Academic Independence Project

The Capstone of the Institutional Corruption Initiative: Mitigating Academic Capture 

The Academic Independence Project of the Edmond J. Safra Research Lab is a one-year study of academic capture, or potential bias in the research undertakings, publications, and teachings of academicians—and new proposals to combat it. With the prevalence of influence from the private and public sector on academics, there is no doubt of the potential of bias to pervade findings in research investigations, topics and tone of publications, and choices of lessons plans even with current disclosure requirements present at several of these academic institutions. Consulting arrangements or board memberships, for example, have the power to potentially influence one's research on a particular industry. Similarly, the availability of confidential data sets or external opinions and interviews can skew findings or undermine notable negative results towards the providers of such crucial information.

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics launched the Academic Independence Project with the intention of creating a system whereby scholars could apply for and receive a certification of freedom from conflicts of interest. The work began with a period assessing the feasibility of this task, which included research on the topics of academic conflict of interest, disclosure, and similar initiatives focused on transparency outside of academia, as well as conversations with scholars who either had made strong public disclosures or who have published around these topics.

In the spring of 2015 the AIP’s Project Managers Szelena Gray and Sujay Tyle began creating the web-based system. On May 2, 2015 they launched at the Center’s "Ending Institutional Corruption” conference as part of a panel on academia and nonprofits. relies on a very simple measure of independence. In order to receive certification, a scholar must affirm that he or she is not paid to promote any policy positions within his or her area of expertise. The tool does not get into the details of that payment, or what constitutes a significant financial interest. It does not ask questions about the timing of each of the two conditions. The direct, uncomplicated line of questioning provides a barrier to entry for those who might want to qualify these statements, further enforcing the definition of “independence” upon which the tool relies—not just for scholars who have more complicated ties to outside interests, but also for those who uphold a high standard for disclosure and believe that the question of independence demands more detailed scrutiny. The AIP hopes that this tool attracts an initial peer group of scholars committed to exploring this and other questions in greater depth. 

Project Managers

Szelena GraySzelena Gray loves the challenge of operationalizing nonprofit start-up ideas, and is thrilled to be back at the Center for Ethics in 2014 to help launch the academic independence project.

Sujay Tyle is a currently a senior at Harvard University. Sujay TyleRecently he was on leave from Harvard after receiving a Thiel 20 under 20 fellowship to pursue some entrepreneurial endeavors in California. There he worked on two high growth companies: Scopely and, and was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work!

Selected Resources for the Project


The Limits of Transparency: Pitfalls and Potential of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

The Dirt on Coming Clean: Perverse Effects of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

Limits of Disclosure: What Research Subjects Want to Know about Investigator Financial Interests

Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency

Economists and conflicts of interest

Preventing Economists’ Capture

Insider Accounts of Institutional Corruption

Trust in research - the ethics of knowledge production

Regulatory and academic capture

Understanding Regulatory Capture: An Academic Perspective from the United States

Public Controversies

The Professors and Qaddafi's Extreme Makeover

 Benjamin Barber Responds: A response to Jon Wiener's “Professors Paid by Qaddafi: Providing ‘Positive Public Relations.’ ”

What Caused the Financial Crisis? Don’t Ask an Economist

"Inside Job" prompts new look at conflict of interest policy

Heist of the century: university corruption and the financial crisis

UT Faculty Up in Arms Over New Disclosure Policy

NSF Freezes Grants to UConn After Professors Bought Equipment From Their Own Company

Boren says position on oil company's board not a conflict of interest