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Sierra Daily

Oct 15, 2010

Oiled-School Ties

4709080016_9af34b6f70_m Welcome to the University of Big Oil. According to a report released yesterday by the Center for American Progress, $833 million dollars in grants from major oil companies may have compromised the ethics of energy research at major universities.

Corporate sponsorship of research is hardly new, but report author Jennifer Washburn, who penned the book University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education in 2006, contends that the rules that universities rely on to ensure independence and impartiality have been largely set aside to procure 10 lucrative alternative-energy research grants from energy giants BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.

According to Big Oil Goes to College, “In nine of the 10 energy-research agreements we analyzed, the university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of the 10 alliances actually give the industry sponsors full governance control.”

The report says that Stanford University’s $225 million in funding from a consortium of companies led by ExxonMobil to study technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions has come at a steep price: “As part of the Stanford contract, industry controls all four voting seats on the research alliance's governing body, and peer review of faculty research proposals is done ‘at the discretion of industry sponsors’." And the executive committee overseeing BP’s 10-year, $500 million sponsorship of the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California and University of Illinois, long criticized by researcher Washburn, consists of 3 members with financial ties to firms that could profit from the institute’s research, and a remaining ten members with vested interests that “could compromise their ability to evaluate incoming faculty research in an impartial and disinterested manner.”

For their part, officials at Stanford, the University of California, and the University of Illinois say they have adequate safeguards in place.

--Reed McManus


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