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March 4, 2002

Sam Nunn forum to focus on commercialization & academy

By Eric Rangus


When a medical professor makes a drug breakthrough using money he received from a pharmaceutical company, who owns the work? The company who funded it? The university in whose lab it was uncovered? The doctor who made the discovery? All three?

The increasingly tangled web of industry-sponsored academic research is leading scientists and professors of all disciplines, as well as the universities that employ them, into situations that become more complicated by the day.

This phenomenon and its effects on research in the 21st century will be the focus of the sixth annual Sam Nunn Policy Forum, to be held at Emory April 5–7. The forum is cosponsored by Emory, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

The topic, “Commercialization of the Academy,” is a subject that has interested conference organizer Donald Stein for a long time. It grew out of a sharp increase in the 1990s of the number of patents and copyrights, commercial ventures and new companies developed by university faculty members across the country.

Stein, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Emergency Medicine and Neurology, is former vice provost and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and also served as interim vice president of research. He has experienced the conflicts of the subject both from the point of view of an administrator charged with promoting policies to encourage the raising of money through research, as well as a scientist whose job it is to find that money.

“The blurring between the academy and commercialization has serious impacts on who we promote and tenure, what research is done and even how we teach,” Stein said. “If we’re hiring people based on their track record of entrepreneurialism, those people probably won’t be here because they’re necessarily great—or even good—teachers.”

The forum’s goal is to develop a balanced set of recommendations to help university administrators and faculty members negotiate these new difficulties involving intellectual property.

Ironically, commercialization has become so prevalent in education that not even the forum is immune: Its full name is “The Sam Nunn Bank of America Policy Forum.” The financial institution granted the cosponsors money to defray costs for holding the event.

“I’ll have to come up with something humorous to explain Bank of America,” Stein said.

More than a dozen speakers are scheduled to address attendees either in panel discussions or forum-wide events. They include Nunn himself, now cochair and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and an attorney, who will provide opening remarks along with Stein, and several Emory administrators including President Bill Chace and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns.

Robert Bazell, chief health and science correspondent for NBC News, will give his address, “Public Health Information in a Time of Crisis,” at the April 5 invitation-only dinner that kicks off the forum.

UGA Provost Karen Holbrook will deliver her keynote speech, “The Importance of Commercialization on Tenure and Promotion Decisions,” the morning of April 6.

Participant presentations will dominate the afternoon of April 6 and panel discussions morning of April 7. They will include experts in medicine, law, science, engineering, information technology, government, English and American studies from around the country.

“I am so honored at the level of people who have agreed to participate in this conference. It took quite a while to get everybody on board,” said Stein, who spent a year putting the forum together.

Conference attendance is free, but registration is required. To register, visit and download the proper form. Meals will be provided. For more information, call 404-727-1155 or 1-877-727-1125.

This is the second time Emory has hosted the Nunn forum. In 1999 Emory hosted the forum titled “Ethics in America.” The three Georgia universities take turns hosting the event.