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U of C vice-provost research Edward McCaulley.
courtesy Dave Brown/University of Calgary

Administration defends research deals

Debate on role of corporate donors sparked after release of damning report

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The University of Calgary has come out in defence of deals made with corporate donors in response to a report released by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

The report shows the U of C finalized two secret corporate research deals — called the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for In-Situ Energy and the Consortium for Heavy Oil Research by University Scientists — that allow corporate donors to dictate how research dollars are spent and to withdraw funding if research is not favourable to their interests.

But U of C vice-president (research) Edward McCauley downplayed these claims.

“Whenever we enter an agreement with an industrial sponsor for a research project, we do our best to ensure we protect the academic freedom and integrity of our students while at the same time helping understand what the needs are of industry,” McCauley said. “We have, throughout the university, extensive policies on academic freedom. Those are never compromised.”

CAUT president Jim Turk defended his organization’s report.

“Everything in there is based on the actual agreements. It’s not a survey. It’s not somebody’s report,” Turk said. “It’s actually pouring over the literal text that was negotiated between the university and the partners.”

According to the report, “There is no provision for the protection of academic freedom in any of the agreements with industry or government donors.”

AICISE is governed by a “Management Advisory Board” with the majority of members external to the university. The board decides the budgets and research done under the deals.
Turk questioned why the university did not include protections for academic integrity within the deals.

“Why wouldn’t they put an affirmation of academic freedom in the agreement? They did it for Enbridge. Why wouldn’t they put in provisions that the sponsor can’t restrict the right to publish rather than putting in a provision that allows the sponsors to restrict the right to publish?” Turk said. “Why wouldn’t they make decisions that ensure who gets research money and who doesn’t is determined by peer review. Those things are all just missing.”

McCauley said including protections for academic freedom in individual deals is unnecessary, as university policies apply to all donorship deals.

“If you just look at a particular contract, there may not be the terms protecting academic freedom. And there’s actually not a need for it,” McCauley said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be within the contract in order to protect academic freedom.”

The report also raises concerns about intellectual property ownership. The report claims that under CHORUS, the university, rather than individual researchers, owns intellectual property developed under the agreements.

McCauley said these findings are untrue.

“Once again, that’s inaccurate. We have university policy that governs intellectual property for all academics at the university,” McCauley said. “So, that is in place and it’s actually inventor owned.”

CAUT, however, is not convinced that the U of C is taking necessary steps to protect students and staff.

“We know, from having looked at these agreements, that they have given away stuff. And if they haven’t given away stuff, why would they keep it a secret?” Turk said. “Collaboration is a wonderful opportunity for a university to get additional resources and money. If they haven’t given anything inappropriate away, why would they not be open about it?”

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