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April 15, 2002

Nunn Forum ponders academy, industry ties

By Eric Rangus


In his opening remarks at the Sam Nunn Policy Forum, held on campus April 5–7, President Bill Chace cut straight to the point of the three-day event rather nicely.

“The issues to be explored will increasingly define the American university. They will not go away,” Chace said Saturday, April 6, in WHSCAB auditorium.

With that comment, Chace brought into perspective the importance of the forum’s subject matter, “Commercialization of the Academy.”

What followed was a thoughtful, engaging and often surprising collection of presentations and panel discussions that began unraveling the increasingly tangled web of American higher education and commercial entities.

Nowhere was this tie more apparent than in the numbers presented by Sheldon Krimsky, professor of urban environmental policy at Tufts University. In his Saturday afternoon address, “Reforming Research Ethics in the Age of Multivested Science,” he stated that he found that close to one third (31 percent) of the nearly 2,000 university faculty members he surveyed were involved in commercial activities.

Krimsky also said that research and development money provided to university by industry, in many cases, has increased remarkably. From 1992 to 1999, Krimsky said, industry-provided R&D funds rose by 280 percent at Duke University. However, that figure is tiny when compared to some other schools over the same time period, like the University of California-San Francisco (491 percent increase) or the University of Texas-Austin (725 percent). Emory’s increase (4.4 percent, hospitals not included) is microscopic in comparison.

With figures like Krimsky’s in mind, the gathered academics and administrators sought some answers to the question of what to do about the academy’s increasingly close relationship to industry.

Friday’s Presidents Dinner featured a speech by Emmy Award-winning NBC News chief health and science correspondent Robert Bazell.

Saturday was a marathon of 12 presentations in WHSCAB. They began with welcoming announcements by Emory administrators Chace, interim Provost Woody Hunter and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns, as well as former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, who now has lent his name to six such policy forums.

Wrapping up the forum on Sunday were three panel discussions held at the Emory Conference Center. While most of Saturday’s speeches were by university administrators and professors from around the country, the panels featured a mix of graduate students from Georgia institutions along with professionals and academics.

In her Saturday-morning keynote speech, “The Role of Commercialization on Tenure and Promotion Decisions: Conflicting Goals/Conflicting Values,” Karen Holbrook, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia, said that while universities have no problems with their faculty members’ commercial ventures—and in some cases encourage them—those activities rarely have any effect on who is promoted or who receives tenure.

“New institutional goals collide with traditional academic values; this sends conflicting messages to faculty,” she said. “We need to reorganize with an expanded set of requirements.”

Those requirements, Holbrook said, should include recognizing faculty for public service; not ignoring the commercial efforts of junior, untenured faculty; and balancing the difficult tasks of teaching, research and entrepreneurship. The consequences of a lack of change will be that a lot of young faculty will leave the academy if their opportunity for advancement is restricted.

“The number of young faculty will continue to decrease if we tell them that they will not be rewarded for commercial activities,” Holbrook said.

Following Holbrook were a wide variety of presentations that outlined the academy’s ties with commercial ventures from multiple perspectives. Several of the speeches dealt with commercialization in biomedical areas, including a presentation by Johns, “Care, Commerce and Conflict in the Academic Health Center,” that wrapped up Saturday’s activities.

Other presentations wandered in different directions. Murray Sperber, a professor of English and American studies at Indiana University, spoke on “College Sports Inc.: How Big Time Athletic Departments Run Interference for College Inc.”

Not only did Sperber discuss how many universities sign contracts with shoe companies, which then supply athletes with gear and coaches with tidy sums of money, but he explained that college athletics and money have been tied together since the beginning.

Sperber told of the first intercollegiate athletic event, a boat race between Harvard and Yale in the 1840s. It was organized by a railroad magnate and featured several athletes who did not even attend the schools they raced for.
“So it was commercial,” Sperber said, “And they were cheating.” That statement was met with knowing laughter from the crowd.

The Nunn Forum is cosponsored by Emory, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, and the host school rotates each year. The forum is designed to foster informed discussion of issues critical not just to higher education, but to the nation as a whole. A total of 175 people registered to attend this latest offering.

The subject matter and presenters of the 2002 forum were organized by a steering committee led by Donald Stein, Asa G. Candler Professor of Psychology, Neurology and Emergency Medicine. Stein moderated the Saturday presentations as well.

Presentations will be archived on the web at