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Editorial: Research Grants

Sept. 26, 1996

University should analyze motives, integrity before accepting money from organizations

The issue:

Grants are a vital part of innovative research and testing.

Our view:

Researchers and the University must consider the motives and integrity of the research sponsor before accepting the money.

One of the hallmarks of a respected institution is research. Research allows the examination of ideas and problems and helps people gain better understanding. At its best, it draws the best in faculty and students and offers a chance to understand or improve a given subject.

Such academic vigilance requires not only devoted professors and students, but a great deal of cold hard cash as well.

Foundations, individuals and universities often make these exercises possible, creating partnerships beneficial for both the donor and the institution.

Dr. Maxwell Shauck, chairman of the aviation sciences department, has built a strong reputation as an innovator though his work with ethanol-fueled aircraft. In the past year, he was awarded a state research contract to investigate the possibilities of alternative fuels for turbine (jet) engines. More than $1 million landed in his hands to purchase a twin-engine plane to test the possibilities of different fuels that would be less harmful to the environment. The benefits could make one of our mobile society's transportation means cleaner.

However, the hands that hold the purse strings of a grant can create potential problems. Sometimes the money comes with certain requirements that may or may not tamper with the outcome or interpretation of the data gathered.

Truly dangerous is the anonymous grant. A researcher may complete a study, fully satisfied with the integrity of the work, only to have the sponsor step forward and misuse or misinterpret the study for his own agenda.

A case in point would be the Siebens grant offered to two Baylor professors. Several questions arise from the approach of the study. Why would a professor of marketing and a professor of political science be asked to examine a department of which they would have little prior knowledge? Why wasn't the journalism department notified about the possible study?

The journalism department should applaud the professors for refusing the funding. Regardless of the findings, such a study under the funding and influence of an organization with such a definite political agenda would damage the integrity of the journalism department. While the study may be harmless enough, it provides a foothold for the Siebens Foundation to exercise its arch-conservative agenda on the department.

Without the benefit of direct state funds, Baylor needs grants to expand the faculty's ability to research. However, the University must be careful who they allow to exert influence upon itself and eventually, the students.

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