November 27, 2003

Faculty Debates Merits Of Corporate Sponsors

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On Oct. 22, the Faculty Senate held a forum to discuss opening up the University to Strategic Corporate Alliances for research funding, after a committee met during the past year to discuss the issue. Cynthia R. Farina, law, and associate dean and secretary of the University faculty, moderated the group of five faculty members who were the main participants in the forum.

The forum was held for faculty members to express opinions about the possibility of increased corporate investment in Cornell research. “Last spring, the Faculty Senate received a report from the Local Advisory Committee on a plan that was drafted by the Development Office for seeking strategic corporate alliances in five initial target industries in the new life science area,” Farina said. While some professors described positive experiences with corporate-funded research, other expressed reservations at implementing the policy.

“Under a corporate strategic alliance a corporation such as a large pharmaceutical company provides tens of millions of dollars to fund an entire department in a university or an entire research program. In exchange, the university gives the corporation the right to exclusive licenses to academic research of the department. In other words, the corporation gets an exclusive monopoly control over academic research results,” Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, said.

“From my point of view, the most important aspect of the alliances is the potential for expanding the research opportunities for the Cornell community. … The additional avenue of support is important to our institutional flexibility,” said Robert Richardson, vice provost for research.

Along with Richardson, Inge Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development, and Kraig Adler, vice provost for the new life sciences, have been involved with planning the new project for corporate support. According to Reichenbach, their team project has been by advised by the research subcommittee of the board of trustees, headed by Thomas Mann.

During her remarks, Reichenbach stressed the University’s concern with funding the new life sciences while raising tuition costs as little as possible. “At this point of the $466 million in research expenditures of 2002, only 5 percent or $25 million came directly from corporate sponsored research,” she said.

“[Massachusetts Institute of Technology] is, if you will, the mother of institutions that has corporate strategic alliances. … [In 2002,] they had $100 million or 27 percent of their total research expenditures came from direct corporate sponsored programs, and $45 million of the $100 million were corporate strategic alliances,” Reichenbach said.

Thomas Coleman, computer science, and director of the Cornell Theory Center, was one of several faculty members at the forum who have had more experience with corporate sponsorship. “First I want to say that over 80 percent of the Cornell Theory Center’s support is from corporations. So that’s a lot. … Without corporate involvement, we wouldn’t have a Theory Center,” Coleman said.

He also stressed the need for patience and nuance when working with corporations, saying, “Both sides have to understand fully the expectations. Some of those expectations go beyond the legal work, and it should be revisited quite frequently, because what happens at corporations, the players change a lot.”

At the forum, discussion often referred to a corporate relationship between University of California at Berkeley and Novartis, a Swiss drug company. Farina said, “Basically, the company paid $5 million a year to finance basic research (for a five-year period) for plant biology at Berkeley … The company asked for and got 30 days advance notice to review all proposed publications and presentations by participating faculty and the graduate students. … [The company had the] authority to delay publications or presentations beyond the 30 days specified in a contract, for an additional 60 days to allow time for the company to file patents.”

“The Novartis case is the famous icon of the system gone astray, where all the results of a particular department in a particular institution were initially promised to a specific corporation. What we want to guard against at all costs is any such all-encompassing agreement,” Richardson said.

However, Lieberwitz said, “A corporation that gives tens of millions of dollars to one department will insist on a return on its investment. This return to the corporation comes in the form of control, that is monopoly control through an exclusive license for sole corporate use of the academic research discovery.”

Archived article by Aliza Wasserman