By Jocelyn Courtney
Louisiana dairy farmers may believe that Yale professors are helping the U.S. Department of Justice in an antitrust battle against the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative — but at Yale, professors say they are not involved in the investigation.
In response to allegations of anti-competitive practices by independent farmers in Louisiana against DFA, a milk producer and distributor, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in August that it would conduct an antitrust investigation. The Associated Press reported Sunday that the Department of Justice commissioned Yale professors to determine the best way to split up the cooperative, but University officials and Department of Justice sources could not confirm Yale’s involvement.
The Department of Justice would not confirm rumors of Yale involvement and declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation.
Janet Conroy, the spokeswoman for the Yale Law School, also said she had not heard of any law professors who were involved.
About a dozen professors at the Yale School of Management all said they were not participating in the research, and were unaware of any Yale involvement.
“I don’t even know what the investigation is about,” Yale SOM professor Sharon Oster said.
Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said he was not aware of professors involved in such an investigation, though such a collaboration with the Department of Justice was not unthinkable.
“Certainly faculty in all parts of the University are engaged in a wide range of consultative activities, and that’s certainly allowed to a limited extent,” Hamilton said on Monday.
Jerome Walker, a Louisiana farmer who helped to initiate the investigation, said local farmers were worried about a monopoly in the milk industry. Walker said the relationship DFA has to the milk industry is analogous to AT&T’s relationship to the telecommunications industry before AT&T was broken up by the Department of Justice.
Walker said he was surprised when he heard that Yale professors had become involved in the investigation, noting that most Yalies “didn’t milk cows before coming to Yale.”
Walker said he spoke for himself and his neighbors when he complained about how little they are being told about the investigation.
“I don’t know who at Yale is doing this, but we would like to have some input down here,” he said.
Southeast Milk Inc. is a cooperative of Florida and Georgia farmers that has also made allegations concerning anti-competitive practices against Dairy Farmers of America.
“We have had some challenges with DFA putting pressure on us and making us pay fees to them to have access to markets,” Calvin Covington, chief executive officer of Southeast Milk Inc., said.
Covington said he had heard from several sources that the Department of Justice had hired Yale professors to become involved in the investigation, but the U.S. Department of Justice did not publicly indicate to him that it hired Yale professors, nor did he know any specific names of those involved.
“I do know that the Department of Justice has hired people from outside to get involved in past investigations,” he said.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture declined to comment on its involvement in the investigation, but Terence McElroy, press secretary for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said that his department had not hired any Yale professors.
Dairy Farmers of America did not return telephone calls requesting comment.