Eastern Tennessee State University is notifying some student athletes that they were involved in four research studies that did not go through federally mandated reviews.
The notifications stem from an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services into charges that some students involved in ETSU athletic programs may have been coerced or under undue influence to participate in research studies being conducted by graduate students.
In a Sept. 25 letter to William N. Duncan, vice provost for research at the Johnson City institution, HHS bureau director Kristina Borror wrote that some ETSU athletes "might believe that if they do not agree to have the test results used for research purposes, they will not be able to play and will lose their scholarships."
Duncan, in an email response to questions about the investigation wrote, "The investigation is complete and the Office of Human Research Protection has accepted our corrective action plan, including notifying individuals that we were able to contact who had participated in the four studies listed in the letter."
The studies, according to the report, included blood draws and tissue sampling in tests of "various physical performance characteristics."
Duncan added that new procedures have been implemented to ensure continued compliance.
The university official did not respond to questions concerning the number of students involved in the studies or in which athletic programs those students participated.
According to the letter from Borror, the doctoral students involved in conducting the research are often team coaches,
"If they are taking a course taught by the doctoral student, they might also be concerned that they might receive a lower grade if they don't participate in the research," Borror wrote, adding that OHRP was concerned that enrollment procedures for the studies "perhaps do not minimize possibility of coercion or undue influence."
OHRP faulted the university for proceeding with the four studies without submitting them in advance for approval by the ETSU Investigative Review Board.
The university also was cited for failing to get informed consent from the parents of two student participants who were under the age of 18.
Among the steps promised by ETSU were ensuring that team coaches were not present when students are asked to give their consent to participation in the research and doing random interviews of research subjects in the future to query whether there was any undue pressure.