UH must refine policy on classified research before launching UARC
THE recent recommendation by University of Hawaii Interim President David McClain to proceed with a University Affiliated Research Center -- but without conducting classified research for the first three years -- highlights the question of what kind of classified research, if any, is acceptable for UH. Before deciding about the UARC, this question should be addressed by UH faculty, and university policy should be clarified.
Some kinds of classified research would require such severe infringements of academic freedom that it would make a mockery of the goal in current university policy to "press for maximum openness among agencies -- governmental or private -- that place any kind of restriction upon access to information of a scholarly character."
The most egregious infringements would be research whose results are classified from the beginning and from which foreign nationals are excluded. I am not aware that any of the existing classified contracts at UH involve these restrictions, but very little information about them has been made public. It seems essential to make public information on past and current classified contracts as part of a faculty review of UH policy.
I believe that the following steps are necessary:
» The UH administration should make public a list of current classified contracts, along with the name of the principal investigator, funding agency and a brief summary of the research. This information was provided in May 2001 in response to questions I asked at a Board of Regents meeting.
» Have a faculty review of these contracts as part of a process to clarify UH policy on classified research. In particular, this review should consider whether pre-publication reviews by sponsoring agencies and restrictions on what can be published are consistent with Manoa Faculty Senate resolutions. The March 16, 2005, resolution affirms that UH-Manoa "support(s) only research for which there is a reasonable expectation that timely publication of the results of the research will not be restricted by its sponsor."
The Jan. 29, 1986, resolution recommended that "The University will accept no contract or grant which requires classification or limitation in publication." The review should explicitly address whether the UARC contract provision allowing the Navy to restrict unclassified information it deems "sensitive and inappropriate for disclosure" is acceptable.
» Revise UH policy to explicitly prohibit projects that exclude foreign nationals or for which results are classified from the beginning. It seems to me that such restrictions are fundamentally incompatible with academic freedom even with good intentions and oversight committees composed of people with security clearances.
Discussions about the UARC have revealed considerable confusion about UH policy on classified research and differences about what kind of research is acceptable. A faculty review starting from the recent reports by the Manoa Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Classified and Proprietary Research and by the Ad Hoc Committee on the UARC seems essential before refining UH policy and before deciding about the UARC or new classified research projects.
Michael Jones is an associate physicist in the Physics Department at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.