Buying Research

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. This legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed an all-time high number of bills keeping records exempt from the public. One exemption has students and faculty worried that colleges could end up in the pocket of corporations.

Florida’s legislature gave universities a little more privacy this year. A bill passed that would exempt university foundation meetings from being open to the public if they’re talking about research funding. But United Faculty of Florida President and Florida State professor Jennifer Proffitt says it has consequences.

“The potential to allow for corporate influence on research which of course effects academic integrity.”

Donors are already allowed to remain anonymous, and backers say this covers ideas that have yet to be patented and could be stolen. Profitt says the meetings were all the public had left. “At least it’s an open meeting, I think it’s less likely for deals that could potentially effect academic integrity would be made, at least there’d be some sunshine on the process.”

Students were speaking out against the bill during legislative session but those efforts failed. Now they’re trying to organize a veto campaign.

Jerry Funt and the Florida State Progress Coaltion are worried that the bill makes it easier for corporations to push their agenda. “With private money comes private ideas. That’s not always the case but sometimes it is the case.”

The First Amendment Foundation says universities already find ways around giving up information under existing law.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation says, “Even if you’re allowed to come in a meeting, under the sunshine law, they’re going to be discussing things in code. Project X, Project Magellan.”

The Governor has two weeks to sign the bill into law. The bill met the two-thirds majority decision needed to create a public records exemption in Florida’s House by only four votes.

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