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  • Public Policy for the 21st Century: Addressing Potential Conflicts in University-Industry Collaboration
  • Teresa Isabelle Daza Campbell (bio)

As the economy shifts from a heavy emphasis on defense science and technology toward applying university innovation to commercial markets, decision makers within universities, businesses, and government agencies are eager to learn how to shape successful partnerships. These collaborative 1 relationships permeate universities across the country, taking a variety of forms that range from consulting to industrial affiliates programs to collaborative research. While these relationships offer numerous benefits (Fairweather, 1988; Geisler & Rubenstein, 1989; Peters & Fusfeld, 1982), [End Page 357] many policy-related concerns grow from the fear that, as individuals within universities become more attuned to the needs and rewards of the economic marketplace, academic priorities may be replaced with profit-oriented priorities. Because university-industry relationships introduce unique commercial considerations into the academic realm (Ashford, 1983; Caldert, 1983), they have received significant attention in the media and have been given high priority on the federal agenda, even though the actual proportion of collaborative faculty remains fairly small. Of course, a large number of collaborative activities are not problematic, but the partnerships that do experience difficulties have been highlighted sufficiently to raise a number of concerns. Among the potential problems least understood are topics related to potential conflicts—the focus of this study.

In a barrage of articles, potential conflict issues that might arise from collaborative relationships have been propelled to the forefront of public attention. The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications have frequently and consistently indicated that problems outlined in the literature as potential are, in fact, occurring in practice (Blumenstyk, 1993a–d; Carey, 1992, 1994; Cordes, 1992, 1993a–f, 1994; Jaschik, 1993; Marshall, 1995; Nicklin, 1993a–c; Ponce, 1994; Solomon, 1993; Wheeler, 1993). These articles have prompted investigations by governmental agencies to determine the accuracy and effects of these serious allegations. At the same time, academic researchers, university administrators, and representatives of federal agencies are seeking ways to minimize potential conflicts.

Several scholars have eloquently discussed some of the difficulties that might arise out of collaboration between the academic and industrial sectors (Ashford, 1983; Caldert, 1983; Fairweather, 1988; Geisler & Rubenstein, 1989; Peters & Etzkowitz, 1900; Peters & Fusfeld, 1982); however, few have explored collaborators’ views toward the specific issues raised. This study seeks to investigate empirically the views of university and industry representatives toward specific potential conflict topics. Most scholars approach the topic of university-industry relationships by focusing on norms and counternorms, suggesting ways to accommodate differences between the two cultures; in doing so, they assume that the differences will be preserved. In contrast, this study operates from the premise that the two organizations are adapting to each others’ needs and developing ways to satisfy the requirements of both cultures. This research explores the possibility that, as these relationships evolve, collaborative individuals may be developing a different set of norms from those held by noncollaborative individuals. By investigating perspectives related to potential conflicts, this research highlights key shifts that may be emerging and provides a better understanding of the complex set of values and beliefs held by representatives in the academic and industrial sectors. [End Page 358]


Since conflicts issues are only nebulously defined, I conducted a literature search to identify distinctive areas of concern. Scholars generally discussed three areas of potential conflicts: conflict of interest, conflict of commitment, and conflict over internal equity. I used these three areas as the basis of inquiry to develop a survey instrument.

Potential Conflict of Interest

As discussed in the literature, conflict of interest issues center on financial or economic issues that stem from use of funds, inappropriate influence, and the ownership of patents and licensing. For example, university ownership of company stock can raise several potential conflict of interest questions. Some authors argue that a university can benefit from a steady flow of revenue earned from equity participation in a new business development (Bok, 1982; Sanford, 1982), while others suggest that university ownership of stock creates a vested interest that is likely to have an adverse affect on the status, treatment, and recruitment of faculty (Fassin, 1991; Geisler & Rubenstein, 1989; Lee, forthcoming; Peters & Etzkowitz, 1990; Peters & Fusfeld, 1982; Rahm, 1994...

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