George Mason University, my employer and my home, has issued a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on Histories and Journalism, modeled closely on the excellent policies at Columbia and University of California, San Diego.
The Mason procedure states:
Many projects involving histories or journalism methods are not likely to meet the definition of “research” stated in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Regulations for the Protection of Human Subjects at 45 CFR Part 46, Subpart A: “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” Projects that do not meet this definition do not need to be submitted to the IRB for review.
Historians and journalists typically use collected information to explain past or current events but not to create theories, principles, or statements of relationships that are predictive of future events or that can be widely applied. Such activities would not be considered “generalizable knowledge.”
However, when projects at Mason are, in fact, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge, such projects must be submitted to ORIA. Upon submission, such projects may be granted exemption from IRB review, handled through the expedited review process, or reviewed by the full IRB, as appropriate.
Oral history projects conducted by, or under the supervision of, Mason faculty, staff or students should be conducted in accordance with the guidelines established by the Oral History Association Principles and Best Practices. Journalism projects conducted by, or under the supervision of, Mason faculty, staff or students should be conducted in accordance with the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. A flow chart and examples, intended to be helpful in this evaluation, are provided at the end of this SOP.
I do hope that revisions to the Common Rule will relieve individual universities of the need to write such policies. While we wait, however, I am grateful to the good people at Columbia and UCSD for pointing the way, and to all those at Mason who showed their commitment to Freedom and Learning.