Last year, Queen’s received $30.4 million in research funding from corporate sponsors—17.8 per cent of total research funding at the University that year. For Arthur Schafer, a philosophy professor and director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, that’s $30.4 million too much.
Schafer has long been critical of the increasing corporate presence in the academic sphere. He sees private industry as contrary to the goals of university scholarship.
“The fundamental purpose of corporations is to act in the interest of their shareholders,” he said. “The fundamental purpose of the university is to disseminate truth. It’s a bad marriage.”
Schafer said the research’s integrity can’t survive partnership with a corporation, adding that some areas of academic research important to public health—such as tobacco-related health studies, climate change, and food and nutrition—have demonstrated the negative effects of corporate funding.
Schafer cited the history of clinical research into selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs such as Prozac and Paxil as an example of the problems he sees as inherent in corporate funding of research.
“The published literature didn’t reflect the research. The companies only published the research that was favourable to them. Most of the data was generated by university researchers, but most of it wasn’t [publicly] available.
“If there’s one place in society that should be a source of independent, critical analysis it should be our universities, and we’re failing.”
Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe said he doesn’t see corporate funding as necessarily opposed to the University’s academic mission and essential values.
“The University holds itself to a high standard of ethical conduct,” Rowe told the Journal in an e-mail.
To ensure this standard isn’t compromised, Rowe said Queen’s has numerous policies and practices by which all researchers and their industry partners must abide.
“The University will not agree to arrangements whereby industry partners can direct the content of publications or prevent the publication of results,” he said.
To help guarantee principles of academic integrity, the University employs a standard research agreement, which includes the Statement of Ethical Conduct. The statement says “[the University] will not accept gifts, enter into business relationships, or accept external support that will compromise its public image or commitment to its academic mission and essential values.”
It further asserts Queen’s adherence to the “essential values” of “intellectual integrity … [and] freedom of inquiry and exchange of ideas.”
“Researchers must agree to be bound by this and by other policies of the University and agree to report any known breaches,” Rowe said.
He also said researchers are required to disclose corporate sponsers in their published research.
Corporate funds are becoming more and more indispensable to the academic research process, but they have other benefits as well, Rowe said.
“Many of our industry partners make important contributions to research programs in terms of industry related expertise and facilities access and also provide employment or training opportunities for Queen’s students that they encounter through collaborative research activities,” he said. “Corporate funding has provided many of our researchers with the funds necessary to conduct important research that would otherwise not be done, especially as government funding has become increasingly difficult to access for many.”
Rowe said Queen’s makes a concerted effort to attract more corporate funding for research.
“Although the amount of corporate funding accessed over the past years has [been] largely influenced by individual researchers and their interest in, and ability to acquire corporate funding, Queen’s is increasing its efforts at an institutional level to encourage more corporate funding,” he said.
The government also has a vested interest in securing corporate sponsorship, Rowe said.
“Both provincial and federal governments have a significant interest in ensuring universities obtain industry funding. Funding agencies of both governments have multiple programs that require industry funding and meaningful partnerships with corporate sponsors in order to access funding,” he said.
To get funding from those governement projects, researchers are obliged to partner with industry, Rowe said.
“Queen’s encourages our researchers to investigate and pursue these research funding possibilities, not only with the goal of increasing quality and relevant research at Queen’s, but also to ensure our University is also contributing to the competitiveness and well-being of Ontario and Canada.”
Electrical engineering professor Praveen Jain receives research funding from Cistel Technology Inc., Eion Wireless, IE Power and Nortel Networks as well as from the University and from the Ontario government. In total, Jain receives $16.6 million in funding, one third of which comes from corporate sources.
Jain is working toward creating more environmentally friendly computer systems by improving their energy efficiency by 15 to 20 per cent within the next five years.
He said the main reason corporations choose to fund academic research is to make money.
“We are living in a very different era, where we have to come up with a new particular technology every few months for a company to survive,” he said, adding that firms can actually save money by working with academics rather than hiring researchers full time.
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