Is Science Policy Going Awry?

News Feature

Members of the University's Science Policy Committee have charged that several provisions of a little-publicized University decision last May fly in the face of more than two years of work by the committee.

The decision, which allows the University to accept stock in a fledgling firm as partial compensation for the right to a Harvard-owned patent, was made by the University's highest governing board without the consultation of the committee--the very body charged with investiating this issue.

"The science policy report contains a specific set of recommendations and explains them in the context of the real world of scientific research and technology transfer," said committee Chair Jerry R. Green. "The new policy, in contrast, seems to have been created in a vacuum."

In 1993, then-provost Green organized the Science Policy Committee to address what he called a lack of a coherent University policy on issues of institutional conflict of interest.

In September, after two years of intermittent meetings and deliberations, the committee issued a lengthy report. Some committee members said the University's decision ignores the spirit of those recommendations.


After enacting a policy decision without waiting for a report they knew was in the making, administrators acknowledge they then failed to inform the University community that such a policy had been enacted at all.

Participants in the policymaking process have called the affair a "glitch." Administrators have acknowledged a communications breakdown. And many of those responsible for enacting and living with the new policy said they are largely unaware of its existence.

Some members of the committee have even speculated about the existence of an administrative grudge against Green, the committee's chair.

Green, now Leverett professor of interfaculty teaching and research, resigned as University provost 18 months ago amid reports that he could not tolerate his boss' management style.

The Policies

The issues detailed in the science policy report included a reversal of Harvard's practice of refusing to accept stock in lieu of licensing fees if the payment of such fees would be impractical--as in the case of small, start-up companies.

The committee was already tackling these issues when Green resigned as provost in April 1994.

Advance drafts of the report, were widely circulated by mid-April. Green spent most of this summer finishing up the report, and officially released it in September.

In its final report--and in many of the advanced drafts--the committee broke with longstanding Harvard tradition by recommending the acceptance of equity, provided certain precautions were in place.

These precautions were intended to head off problems experienced by other universities, such as the University of Arizona, which spent $2.5 million as a result of a lawsuit over shared capital and unclear policies.