Letter to the editor:
Conflicts of interest are best avoided under any circumstance but that has not stopped top administrators at TTU from involving themselves in a relationship that comes with a possible double conflict of interest. A local Crossville trucking firm, Fitzgerald Glider Kits, recently sponsored–as in paid for—research involving a TTU professor and students that measured emissions from truck engines that had been rebuilt with Fitzgerald ‘glider kits’. Fitzgerald was keen to find evidence that would overturn rules left by the Obama administration that would require Fitzgerald to abide by stricter and more costly emission standards in order to reduce excessive emissions thought to originate with rebuilt engines. From the Fitzgerald engines’ sampled in the TTU-directed study it was determined that emissions were not only not higher but were perhaps lower that emissions from new engines, thus permitting a challenge to the EPA rule change under consideration.
The first, possible and troubling conflict of interest arises from the fact that the research, until now, has remained undisclosed to public scrutiny since such ‘sponsored’ research is by law the property of the sponsor. That Fitzgerald stands to gain from such research would seem to demand the release of the study in order to determine if the sampling procedure and testing methodology are appropriate. It’s all the more important that the study be released since the TTU professor who directed the research is a Civil Engineer with a background in concrete and not a Mechanical Engineer specializing in internal combustion engines. My efforts to obtain a report of the study from Fitzgerald have been unsuccessful.
The second possible conflict of interest arises from the fact that TTU was recently granted physical space at Fitzgerald’s plant to open something called the ‘Center for Intelligent Mobility’. The opening of this Center staffed by a TTU administrator came shortly before the release of the study. As the Herald Citizen reported on July 17, 2017: “A new partnership with Tennessee Tech University emerged out of [the ‘fight’ between Fitzgerald and the proposed EPA regulations].” The possibility of a quid pro quo and compromised research under these circumstances is painfully obvious. In order to put aside doubts, Fitzgerald should release the details of the study and TTU should reconsider its interest in such ‘sponsored’ research. And it might be time for the Herald Citizen to revisit this issue with some investigative journalism.
Jon Jonakin, Emeritus Professor of Economics, TTU
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