Students who don't want to cut up animals for class shouldn't have to, say animal-rights advocates at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Animal-rights advocates will ask the College Park Campus Senate today to change its policy and have instructors offer alternatives to students who object to working with animals.
"There is a growing number of students who have some sort of ethical or moral objection to using animals in classes," said Mark Parascandola, a recently graduated College Park student involved in the campus' animal rights coalition. "The current campus policy doesn't recognize these students' rights."
Some students' feelings about the treatment of animals are so strong that they constitute religious beliefs, Mr. Parascandola said. Animal-rights advocates have pushed the issue at colleges and high schools across the country.
"There's definitely a feeling that it's an idea whose time has come," said Anna Charlton, a staff attorney with the Rutgers University Animal Rights Law Clinic in Newark, N.J. The clinic has helped several students find "accommodations" for their concerns about animal experiments, Ms. Charlton said. That usually means using computer programs or plastic models to simulate a dissected animal.
Such models are useful in many cases, but can not replace the use of animals in others, said Arthur N. Popper, chairman of the zoology department at College Park.
"In neurophysiology, at some point, you need to know how to put an electrode into a nerve to be a good neurobiologist," Dr. Popper said. "No computer program can simulate that."
"We've done a lot of things to cut down on the use of animals," Dr. Popper said. "But, to teach what we need to teach, the faculty thinks they have to stop there."
A committee of the College Park Senate considered the issue in the spring but concluded that no change was necessary in the campus policy. The committee did suggest, however, that the course catalog could state more prominently which courses use animals. Campus policy now allows an instructor to fail a student who refuses to participate in an exercise using animals.
Animal-rights advocates don't expect to stop dissections on campus.
"It will hopefully get more professors to offer alternatives to the small number of students who are currently asking for them," said Mr. Parascandola. In addition, the campus should use only animals who have died of natural causes, not those raised and killed strictly for educational research, Mr. Parascandola said.