Robert H. Atwell, former president of the American Council on Education, and Marvin Wachman, Chancellor of Temple University, who are on the board of directors of Collegis - a company that manages campus computing systems.
Charles E. Young, Chancellor Emeritus of U.C.L.A., who was recently appointed to the board of directors of Student Advantage, which is a Internet company that markets to students.
president of Teachers College of Columbia University, who was recently
appointed to the board of directors of Blackboard, Inc. - a company that
provides distance education software.
While some of the people who serve on the various boards do so without compensation, many receive some kind of compensation or reimbursement for the service. Most of the academics involved with these private businesses claim that they are motivated by a desire to understand the dynamics of these new enterprises, and how they may affect higher education in the future. These may sound like noble goals; however, the potential for conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest ought to be obvious. To Chancellor Reed's credit, he was smart enough to see the potential for conflict so he resigned (although one might wonder why he didn't recognize the potential for a conflict before accepting the appointment).
Clearly, businesses that serve the higher education market need to have input from knowledgeable leaders from academia. Likewise, academia needs to be aware of developments in private industry that could affect their operations. The rapid pace of technological development makes this imperative. However, it is also important that the stakeholders in academia (faculty, staff, and students) know that purchasing decisions are not going to be affected by corporate ties.
Unfortunately, it is not possible for someone to serve two masters well. If an academic official has influence over the purchasing process for his or her institution, that official should not serve on any corporate board of directors or advisory board for any company that does business with his or her institution.
There are ways that companies can get the input they need from academia, and vice versa without creating these conflicts or appearances of conflict. For example, many corporate boards include retired academic officials, for whom the conflict issue is much diminished. Likewise, active academic officials can serve on industry-wide advisory groups and panels. By not having direct ties with any particular company, the chances for a conflict again are much reduced.
Professor invites your comments.
©2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.