Going to college can be a lot of fun. Just ask BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell. They’re not quite enrolled in academic courses, but they are providing funding for research at 10 Universities. There could not possibly be any conflict of interest right? Well, Jennifer Washburn, author of a report titled Big Oil Goes to College, raises some concerns.
It came to light that a number of professors were very dismayed at the research contracts that they were being asked to sign by BP. And the main provision that really alarmed them was this provision that, you know, essentially muzzled them from being able to speak publicly about their research and really anything related to their area of expertise for up to three years. Copies of that contract were made public because the professors were so appalled by the terms. We don’t know how many professors actually signed those agreements.
And what I found in my report is that the universities are not imposing adequate protections. Faculty are being—are entering into large-scale agreements with oil company sponsors that fail to protect basic, basic standards of academic freedom and the ability to disseminate research. So, you know, at UC Davis, they have a very large deal with Chevron, and we know that publications are delayed for 120 days, or can be delayed for up to 120 days. That’s significant, because the university is supposed to—really, its lifeblood is publications.
So, you know, I also found that the industry sponsors are heavily controlling the selection of the research. And that can skew and bias what types of research are being funded. In the area of alternative energy research, obviously this is a real concern, because we need US universities to perform cutting-edge research, and we don’t want that research to be unduly controlled by outside industry sponsors.