University Secretariat and Legal Counsel

University Secretariat and Legal Counsel

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Guidelines Concerning Publication of Research Results

Approved by Senate November 23, 1972

The following "Guidelines Concerning Publication of Research Results" were adopted as Queen's University policy by the Senate at its meeting of November 23rd, 1972. The Guidelines, as written below, were recommended by the Committee of Presidents of Universities of Ontario, now the Council of Universities of Ontario, at its meeting of October 16th, 1970.

The classification of research findings at the sole discretion of the sponsoring agency does irreparable violence to the most fundamental objectives of academic research. Classified research is not subject to the open judgment of scholarly and scientific peers and accordingly fails one of the most crucial tests of a true accretion to knowledge - universal accessibility. While we are sensitive to the claim that classified research findings may on occasion be in the public interest, we cannot reconcile this claim with the greater public interest that universities serve as our society's principal repository of open inquiry. Universities exist to maintain a free flow of ideas and observations and to examine critically all aspects of man and the universe. They provide through research and criticism the catalysts of change, and they are by tradition and mandate the mainstream of renewal in society. It is a simple fact that these functions are undermined when academics within the jurisdiction of the university engage in work whose findings do not become universally accessible. To the limited extent that academics feel called upon to do such work, they should seek leave of absence from the university and should conduct their work entirely on the premises of the sponsoring agency.

In some cases legitimate reasons may exist for deferring publication of findings for a reasonable period. Many university researchers are familiar with this type of situation. Thus, for instance, royal commissions, task forces, or study groups may stipulate that the publication of studies conducted under their auspices be deferred until after the release of the official report. Again, government agencies or business firms may request a brief delay between delivery of the findings and their publication in the original form. We see no objection in principle provided that proper safeguards are observed. Above all, the length of the time period should be reasonable, say six months to one year. Deferment of publication should be subject to a firm and explicit agreement acceptable to the university, the researcher and his/her sponsor.

We see no objection in principle to "secrecy" that applies only to the confidentiality of raw data. To hold such an objection would be to preclude highly valid university research in any of a number of fields including criminology, public finance and personnel administration. Therefore, both the terms under which researchers are to be given clearance and the conditions under which they can publish the data in aggregated form should be clearly stated and agreed upon in advance.

On the basis of the above consideration the Committee of Presidents recommends to all the provincially supported universities in Ontario and to all sponsors of research in universities as a general guideline:

  1. that neither sponsors nor universities attempt to enter into agreements which will formally involve universities in conducting academic work which cannot be published. Any exception to this principle should be subject to the most formal review procedures between the university and the agency concerned.

  2. that the sponsors be entitled to request and be granted a reasonable delay in publication where such delay is in the interest of the sponsor.

  3. that in instances where university researchers are to be given access to confidential data, the terms and conditions of their use be specified in advance.