Guidelines for university-industry relationships

Concerns over the influence of industry funding on university research results have come to the fore recently especially as a result of findings of potential bias in two separate university studies of the environmental risks associated with fracking. As a result the American Association of University Professors is developing a guidance document entitled Recommended Principles & Practices to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships.

In Canada the Canadian Association of University Teachers approved a somewhat similar guidance document earlier this year. Included among the CAUT’s Guiding Principles for University Collaborations include the following:

  • Any grants or research funding related to an agreement should be evaluated and awarded using academic methods of independent impartial peer review.
  • The planning, design, data collection, analysis and dissemination of results should be under the control of the researchers, not the donor or organizational partner.
  • Agreements cannot permit the donor or collaborators to have any right to change the content of publications nor permit delays in publication for longer than 60 days, and then only if there is a compelling reason for the delay.
  • Any interference with a researcher’s right and responsibility to publish results, regardless of effect on the collaborating organization, is unacceptable.
  • Agreements should explicitly recognize the absolute right of researchers to publicly disclose information about risks to research participants or the general public or threats to the public interest that become known in the course of their research.
  • Academic facilities and classrooms should not be used as sites for commercial marketing and promotion for the donor or corporate collaborator, or any affiliated entity.
  • No agreement should contain any provision that permits or implies that the donor or corporate collaborator has the right to forbid faculty or graduate students from disclosing the agreement’s sponsorship of research.
  • Classified research and/or confidential corporate research that is not intended for publication and/or dissemination are never appropriate within a university research setting, and should never be permitted.
  • At a minimum, all agreements over $250,000 should be public documents.
  • There should be assessments of the effectiveness and effects of each agreement at regular intervals within the term of the agreement and these assessments should be public documents made available to all members of the university community. 
  • An independent post-agreement evaluation plan must be part of the agreement. The results of the evaluation should be a public document readily available to the academic community.

CAUT is a professional association, not a governance body. However, industry partners in university research should anticipate that violations of CAUT’s policy, which is much more extensive than the brief summary given here, are likely to become public and risk becoming controversial in the media. The full policy is available from CAUT at http://www.caut.ca/uploads/GuidingPrinc_UCollaborationv2.pdf.

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