Universities should value transparency

American colleges and universities should disclose the relationships they have with private companies.

The increasing specialization of higher education programs, intended to prepare students for professional careers in focused disciplines, has paved the way for private companies to play a significant role in students’ academic careers .

The University of Minnesota has many partnerships with companies both in Minnesota and around the world. These partnerships have given students valuable, real-world experience that greatly improves their job prospects. But increasing corporate influence could potentially involve less distinction between University and corporate agendas.

A New York Times article reported Feb. 9 that the director of anti-corruption organization Transparency International worked with a German student union last year to create University Watch, a “crowd-sourced website that tracks university-business partnerships.”

Rather than calling for any kind of halt to corporate influence in higher education, Christian Humborg, executive director for Transparency International’s German division, told the Times that “we demand that the details of this cooperation be open.” University Watch was the result of a scandal involving two German universities that had secretly allowed a bank to have authority over a university program.

With increasing corporate connections potentially involving the funding for research projects, universities should acknowledge potential conflicts of interest and make them known to students when a project obtains corporate backing.

While the University has nothing to hide, the nation’s colleges and universities should create pre-emptive measures and policies to show students and the general public the distinctions between corporate and university interests.