A new study by Jennifer Washburn at the Center for American Progress investigates recent inflictions between big oil companies and universities in the US.
The report asks:
"Why are highly profitable oil and other large corporations increasingly turning to U.S. universities to perform their commercial research and development instead of conducting this work in-house? Why, in turn, are U.S. universities opening their doors to Big Oil? And when they do, how well are U.S. universities balancing the needs of their commercial sponsors with their own academic missions and public-interest obligations, given their heavy reliance on government research funding and other forms of taxpayer support?" [source]
And comes up with the following results:
The results of this report’s analysis of these 10 large-scale university-industry contracts raise troubling questions about the ability of U.S. universities to adequately safeguard their core academic and public-interest functions when negotiating research contracts with large corporate funders. This report identifies eight major areas where these contracts leave the door open to serious limitations on academic freedom and research independence. Here are just a few brief highlights:
- In nine of the 10 energy-research agreements we analyzed, the university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of the 10 alliances actually give the industry sponsors full governance control.
- Eight of the 10 agreements permit the corporate sponsor or sponsors to fully control both the evaluation and selection of faculty research proposals in each new grant cycle.
- None of the 10 agreements requires faculty research proposals to be evaluated and awarded funding based on independent expert peer review, the traditional method for awarding academic and scientific research grants fairly and impartially based on scientific merit.
- Eight of the 10 alliance agreements fail to specify transparently, in advance, how faculty may apply for alliance funding, and what the specific evaluation and selection criteria will be.
- Nine of the 10 agreements call for no specific management of financial conflicts of interest related to the alliance and its research functions. None of these agreements, for example, specifies that committee members charged with evaluating and selecting faculty research proposals must be impartial, and may not award corporate funding to themselves. (See summary of main findings for details, pages 52-59, and the Appendices beginning on page 75.)" [source]
You can download the full report here, or read more about it on the homepage of the Center for American Progress.
From a European perspective this report is a valid argument to be careful with letting private business into funding public universities. Only real academic freedom and non-steered research can come up with very important innovations for a benign development of future societies.