Strengthening ethics in college-private sector relationships
- The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles growing concern about the mutually beneficial relationships between high research colleges and universities and private companies which support them through funding for innovation, patent development, and startup business support.
- A recent report from the Association of University Technology Managers reveals that these partnerships helped to generate 8,208 federally funded inventions, 7,021 U.S.-issued patents, and 1,024 new start-up businesses in 2016; but not without concerns over companies pressuring schools and researchers to engage in lobbying or advocacy research to support corporate or political gain.
- Experts have advocated for university presidents to establish common guidelines for schools in corporate partnerships, specifically along the lines of public disclosure and financial transparency. Some campus leaders believe that the diverse approaches of individual programs and schools will not allow for common rules of corporate engagement. "I don’t think we’re going to solve this as a problem," former Tufts University President and Harvard's new President-elect Lawrence Bacow said in an interview with the Chronicle. "This is something which we’re going to be managing, and we’re going to be managing in perpetuity."
Colleges and corporations walk a fine line when it comes to institutional ethics in sponsored research. The role that faculty and administrators play in shaping public policy through think tanks, congressional testimony, white papers and other forms of idea shaping put them in direct places where ethics or advocacy could be called into question.
It is up to schools to make clear their positions on the politics involving industry, and to limit faculty and staff in the types of engagement they are allowed to create to participate in as official university representatives. Doing so can help campuses to win favor with diverse corporate audiences while helping students to see and understand the value of nonpartisan outreach.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education How to protect your college’s research from undue political influence
- Education Dive Are think tanks key to academic influence on policy?