Monday, July 20, 2009

U. of California Shouldn't Avoid Debate

In my previous post, AAHRPP and the Unchecked Box, I mentioned a 2008 memo, " “Unchecking the Box” on the FWA – Issues and Guidance," by Rebecca Landes, research policy coordinator at the University of California's Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

The memo deserves a second look, since it shows the tensions within a university administration when faced with challenges from social scientists.

On the one hand, the memo acknowledges the complaints:

There is increasing pressure of late from social science, behavioral and humanities researchers to modify IRB review of research in these disciplines. While there may be good reasons to apply different review standards to different types of research, changes in the application of subject protection rules at UC should be effected through systemwide discussion and consensus. Campus by campus modifications to subject protection rules for nonfederally funded research would lead to confusion and chaos.

I do not see why campus-by-campus modifications in this area should sow more confusion than already exists. I doubt, for example, that UCLA's absurd policies were cleared with other campuses before being promulgated. But at least this portion of the memo calls for "systemwide discussion and consensus."

But continue reading, and you get to a section on "Pros and Cons" of promising to apply federal regulations no nonfunded research. And here's one of the "pros": "Avoids opening up the debate on differing protections for different disciplines, e.g., social science, behavioral and humanities research."

So which is the real goal of the University of California administration: to foster "systemwide discussion," or to avoid opening up a debate? Only one choice is worthy of a great university system.

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