Jennifer Washburn

Jennifer WashburnJennifer Washburn is a freelance journalist based in New York City and a fellow at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy institute located in Washington D.C. whose purpose is to bring promising new voices and ideas to the fore of America's public discourse. The talk she presented at the Mid-West Association of Graduate Schools was based on a cover story she co-authored with Eyal Press in the Atlantic Monthly in March of 2000, also titled "The Kept University." Last year, this article was awarded the National Association of Science Writers' "Science-in-Society" journalism award.

Prior to joining the New America Foundation, Ms. Washburn was a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York City, where she examined the growing privatization of the public sphere. Before that she served as a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute, a foreign policy think tank housed at the New School University in New York City. Ms. Washburn's journalism articles and opinion pieces have appeared in a range of publications, including the American Prospect, the Journal of Commerce, Ms. magazine, Mother Jones, and Washington Times.

Jennifer Washburn: Academic Freedom and the Corporate University

Jennifer Washburn:  Academic Freedom and the Corporate University
Commercial threats on campus have mounted—from industry control of research and corporate ghostwriting to restrictive sponsored-research agreements and intellectual property deals that place profits ahead of public health.

Heightened commercialism on campus is pulling universities and their faculties away from higher education’s core commitment to academic research, teaching, and the production of reliable public knowledge. Nearly a century ago, similar threats led to the birth of a new faculty organization—the American Association of University Professors—dedicated to advancing the scholarly professions across all disciplines and to safeguarding intellectual and academic freedom.

The founding of the AAUP in 1915 was largely a response to the overweening influence that powerful corporate interests and wealthy donors then exerted over the internal academic affairs of American colleges and universities. In their classic 1955 history, The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States, Richard Hofstadter and Walter Metzger point to nearly a dozen well-documented academic freedom cases between the late 1880s and early 1900s that exhibited essentially the same ugly pattern: a professor had criticized the social order or espoused economic reforms and had thereafter been targeted for summary dismissal, often by a local industrial magnate, a wealthy donor, or a powerful businessman who sat on the university’s board of trustees.

The AAUP, and the academic community generally, struggle today—and have been largely ineffectual—in their response to heightened forms of academic commercialism that threaten the university’s core academic purposes.

Academic-industry relationships are certainly not new or uniformly a problem: indeed, they have contributed to the advancement of science, the birth of new academic disciplines, and the development of important technologies. Over the past thirty years, however, commercial threats to campus activities have mounted as a result of the rapid growth of academic patenting and proprietary controls on academic knowledge, the rise of a more market-driven university administration, the expansion of financial conflicts of interest (both at the faculty and institutional levels), cutbacks in public support for higher education, and a variety of other forces (topics discussed in detail in the November–December 2010 issue of Academe). In many cases, commercial influences are affecting academic standards of scholarship and professional norms (through serious conflicts of interest, growing secrecy, suppression of negative results, and so on), while also challenging universities’ oft-stated commitment to the pursuit of truth and the advancement of reliable knowledge, in contrast to “corporate-contract research for hire.”

Two cases—involving two prominent professors at Brown University, David Kern and Martin B. Keller—illustrate some of the acute challenges that academic commercialism poses to academic freedom. Holding up a mirror to these two contrasting cases, and the responses they elicited, helps show why faculty need to confront excessive commercialism and financial conflicts on campus more aggressively.

Over the years the Kern and Keller cases have been the subject of considerable media attention, scientific journal articles, and critically acclaimed books. Most of this publicity and criticism came well after the events had occurred, however, raising critical questions: Will the academic community find ways to respond to commercial threats in a timely manner? If not, how can the universities’ commitment to scholarship, free inquiry, and public values be preserved?

Jennifer Washburn: An Unholy Alliance

Jennifer Washburn: An Unholy Alliance
UC Berkeley's $500-Million Deal with BP Challenges Traditional Public-Private Partnerships

Five hundred million dollars is a lot of money -- especially for a public university. When the giant oil company BP announced Feb. 1 that it had chosen the University of California, Berkeley, to lead the largest academic-industry research consortium in U.S. history, University of California officials appeared giddy.

If the deal is approved, BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, will give $500 million over 10 years to create a multidisciplinary Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley. Berkeley would partner with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to establish the institute devoted to researching biofuels -- fuels derived from plants and other organisms.

Many university and state officials pronounced the BP alliance a victory for the environment. "A tremendous day for Mother Earth," UC President Robert Dynes declared when the partnership was announced. From a public relations standpoint, BP’s willingness to invest in alternative energy research vastly improved the company’s image, which had been sullied by a refinery explosion in Texas and a 267,000-gallon oil spill from corroding pipelines in Alaska.

Jennifer Washburn: Science's Worst Enemy: Corporate Funding

Jennifer Washburn: Science's Worst Enemy: Corporate Funding
And You Thought the Bush Administration was Bad

In recent years there have been a number of highly visible attacks on American science, everything from the fundamentalist assault on evolution to the Bush administration’s strong-arming of government scientists. But for many people who pay close attention to research and development (R&D), the biggest threat to science has been quietly occurring under the radar, even though it may be changing the very foundation of American innovation. The threat is money—specifically, the decline of government support for science and the growing dominance of private spending over American research.

The trend is undeniable. In 1965, the federal government financed more than 60 percent of all R&D in the United States. By 2006, the balance had flipped, with 65 percent of R&D in this country being funded by private interests. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, several of the nation’s science-driven agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and NASA—have been losing funding, leading to more “outsourcing” of what were once governmental science functions. The EPA, for example, recently began conducting the first nationwide study on the air quality effects of large-scale animal production. Livestock producers, not taxpayers, are slated to pay for the study. “The government is clearly increasing its reliance on industry and forming ‘joint ventures’ to accomplish research that it is unable to afford on its own anymore,” says Merrill Goozner, a program director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group.

Jennifer Washburn: Big Oil buys Berkeley

Jennifer Washburn: Big Oil buys Berkeley
The BP-UC Berkeley research deal pushes academic integrity aside for profit
Jennifer Washburn is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of "University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education"

On Feb.1, the oil giant BP announced that it had chosen UC Berkeley, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to lead the largest academic-industrial research alliance in U.S. history. If the deal is approved, BP will give $500 million over 10 years to fund a new multidisciplinary Energy Biosciences Institute devoted principally to biofuels research.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC administrators and BP executives immediately proclaimed the alliance - which is not yet a done deal - a victory for higher education and for the environment. But here's another way to see it. For a mere $50 million a year, an oil company worth $250 billion would buy a chunk of America's premier public research institutions, all but turning them into its own profit-making subsidiary.

This is shameful. The core mission of Berkeley is education, open knowledge exchange and objective research, not making money or furthering the interests of a private firm. In the last two decades, however, Cal and other universities - increasingly desperate for research dollars - have signed agreements that fail to protect their essential independence, allowing corporations excessive control over their research.

Jennifer Washburn: Stanford's Deal with Exxon Mobil Raised Concerns

Jennifer Washburn: Stanford's Deal with Exxon Mobil Raised Concerns

The alliance between the oil giant BP and the University of California, Berkeley, stands out because of its $500 million price tag, its commercial scope and the potential for BP to exert excessive influence over the academic research. But it isn’t an isolated case.

The second largest such partnership is a 10-year, $225-million deal Stanford University signed with Exxon Mobil and other energy firms in 2002 to fund a Global Climate and Energy Project.

The Stanford deal was controversial from the start, but one aspect recently captured headlines. The San Jose Mercury News reported March 11 that Steve Bing -- a movie producer and environmentalist -- was withdrawing a $2.5 million donation to Stanford and all future donations. (Bing had already donated $22.5 million to the school.) Why? Because Exxon Mobil has exploited its close relationship with Stanford in ads -- on TV and in print -- that seek to portray the company as a "green" company.

The most egregious of these was an ad in The New York Times, part of a series appearing on the commentary page, which celebrated the company’s new research partnership with the "best minds" at Stanford.

The ad suggested the global warming debate is ongoing: "Although climate has varied throughout Earth’s history from natural causes, today there is a lively debate about ... the climate’s response to the presence of more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." The ad was signed by Lynn Orr, who directs the Global Warming and Energy Project.

Jennifer Washburn: An Unholy Alliance

Jennifer Washburn: An Unholy Alliance
UC Berkeley's $500-Million Deal with BP Challenges Traditional Public-Private Partnerships

Five hundred million dollars is a lot of money -- especially for a public university. When the giant oil company BP announced Feb. 1 that it had chosen the University of California, Berkeley, to lead the largest academic-industry research consortium in U.S. history, University of California officials appeared giddy.

If the deal is approved, BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, will give $500 million over 10 years to create a multidisciplinary Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley. Berkeley would partner with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to establish the institute devoted to researching biofuels -- fuels derived from plants and other organisms.

Many university and state officials pronounced the BP alliance a victory for the environment. "A tremendous day for Mother Earth," UC President Robert Dynes declared when the partnership was announced. From a public relations standpoint, BP’s willingness to invest in alternative energy research vastly improved the company’s image, which had been sullied by a refinery explosion in Texas and a 267,000-gallon oil spill from corroding pipelines in Alaska.

But the terms of the research alliance -- and the implications for the UC system -- haven’t received sufficient scrutiny. Shortly after the BP deal was announced, Dynes said, "We are reinventing the research university in this public-private partnership."

He’s right. And that is what’s so troubling.

Jennifer Washburn: Universities For Sale

Jennifer WashburnJennifer Washburn: Universities For Sale
Academics are exploiting weak conflict-of-interest policies and cashing in on their research

Most of us place enormous faith in our universities. We trust that they are autonomous, independent institutions committed to education, scholarship, academic freedom and the production of knowledge free from the influence of special interest groups. Right?

Wrong. In the last 25 years, the United States has given birth to a market-model university, one where professors increasingly work “for hire.” Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that a major academic study — which found that antidepressants were safe and effective for pregnant women — was tainted by undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Apparently, although the study itself was financed by the federal government, most of its 13 authors — including many prominent academics — also served as paid consultants to manufacturers of antidepressants. None of these financial ties were made public.

Interview with Jennifer Washburn

Jennifer WashburnInterview with Jennifer Washburn

Interview of Jennifer Washburn, author of the book, University Inc: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education and New America Foundation fellow, by Nick Schwellenbach. Schwellenbach is a former member of the university watchdog group, University of Texas Watch (www.utwatch.org), and currently an investigator at the Project On Government Oversight (www.pogo.org).

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I've been a freelance journalist since 1995. Some years ago I received a grant from the Open Society Institute to research the growing privatization of various different areas of public life. So I wound up looking at various government services that were being contracted out to private companies. And then I stumbled upon an article about what was happening in the universities with the Bayh-Dole Act and intellectual property. Having gone to a smaller liberal arts college, I was astonished at the degree which universities themselves were engaging in commercial activities that I had no idea that they were involved in. That grew into a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly in March 2000 called "The Kept University."

Jennifer Washburn: The Best Minds Money Can Buy

Jennifer Washburn: The Best Minds Money Can Buy

Most of us place enormous faith in our universities. We trust that they are autonomous, independent institutions committed to education, scholarship, academic freedom and the production of knowledge free from the influence of special interest groups. Right?

Wrong. In the last 25 years, the United States has given birth to a market-model university, one where professors increasingly work "for hire." Just last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that a major academic study -- which found that antidepressants were safe and effective for pregnant women -- was tainted by undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Apparently, although the study itself was financed by the federal government, most of its 13 authors -- including many prominent academics -- also served as paid consultants to manufacturers of antidepressants. None of these financial ties were made public.

Reports like this have proliferated in the last decade. Today, it is common for professors to moonlight as consultants for drug firms. They receive generous stipends to join company advisory boards. For a nominal fee -- anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 -- some professors will even agree to be named as authors on journal articles ghostwritten by the drug industry and published without disclosure of company involvement.

Editors at top medical journals have warned that such commercialism threatens to undermine the integrity of academic science, but the blurring of academia and commerce continues.

Jennifer Washburn: Colleges' New Economics

Jennifer Washburn: Colleges' New Economics

A trend toward privatization and a shift in spending priorities is putting California's public colleges and universities at risk of forsaking their mandate to deliver a quality public education to the state's growing ranks of would-be college students.

Jennifer Washburn: University, Inc.: 10 Things You Should Know About Corporate Corruption on Campus

Jennifer Washburn: University, Inc.: 10 Things You Should Know About Corporate Corruption on Campus
All the ways big business is intruding on your campus – from the Kmart Chair of Marketing to threats to U.S. Innovation.

Where are your tuition dollars going? Are universities wisely managing these funds? Are corporate donors and other commercial forces changing your universities’ priorities? Are student’s interests truly being served?

Here are 10 things that you—the students—might be interested to know…

Jennifer Washburn: Studied Interest

Jennifer Washburn: Studied Interest
From our February 2005 issue: How industry is undermining academia. Adapted from the book University, Inc.

M. Michael Wolfe, a gastroenterologist at Boston University, admits he was duped by the Pharmacia Corporation, the manufacturer of the blockbuster arthritis drug Celebrex prior to its purchase by Pfizer in 2003. In the summer of 2000, The Journal of the American Medical Association asked Wolfe to write a review of a study showing that Celebrex was associated with lower rates of stomach and intestinal ulcers and other complications than two older arthritis medications, diclofenac and ibuprofen. Wolfe found the study, tracking 8,000 patients over a six-month period, persuasive, and penned a favorable review, which helped to drive up Celebrex sales.

Jennifer Washburn: Rent-a-Researcher

Jennifer Washburn: Rent-a-Researcher

Earlier this month, Sheffield University in Britain offered $252,000 to one of its senior medical professors, Aubrey Blumsohn. According to a copy of a proposed settlement released by Blumsohn, the university promised to pay him if he would agree to leave his post and not make any detrimental or derogatory statements about Sheffield or its employees. For several years, Blumsohn had been complaining of scientific misconduct. His concerns primarily revolved around a $250,000 research contract between Sheffield and the Ohio-based Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals. Blumsohn claimed that the company had denied him access to key data and then tried to ghostwrite his analysis of it. He further alleged that P&G had engaged in such practices before.

Jennifer Washburn: Tainted to the Core. Why conflicts of interest are hazardous to your health

Jennifer Washburn: Tainted to the Core. Why conflicts of interest are hazardous to your health 

In the fall of 2001, the editors of 12 prominent medical journals collectively announced that they would refuse to publish research on new prescription drugs unless the authors provided assurances that they had had unimpeded access to the data and were fully responsible for the paper's conclusions. The announcement was an extraordinary admission of just how extensive industry control over medical research had become. The editors noted that more and more, the authors of scientific papers -- even authors based at prestigious universities -- did not have access to the complete trial data. In some cases, the editors observed, authors were unable to publish without prior authorization from the corporate sponsor.

Jennifer Washburn: Selling Out. Shouldn't we be pleased that universities are increasingly business minded?

Jennifer Washburn: Selling Out. Shouldn't we be pleased that universities are increasingly business minded?

Elias Zerhouni, director of the US National Institutes of Health, last week took one small step along the road to repairing the tainted ethical reputation of government science. New conflict-of-interest rules that he announced will at last bar NIH scientists from moonlighting as consultants for private industry. The move follows a series of investigations by The Los Angeles Times and the US Congress that uncovered extensive financial ties - many previously undisclosed - between agency scientists and the drug and biotech firms that have a financial stake in the outcome of their research.

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