Top scholars face new disclosure regulations

Tracey Samuelson Jul 4, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: Many people complain that nothing’s changed since the financial crisis. Well, here’s one small thing that has: This past Friday, Columbia Business School started requiring its faculty post on the school’s website any work they’ve done outside the university in the last five years — from consulting to speaking engagements — that could be seen to influence their work. Tracey Samuelson tells us why we care.

Tracey Samuelson: We tend to think of business and economics professors as academics. But last year, the documentary Inside Job, which set out to explain the financial crisis, said part of our problem is that those academics can also work for hire. Some make big bucks advising the industries and organizations they publish research on or speak to Congress about.

Here’s filmmaker Charles Ferguson confronting Frederic Mishkin of Columbia Business School about a report he wrote praising the financial stability of Iceland, just before its banking system collapsed.

Charles Ferguson: I didn’t see any place in the study where you indicated that you had been paid by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to produce it.

Mishkin and Columbia declined to speak with me. In a press release, Columbia said its new disclosure rules are due to the financial crisis. But this issue is bigger than just one school. The American Economic Association, the professional body for all U.S. economists, has formed a committee to consider disclosure requirements. It’s led by Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and former MIT professor.

Robert Solow: It’s not enough to say, ‘Oh yes I am paid a lot of money by such and such an organization, but I don’t let that affect my judgment.’ That may or may not be true. But put it this way: A potential conflict of interest seems to me to be a conflict.

Solow’s not sure how the association will manage these conflicts. Columbia’s is requiring faculty post on the school’s website who they work for and the kind of work they do, but not how much they’re paid. Other schools make faculty disclose similar information just to the school.

So, are disclosures enough? I put that question to Jay Stowsky, a dean at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which was also mentioned in Inside Job.

Jay Stowsky: I’m certain that there are instances in which the policy in place is that these relationships be disclosed and that there are some people who feel that these relationships should simply be forbidden. And I think that that would come at a great cost.

Stowsky says we all benefit when our top scholars work outside the classroom.

In New York, I’m Tracey Samuelson for Marketplace.

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