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playgrounds.It's a situation that has some questioning who
is running the show.
"Who are the professors working for, the university or the
company?" asked Russell Jacoby, author of the "New
Intellectuals -American Culture in the Age of Academe."
Companies often invest their money in construction of
new research facilities on campuses - investments that can
pay dividendswhen they come calling for future projects
based on their relationships with the schools.
For example, Eastman Kodak, General Foods and Union
Carbide helped establish a biotechnology institute at
Cornell U. in 1983. And Washington U. in St. Louis has
signed a 12-year contract with the Monsanto chemical
corporation worth about $100 million. And this is only the
tip of the corporate-funding iceberg.
The companies, however, say this is nothing more than
the reality of the modern marriage of academia and
"The research universities are a tremendous resource for
scientific discovery, and what this funding does is marry the
discovery capability to a way to market and commercialize
those findings," said Gary Barton, science communication
director at Monsanto. "We can help the universities get the
benefits out into society."
But many in today's research environment fear corporate
funding can lead to conflicts of interest. In some cases, it
already has. In 1988-89 it was revealed that researchers at
various universities reviewing TPA, a heart attack drug, also
were stockholders in Genentech, Inc. the company
Also, when the Allied Chemical Company funded
research for plant geneticist Ray Valentine at the U. of
California, Davis, they didn't know his study of nitrogen-
fixation would leave campus. Later it was discovered the
Calgene, a company Valentine founded, was a second site
for the research.
Problems stemming from double allegiances range from
criminal involvement to educational deterioration.
"When you manipulate the scientific information or
decide to buy or sell stock based on information only you
know - that puts you on the wrong side of the law," said Bob
Roseth, director of the office of news and information at U.
"Who are the professors working for,
the university or the company?"
- Russell Jacoby
But legal offenses aren't the only concern in the corporate
research game. Some fear that professors may botch, stall or
alter research to further their own financial or business
agendas. Research vital to tackling disease, saving the
environment or growing better crops could be jeopardized.
"It becomes a very incestuous kind of situation if there's a
failure to carry out the academic responsibilities in an open
environment," said Norman Scott,, vice president of
research at Cornell.
But Stanley Wright, director of corporate contributions
for Eastman Kodak, said such fears are incidental compared
to the benefits of corporate-sponsored research.
"What we're investing in is access to technology; we're
actually having them help us," Wright said.
Although the potential for conflict exists when
corporations spend millions, Cornell's Scott said the
research is critical to the advancement of technology.
"What good is research that doesn't move beyond the
scientific bench because of the great fear of conflict of
interest?" Scott said. "You have to make some balance
between entrepreneurship and conflict of interest."
Capping the Corruption
Fear of unethical behavior in the research lab has led to
attempts at regulating the practices of researchers.
In 1989, the National Institute of Health and the Alcohol,
Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration proposed
guidelines to prevent conflicts of interest in technology
The NIH guidelines would have required faculty to
disclose their investments as well as the financial interests of
their spouses and children to university administrators. The
policy also would have prohibited faculty from having an
interest in any company whose products they were testing.
The proposals were met with mass disapproval from both
the Department of Health and Human Services and the
scientific community. Many universities claimed the
regulations would be counterproductive to their research,
and three months later they were withdrawn. The institute
currently is revising the restrictions.
Some now think the regulations should be reinstated. As
Jacoby said, if government officials have to fill out financial
disclosure forms, university faculty should, too.
"If someone is doing medical research and is a major
stockholder, it's something we want to know," he said.
"Why, at this point, should we trust them? Why not set it out
But rather than wait for national guidelines, universities
nationwide are respondingby policing their own professors.
Harvard, for example, requires prior approval for faculty
members who want to make clinical referrals to businesses
where they or their families have interests.Johns Hopkins U.
requires faculty to report all written agreements involving
privately sponsored research. Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, Carnegie Mellon U. and Cornell also include
substantial conflict of interest sections in their faculty
Sheila Slaughter, U. of Arizona professor and author of
"The Higher Learning and High Technology" said
regulations such as these are a step in the right direction.
But, Slaughter added, they're small steps compared to the
scope of the issue.
"All the professions have guidelines; medicine does, law
does. They're hallmarks of a profession," Slaughter said.
"Butwe're notoriouslybad at policing ourselves."
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