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UC Research Funding Sources Draw Ethical Concerns

UC Irvine, like other educational institutions, does not rely only on the state for funds to conduct research but instead must seek funding from outside sources. Sometimes, the sources of funding for specific types of research can be controversial. Though faculty within many universities have denied funding from sources that they feel are not conducive to their research, the UC is drawing criticism because it is considering a policy which does not allow academic departments to deny any funding they receive.
More than half of UC research funds are bankrolled by contracts and grants from the federal government, while the rest are funded by the state government and internal institutional sources. These private sources include businesses, charities and foundations, contracts from other universities and individual contributions.
‘One of the big concerns right now is that there are several campuses that have adopted policies that deny funding from tobacco companies,’ said Kim Homer, a UC Davis alumna and a representative of Campuses Organized and United for Good Health, a student-run non-profit organization which works to create healthy environments for students.
Health departments in several UC campuses have already denied funding from tobacco companies. These denials were documented by the UC Berkeley ad hoc Tobacco Policy Committee.
Homer said that the University Committee on Research Policy recently published a report stating that the UC administration wants to have a policy that will not allow faculty units to deny funding from anyone. UCORP submitted the resolution to the UC Academic Council.
The resolution determined that only individual faculty members have the right to accept or refuse research support, while a combined ‘faculty vote or administrative decision’ do not.
UCORP believes that a group faculty vote or an administrative decision allows individual faculty members who are offered grants to ‘succumb to external and illegitimate incentives such as monetary gain or political coercion.’ Therefore, individual faculty members ‘must form their point of view by applying professional standards of inquiry.’
David Mears, director of research administration under the UC Office of the President, believes that denying funding actually puts restrictions on the faculty’s ‘academic freedom’ to seek sponsorship.
Any official policy change that denies departments the right to refuse funding from external sources is still pending.
Homer disagrees with Mears and believes that a department should have the right to decide what is best for itself.
‘Faculty units should be able to identify what is good and bad for their department,’ Homer said. ‘These groups of people in a faculty unit have recognized tobacco companies as tainted companies that have used research falsely [and] use universities to gain public credibility.’
Students have mixed opinions about sources of funding.
‘I don’t think there should be any restrictions, considering that we are low on funds and everyone’s cutting funding for the UC,’ said Cressa Paz, a third-year economics major. ‘Funding is really important, so it doesn’t really matter where it comes from.’
Emil Kuruvilla, a third-year international studies major and the chief of staff to ASUCI President Gabriel Ayass, believes that departments should have the ‘right’ to deny funding from sources.
‘Every department has the academic right to challenge companies giving research money,’ Kuruvilla said. ‘There’s an irony in accepting tobacco [companies’] money for lung cancer research. As a UC campus, we have a social responsibility.’
Kuruvilla is currently trying to get support from the UCI Academic Senate, ASUCI and the Cross-Cultural Center to stop such actions.
According to Kuruvilla, UC President Robert C. Dynes is in favor of changing the ‘academic freedom’ policy but will allow the Academic Senates from each of the UC schools to choose whether to support the change or not.