Princeton receives report detailing inquiry into University’s role in handling of MOVE bombing remains

Princeton University has received a thorough report from Ballard Spahr LLP investigating the handling of human remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing.

In April, the University learned that remains of victims of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 1985 bombing of a house occupied by members of the MOVE organization may have been used for instruction at Princeton.  In response, President Christopher L. Eisgruber announced that he was authorizing a fact-finding investigation by outside counsel to gain a fuller understanding of the scope and nature of Princeton’s role in the handling of the MOVE bombing remains, and committed to sharing its findings publicly.  

The University extended its apologies at that time to the Africa family for the use of the remains in courses offered by Princeton.  President Eisgruber noted, “Princeton University’s commitment to teaching and scholarship in the service of humanity depends on treating everyone we encounter with dignity and respect.  This includes our campus community, the community at large, and those we encounter through our scholarship.  It is important to find and share the facts when we fall short, and to take corrective action that allows us to realize our commitment and fulfill our responsibilities.”

The 56-page report from Ballard Spahr details the findings of an inquiry that included the review of thousands of documents and interviews of 23 people from within and outside the Princeton University community.

The report concluded that the remains were never in storage at the University, but were used twice in Princeton courses – once in a small graduate-level seminar taught on the Princeton campus in 2015, and once in a video recorded for an undergraduate course offered in 2019.  The video was filmed at the Penn Museum, and the course was later offered to the public by Princeton, free of charge, on the Coursera online platform.  Neither the Medical Examiner’s Office, which released the remains to Dr. Alan Mann and Dr. Janet Monge in 1986, nor members of the Africa family, were consulted prior to the use of the remains for instruction.  During the time period in which the remains were used in Princeton courses, the University did not have policies in place specifically addressing the ethical use of human remains in teaching and research activities. The report ultimately concluded that no laws or ethical precepts were violated, but that Dr. Mann and Dr. Monge’s conduct showed “exceedingly poor judgment and insensitivity to the ramifications of their actions.”

More specifically, Ballard Spahr found:      

  • In 1986, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office provided Dr. Mann, then a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, with a femur and pelvis fragments belonging to one MOVE victim so that he could continue efforts to identify them.  He asked Dr. Monge, who was then a Penn graduate student, to assist him.  
  • The Medical Examiner’s Office’s transfer of the remains to Dr. Mann occurred after the remains had been identified by the MOVE Commission as Katricia Africa, and her family had accepted that identification.  The Assistant Medical Examiner overseeing the investigation ultimately did not agree with the MOVE Commission’s identification, and neither did Dr. Mann.
  • Since 1986, Dr. Mann and Dr. Monge believed they were not required to return the remains to the Medical Examiner’s Office until they successfully identified them.  Neither Dr. Mann nor Dr. Monge contacted the Office after it provided Dr. Mann with the remains for identification in 1986.
  • When Dr. Mann, who is now retired, joined the Princeton faculty full-time in 2001, the remains of the MOVE bombing victim stayed at the Penn Museum, in Dr. Monge’s custody.  The remains were never kept in storage on the Princeton campus, either before or after 2001.
  • Dr. Monge brought the remains of the MOVE bombing victim to Princeton’s campus at most five times between 2001 and 2015 to analyze them with Dr. Mann and visiting experts, and to use them during one class session of an in-person graduate-level seminar.  In those instances, Dr. Monge never kept the remains on Princeton’s campus for more than a few days and always returned them to the Penn Museum.  The remains were never on the Princeton campus after 2015.
  • The remains of the MOVE victim were used for instruction twice in Princeton courses:  in the aforementioned seminar in 2015, and in a video used for an undergraduate course in 2019.  The same video was used in the Coursera course launched in 2020, which was free and available to the public.  The video showing the remains was filmed at the Penn Museum.
  • Princeton did not have policies in place specifically addressing the ethical use of human remains in teaching and research activities.
  • Over the last 25 years, ethics guidance for biological anthropologists has evolved to encourage communication with communities affected by anthropological activities. Dr. Monge did not contact individuals or communities, including members of the Africa family, with an obvious interest in the remains before using them for instruction and in continued forensic analysis.  Dr. Mann, who used the remains for forensic analysis, also did not contact these individuals or communities.
  • Although their conduct did not violate any law or binding ethical rules, Drs. Mann and Monge showed exceedingly poor judgment and insensitivity to the ramifications of their actions and omissions.

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • Princeton should consider establishing an oversight board to guide the appropriate use of human remains for research or teaching at the University.
  • Princeton should consider issuing a position statement regarding the use of human remains.
  • Human remains that are authorized for use in research or teaching at Princeton should be stored in a secure, dedicated location on campus that is respectful, facilitates preservation, and properly identifies the remains.
  • The University should periodically conduct an audit of laboratories or facilities in which human remains might reasonably be located, and be cognizant of research and teaching activities in which human remains might be used.  

“As I said last April, this University has an ethical obligation to treat people and communities with dignity and respect.  I regret that remains  of a victim of the MOVE bombing were used in  Princeton courses without consultation with those affected by the bombing, including the Africa family.  I again extend the University’s apologies for the use of the remains,” said President Eisgruber.

He added, “I am grateful to the Ballard Spahr LLP team for their thorough report and thoughtful recommendations, which will be helpful to the departments and people charged with improving the University’s policies.”

The University has already undertaken a number of steps that are in alignment with the report’s recommendations.  A University working group is considering policies and protocols for the use of human remains for research and scholarly purposes and is developing recommendations for University leadership.  In addition, in April, the Department of Anthropology released a new policy on the use of human remains in research in the department.