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U Maryland Senate courts controversy as it considers amending restricted research policy

By David Schwartz
Published: February 14th, 2017

The University of Maryland’s Senate is voting on a controversial set of measures, opposed by supporters of open research, that would make it easier to collaborate with the intelligence community by limiting transparency by embracing what is termed “restricted research.”

Restricted research refers to limiting what findings can be published, and may be imposed by corporations for competitive reasons or done out of national security concerns. The schools is already using this approach in certain cases, and the measures being considered would provide update policy and allow for more transparency in the process.

Proponents argue it would bring more clarity and guidance to the current policy, which dates to 1991. But it has raised objections about the appropriateness of such research and how it fits with the academic principles of transparency. If the senate passes it, the report would go to university President Wallace Loh’s desk for approval.

Keith Marzullo, dean of the information studies college, chaired the subcommittee that drafted the report. was the subcommittee’s chair. “The USM policy allows us to do restricted research, it’s just that the conditions under which it can be done are not clear,” Marzullo said. “There’s been a healthy debate. The committee has been in general agreement, but we want to get it right.” 

Beth Tennyson is the sole graduate student on the 16-member subcommittee. She is a graduate student in the material sciences and engineering department and stands behind their report. “I think as the current USM policy stands, just in general, there was a need for this subcommittee to rewrite and maybe figure it out,” Tennyson said. “As our current policy stands, it’s very unclear.”

The vote comes as this university also considers a plan to create the Maryland Global Institute for Cybersecurity, which deepen existing relationships with secretive government organizations such as the NSA and with private companies that conduct proprietary research, which can remain confidential for a given time.

But expanding restricted research risks impeding on academic transparency, particularly for a public university, said Joann Boughman, the university system’s senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. “The company would not only want to protect its own intellectual property, but may require the faculty member not to publish,” Boughman said. “That’s where we have to start looking at things very seriously because of the basic need for us to share information with the world.” 

Potential delays in publishing research could place students or pre-tenure faculty at a disadvantage, the report cautioned. The subcommittee recommended unit heads advise those involved in restricted research that getting a promotion or tenure don’t take unpublished research into account.

Michael Wertheimer, a former NSA research director and professor in the public policy school, said the raised concerns are legitimate ones that deserve to be addressed and monitored as plans for the institute go forward.

Although there has been no formal announcement for the institute, it has been operating as an initiative under the provost’s office. Daniel Ennis, the executive director for the initiative, said an announcement could be coming either this month or in March.

If implemented, the cybersecurity institute would mean increased work with the intelligence community, and would likely bring in research revenue from the intelligence world, especially organizations such as the NSA and FBI.

Tapping into those funds wouldn’t benefit just researchers or faculty, Wertheimer said. To attract students, the institute would offer a scholarship component funded by companies that would allow interested students to graduate debt-free if they pursue a cybersecurity concentration. The money would be not be tied to any type of cash-for-work requirement either, Wertheimer said.

This university, should it amend its policy, could be an ideal place to flesh out Wertheimer’s vision of a cooperative research triangle that academia would form with government and industry.

“The location of Maryland being close to D.C., close to the NSA, close to other academic institutions, I think that’s huge,” Ennis said. “If you want a triad … Maryland is ideally postured as the largest public university in the immediate metropolitan area to have success in the cyber fight. It’s just an ideal place to expand the cyber piece.”

Source: The Diamondback

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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