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WSU researchers cry foul over influence of industry sponsors

By David Schwartz
Published: November 14th, 2017

Thirty faculty members in Washington State University’s Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources College say administrators there are bending to the influence of industry in setting research and employment priorities, according to an article published in the Capital Press. Two researchers who spoke with the news outlet describe career obstacles after losing funding from agriculture industry groups.

“The industry is dictating what to do. If the industry says, ‘We don’t like somebody,’ WSU has to comply,” charged Nnadozie Oraguzie, a researcher studying the propagation of sweet cherry trees at WSU until he resigned in 2016. “They don’t want to lose the money they’re getting from industry.”

Ron Mittelhammer, the college’s dean, defended the faculty’s academic freedom, noting that industry should not have the “only say,’ though he stopped well short of denying that their wishes could at least be considered in faculty employment decisions. He said that if a researcher was deemed to be underperforming by the college, the reasons for that evaluation could include “issues with stakeholders,” but that that would not be the only factor considered.

The 30 faculty members made their concerns known to Donna Potts, WSU chapter president of the American Association of University Professors. “They do feel industry is calling all the shots,” she told the Capital Press.

Kalvinder Gill, a wheat geneticist who held an endowed chair at WSU, says he lost the endowment after the Washington Grain Commission pulled his funding in 2014. College administrators “tried to push me out as hard as they could,” he alleged. Both the Grain Commission and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission say they have no role in employment decisions by WSU.

Source: The Scientist

Posted under: Industry-Sponsored Research Week

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