Letter: University conflicts of interest

January 26, 2001

The dismissal of researcher Thanos Mergoupis by the London School of Economics raises troubling questions about academic freedom in the United Kingdom ("Autonomy row hits LSE as sponsor axes research", THES, January 12). In the United States and Sweden, universities have moved closer to corporate sponsors as a way to create new business opportunities and, in the US at least, to fund research.

Such connections have long been viewed with suspicion by those who argue that corporate sponsors can create conflicts of interest. This is especially the case when safeguards are weak.

Judging from the article, the LSE failed to conduct any qualitative review of Mergoupis's research before he was dismissed. This can easily be viewed as a sanction of a conflict or interest and an invitation to further breaches of the university's integrity.

Universities can play an important role in enriching our understanding of the world and can make important contributions to regional development. The fanfare about globalisation suggests, however, that many may be tempted to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

The LSE has long had a international reputation for independence in judgement. The Mergoupis incident threatens to seriously undermine this reputation. The LSE would be well advised to correct its apparent transgressions.

Jonathan M. Feldman
Work and Culture Programme
National Institute for Working Life
Stockholm, Sweden

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