Colleges and universities need to take a close look at the growing flow of research money coming from business, Yale University President A. Bartlett Giamatti said today, calling for guidelines to ensure that industry's research needs do not dominate academic priorities.
"I doubt that a faculty member can ordinarily devote the time and energy the university requires and also pursue a substantial involvement in any such outside company," Giamatti said in remarks to the first major gathering of academic and business leaders to discuss corporate involvement in university research.
Among the rules suggested by Giamatti was one to be adopted by Yale this spring that will require professors to disclose their relationships with corporate sponsors. A few other universities have similar requirements.
"Disclosure--of consulting relationships, of relationships with outside companies engaged in application of a faculty member's research, or relationships with companies that sell to the university goods or services--is, I believe, the best stay against conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment," Giamatti added.
Giamatti joined about 400 other representatives of academia, business and government at the two-day Partners in the Research Enterprise Conference here, cosponsored by several large universities and corporations to explore the often controversial issues surrounding corporate funded university research.
Industry funded about $240 million of research at universities last year, a fourfold increase during the past decade, and the figure is growing rapidly. While government support still accounts for two-thirds of university and college research budgets, federal funds are being reduced. At the same time, companies seeking to augment their own research and development efforts -- particularly in such areas as genetics and biotechnology -- have been tapping university laboratories in increasing numbers.
Yale, for instance, recently received a $1.1 million research grant from Celanese Corp.; Monsanto, in the biggest grant so far announced, will give $23.5 million to Washington University of St. Louis over the next five years.
"The corporation needs the university much more than the corporation appreciates," Reginald H. Jones, chairman emeritus of General Electric Co., told the conference. "It is only in the universities of our nation. . .that we have the diversity of talents to put science into perspective, to integrate its discoveries, and to make it acceptable to our citizens."
With the growth in corporate funding of academic research, however, some members of the academic community have raised questions over the role business could have in determining university affairs, and about what use corporations are making of the discoveries made in university laboratories under its sponsorship.
Participants at the conference today acknowledged that they had more questions than answers.
Yale's disclosure requirement will not ask for financial information on a professor's involvement in corporate research or with outside companies. And Giamatti said the new rules were not designed to punish faculty members. "I'm not looking for a mechanism to get rid of people, I'm just looking for a way to raise the questions we are trying to raise," he said.
He also recommended that in accepting a corporate research grant, "the university will not accept restriction, inhibition or infringement upon a member of the faculty's free inquiry or capacity orally to communicate the results of his or her research."