto on the programs.

So the programs survived, for now, but what about Nemoto? For someone who could just as well claim “sour grapes,” he has helped with the transition as much as he can, and will probably still be an active force in the transgender community.

“We’ve worked with him for many years,” said Lance Toma, executive director for the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center, of Nemoto’s work. “He’s been so involved in it.”

This is far from over, according to Nemoto, who plans to continue doing research in the community with or without UCSF.

“I am very angry at the university and their decision to release me, while UCSF declares itself to be committed to the improvement of health and well-being for all and to the highest standard of ethics.” Nemoto wrote. “However, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to many friends, colleagues, and staff at UCSF who have unconditionally helped me and my project teams to achieve beyond the stated project goals and objectives because we share the same values and commitment to the communities. I hope I can restart a new project team soon and collaborate with you in the future.”

To view the Controller’s recommendations click here.

--By James Woodard


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