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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 1998

Charting the Way for Research Ethics

A Simon Fraser University committee has recommended full compensation for Russel Ogden's legal expenses and lost wages in connection with his appearance before a 1994 coroner's inquiry. The committee also recommended the SFU administration offer Mr. Russel an apology. Mr. Ogden, an M.A. student at the time, had braved a contempt of court charge to protect the confidentiality of his research sources and uphold broader principles of academic freedom. The committee also recommended the administration extend legal support and protection to graduate students engaged in university approved and supervised research.

Following the committee's recommendations, SFU has agreed to pay the roughly $10,000 it cost Mr. Ogden to defend himself at the coroner's inquiry and to apologize to the former student of criminology. SFU President Jack Blaney has referred the third recommendation to the vice president academic for further consideration.

Meanwhile, controversy is building from the research ethics review committee's decision to require that potential research participants be informed that a court may compel disclosure of information they provide to researchers. Simon Fraser University Faculty Association is considering filing a policy grievance challenging the ethics review committee's decision. According to Association spokesperson Rick Coe, the new rule breaches the academic freedom provisions of the framework agreement and violates the committee's own policies. Opposition to the new requirement is growing in SFU's criminology department where faculty members maintain the disclosure provision is unethical. It exposes research participants to harm and compromises researchers' ability to protect confidential information. Concern over the issue is creating a serious backlog in the approval of research proposals within the department.

A SFU research ethics policy revision task force has been set up to resolve the controversy. Chaired by Professor Ellen Gee, the task force is mandated to prepare a revision of the existing research ethics policy and to advise on its use. The task force will consult with faculty, students, staff and funding agencies. Professor Gee says the task force's desire is to receive as much information from as many people as possible. The task force is expected to present its findings in March of 1999.