Recommendations of the Provost’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Tobacco Settlement Issues for Academic Freedom
This committee was formed to advise the Provost on an issue that arose because of the University’s eligibility for tobacco settlement funds. A State committee charged with distributing the funds decided that it would make no distribution to institutions receiving funding from tobacco companies or entities basically controlled by tobacco companies.
Starting with the principles presented in the report of that earlier ad hoc committee on academic freedom, the members of this new committee considered the issues involved in this case. Committee members recognized that it is not unusual for potential funding sources to impose limitations on those who receive their awards. In some cases, those restrictions are so onerous that the University is obliged to take a stand and refuse to abide by them. However, the committee also found that there was precedent, often due to conflicts with institutional priorities, for precluding individual investigators from independently approaching certain pre-specified potential funding sources to support their area of research.
Specifically, the issue identified by this committee is whether researchers could accept funding from sources (tobacco company or related entities) that would result in the denial to other researchers of the opportunity to receive funding from tobacco settlement funds, when the latter source was providing substantially more funding than the former.
In such a case, the committee recommends the following procedures:
1) Every effort must be made to establish a clear documentary record of the restriction that the (potential) funder is imposing. The University should never restrict a researcher’s right to seek funding based upon unverified information.
2) Every effort should be made to dissuade the funder from imposing the restriction or otherwise to resolve the problem creatively, even if, and perhaps especially when, the funder is a governmental entity. A governmental entity restricting the search for knowledge is especially egregious in an open society.
3) Decision makers must carefully balance the costs and benefits of a restrictive decision, not solely based on financial considerations, but by assigning substantial weight to the ability of researchers to pursue ideas without restraint.
4) Whenever a researcher must sacrifice investments of effort already made in order to abide by a restriction (e.g., abandon a proposal already written or a future proposal for which substantial pilot work has been performed), every effort should be made to provide support for that researcher. This procedure was followed in this particular case.
5) Since the Provost is the ultimate guardian of the integrity of the academic enterprise within the University, the Provost should approve and announce any restriction on access to funding sources by one or more members of the University community.
The Committee expressed the hope that the recommended procedures would be helpful in dealing with future issues of this nature. Recognizing that the academy is, and will continue to be, situated within a complex political and financial structure, the University must remain committed to the basic principle that faculty are free to select the questions they pursue, and based on results obtained through sound academic and scientific inquiry, propose and defend answers to those questions. Academic freedom demands that, barring overriding concerns, faculty be free to pursue their inquiries unfettered. Whenever resource conflicts have the effect of limiting inquiry, the University must make every effort to remove those conflicts or, if removal is impossible, to ameliorate them.