Dr. Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, has resigned from his position as professor of medical journalism at the University of Nottingham to protest the institution's links with British American Tobacco.
The university has accepted a £3.8 million donation from the tobacco company to fund an international centre for the study of corporate social responsibility.
The decision was made by readers of the journal, who were asked to vote (on http://bmj.com) whether the university should return the money and whether Smith should resign as professor of medical journalism if it didn't. Smith said he would do what readers decided.
Of 1,075 people who voted online May 410, 84 per cent said the university should return the money, and more than half said Smith should resign if it didn't.
Smith said the vote on whether or not he should resign was much closer because "people were divided over whether I should dissociate myself from the university or stay in position and argue my case."
In his May 16 resignation letter to Sir Colin Campbell, Nottingham's vice-chancellor, Smith describes the university's acceptance of the money as "a serious mistake" that has "damaged the university.
"I am resigning both because I said that I would do what the BMJ's readers said I should do and because I've argued so strongly that the university shouldn't have taken this money," he wrote.
Smith said that by taking money from the tobacco industry "the university debases itself. If offers the industry a respectability it doesn't deserve. Using the money to support an international centre for the study of corporate responsibility is especially unfortunate because the industry has repeatedly behaved irresponsibly."
In announcing the gift and the establishment of the new centre late last year Campbell said Nottingham was "delighted to be able to support a project that will develop understanding of what corporate social responsibility means."
But Smith says the tobacco company clearly doesn't care about "corporate responsibility" and suggests it's not likely Nottingham's new centre would undertake a study of British American Tobacco's corporate social responsibility.