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New committee to look at Institute policies on scientific information access, disclosure

Provost Robert A. Brown and Professor Stephen C. Graves, chair of the faculty, have formed a faculty committee to re-examine MIT's policies on access to and disclosure of scientific information.

Chairing the committee is Institute Professor Sheila E. Widnall; members are Vincent W.S. Chan, director of the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; Institute Professor Jerome I. Friedman of physics; Graves; Professor of Political Science Harvey Sapolsky, director of the Security Studies Program; and Professor of Biology Frank Solomon.

The Institute's policy since the late 1960s has been that, to the greatest extent possible, classified research is not carried out on the main campus but confined to Lincoln Laboratory. Section 14.2 of MIT Policies and Procedures subtitled " Open Research and the Free Interchange of Information " states:

"The encouragement of research and inquiry into intellectual areas of great promise is one of the most basic obligations MIT has to its faculty, to its students and to society at large. The profound merits of a policy of open research and free interchange of information among scholars is essential to MIT's institutional responsibility and to the interests of the nation as a whole. Openness requires that as a general policy MIT not undertake, on the campus, classified research or research whose results may not be published without prior permission--for example, without permission of governmental or industrial research sponsors. Openness also requires that, once they are at MIT, foreign faculty, students, and scholars not be singled out for restriction in their access to MIT's educational and research activities."

The committee has been asked to consider and report on the following issues:

  • Do current policies provide adequate guidance to consider policies on classified research in the context of MIT in the 21st century?
  • What are the implications of faculty and graduate student participation in research at Lincoln Lab that may have classified components?
  • MIT's existing policy addresses the conduct of classified research but not the use of classified material on campus. Can the existing policy be interpreted to provide guidance about the use of classified material?
  • Funding from industry has caused concerns about proprietary research. Do MIT policies respond to this potential conflict with our academic values for openness of research?

The committee's work is happening at a time of change in laws governing access and disclosure of research materials and information following the Sept. 11 attacks. Restrictions on access to sensitive biological agents, the application of export control provisions to university researchers, and a growing pressure to treat research results as sensitive are creating a new landscape for faculty, students and MIT as an institution.

The committee has been asked to present a report at the May faculty meeting. Faculty, students and staff with comments or questions about the work of the Committee on Access to and Disclosure of Scientific Information should contact Helen Samuels, who serves as staff to the committee, at, x8-0310 or Room 11-268.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 13, 2002.

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