The statements seemed clear enough. At a Dane County committee hearing on July 8, Deb Hartley of the UW-Madison's National Primate Research Center proclaimed the facility open to all:
"It doesn't take a resolution or a citizen's act to get into the facility," Hartley assured the committee. "[A]nybody can come in...and we'll show you what we have." All that was required was to be 18 or older, get a TB test, and complete some paperwork.
A few minutes earlier, Martin Cadwallader, the UW's vice chancellor of research, said the university is "committed to offering tours of our primate center.... Our aim is to make our animal research program more transparent to interested citizens...."
Both officials made these comments while arguing against a proposed Dane County Board resolution to create an advisory panel to examine the UW's treatment of animals and the ethics of primate research.
Megan Ryan, a Fitchburg resident who attended this meeting, was intrigued: "It was a clear invitation to take a tour, and it was not equivocal." As a citizen with an interest in the issue (she's a member of the Madison-based Primate Freedom Project), she wanted to accept.
So Ryan approached Hartley in the hall, and says she was told again that a tour could be arranged. She followed up with an email to Hartley, as they had agreed. Hartley replied by saying that the visit had to be approved by the center's interim director, Dr. Donna Paulnock.
Soon after, Ryan got a letter from Paulnock (PDF), flatly refusing to allow her in: "At this time, these tours are available to County Board members only."
Paulnock says it's "unfortunate" that officials at the meeting did not have time to provide details of visit and tour policies. Because these tours present safety and security concerns and take "considerable staff involvement and time" to arrange, they are usually reserved for individuals who have "a need to tour" the facility. This currently includes County Board members, at least a half-dozen of whom have accepted the UW's invitation.
Ryan isn't buying it. "There was no misunderstanding," she says. "I took what they said at face value. If they are not in a position to make that kind of open invite, they shouldn't be doing so in front of a government body."