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Research in Higher Education

Academic research is of fundamental importance to our society.  Society benefits from quality, ethical research, and should rally to support and defend it.  There is, however, a growing reliance on and acceptance of the commodification of research, i.e., research projects are increasingly defined on the basis of economic criteria. This practice infringes on academic freedom and narrows the scope of research.  The result is that faculty are discouraged from engaging in research that benefits society and are forced to accept research projects that are funded by the private sector or that are heavily influenced by the private sector (e.g., value-added measures for evaluating teachers).  Public/private partnerships can undermine collective bargaining agreements. 

Challenges to academic research include:

  1. Funding.  Public funding for academic research, including basic research, is not meeting the need.  Funding needs include, but are not limited to:  creation and maintenance of quality facilities, modern equipment, staff support, informational infrastructure, and funding of scholarly activities such as conference attendance.  Public/private partnerships must not replace public funding of research.  The challenge is to be vigilant of funding opportunities which may allow excessive outside interference and unduly influence the research.
  2. Respect for research within institutions.  Many institutions do not adequately address the need for "release time," reduced teaching loads, or other compensations for scholars carrying heavy responsibilities for research.
  3. Academic freedom.  The academic freedom of researchers is threatened by a variety of non-academic forces.  Situations repeatedly arise where public/private funders assert influence over research priorities and tamper with findings.  Those funding research should not be allowed to exercise control over, edit, or limit dissemination of findings with which they might disagree.
  4. Intellectual property.  Academic researchers are often deprived of their intellectual property rights, e.g., instances of copyright infringement, conflicts around the ownership of research data and findings, and restrictions on publication and presentation of findings by private funders.  Such disputes can negatively affect the tenure process for non-tenured faculty.  For faculty conducting international research, there may be other barriers due to different or fewer legal protections of their intellectual property rights.    
  5. Travel/faculty mobility.  Federal and state bans on travel to countries declared “terrorist states” by the U.S. Department of State affect academic research.  Not only are faculty prohibited from traveling to those states, public higher education institutions may be prohibited from expending any public funds for any travel or other research-related activities in or with researchers in those restricted countries, e.g., curtailment of longitudinal oceanographic studies in the Caribbean between Florida and Cuban universities.  These disruptions in research can have important and devastating consequences. Terms imposed by international agreements such as General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) may promote commercialization of research, and impede the free exchange of ideas and research.
Recommendations to meet the above challenges include:
  1. Funding.  The federal government and other public sources should significantly increase funding for research at all institutional levels.  Public funding of research is especially critical for traditionally neglected areas such as education, social sciences, the humanities, and the arts.  Faculty should publicly acknowledge any affiliations or other relationships they may have with the funders of their research, and they should identify any sources of funding or support for their research projects.
  2. Respect for research within institutions.  Administrators need to negotiate agreements with their faculty/researchers and, where applicable, collectively bargain agreements to compensate them for their efforts.  Where faculty/researchers do not have the protection of collective bargaining agreements, the impact of research projects on their rights shall be negotiated subject to the shared governance process of the academic institution. 
  3. Academic freedom.  Faculty/researchers have the right to investigate and to conduct research in accordance with principles of academic freedom.  Academic freedom must be maintained.  Faculty/researchers need protection from government and private sponsors who exert increasing pressure and unreasonable control.  Faculty/researchers should be cognizant of, but insulated from, funding source restrictions and public pressures about research perceived as controversial.  They are responsible for understanding the political, ethical, and social implications of their research. Faculty/researchers should refrain from entering into any agreement that infringes upon their freedom to publish the results of research conducted under the auspices of or within the institution’s protocols.
  4. Intellectual property.  Unless otherwise negotiated, the products of research are the intellectual property of the faculty/researcher.  Agreements need to be developed within institutions to clarify and define intellectual property issues.  Full or partial ownership of the products of research, including inventions, patents, royalties, and copyrights should be determined through collective bargaining processes.  Where faculty/researchers do not have the protection of collective bargaining agreements, their rights shall be negotiated subject to the shared governance process of the academic institution. "Classified" research and the restriction of publications are subject to guidelines developed by the institution's faculty and relevant professional organizations.
  5. Travel/faculty mobility.  Faculty/researchers must have the freedom to research topics in international settings without interference from governments or other entities.  Trade agreements and international intellectual property agreements must not interfere with the free collection of data and exchange of research findings.  At the same time faculty/researchers  must be sure to express interest in, and respect for, the experiences, perspectives, and insights of the peoples and cultures they are studying.

REFERENCES:

Scott Jaschik, Commodification of Academic Research, an interview with Hans Radder, Editor of The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University.  University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.  [for publisher information on Book, see http://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36159]
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/10/25/radder 

NEA’s Code of Ethics for the Education Profession, NEA Handbook [2010 issue, p. 435]

[Approved by Higher Education Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Membership, January 8, 2010.]