Tennessee Tech University chapter of American Association of University Professors: Resolution on the Fitzgerald glider kit study and investigation

WHEREAS a chief purpose of AAUP has always been the protection of shared governance, which requires academic matters in the university to be primarily the purview of faculty, as well as to ensure higher education’s contribution to the greater good, and
WHEREAS university professors have a participatory stake in maintaining the ethics and professional standards of their institutions’ research processes, and
WHEREAS our university risks damage to our credibility, national reputation, and our potential to gain research funding due to performing tests for Fitzgerald Glider Kits that could potentially affect their EPA emissions regulation status, potentially saving them large amounts of money while also being potentially dangerous to the public, without proper faculty participation or oversight, with that research being called into question nationally for both its methodology and for its ethical implications by numerous credible organizations, and
WHEREAS a partnership was announced soon afterward between Fitzgerald and Tennessee Technological University, which included Fitzgerald providing the university with a research facility, which creates a situation that could reasonably be interpreted by third parties as a potential ethics violation and evidence of possible quid pro quo, and
WHEREAS Millard Oakley, a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, has a business relationship with Fitzgerald, being listed by the Better Business Bureau as a member of the management team of Fitzgerald Peterbilt, in Glade Spring, Virginia, and
WHEREAS, according to Tennessee Technological University Board of Trustees Bylaws, Article 1.4 B, Trustees must “Be free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protect Tennessee Tech from such influence”, and
WHEREAS Tennessee Tech’s Policy 780 (Misconduct in Research) Article 4 E defines “Conflict of Interest and Commitment” as “the real or apparent interference of one person’s interest with another, where potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships”, and
WHEREAS the university’s ongoing internal inquiry into possible violation of Policy 780 in the Fitzgerald affair has as its focus the Associate Vice-President for Strategic Research Initiatives, with the Vice-President of Research and Economic Development and the President of the University recusing themselves due to their involvement in the actions being investigated, with the role of the President in the inquiry and potential investigation being fulfilled by the Board of Trustees, one of whose members, Millard Oakley, is involved in the actions being investigated and is in violation of Trustees Bylaws 1.4 B and policy 780 Article 4 E, and
WHEREAS the decisions leading to this turn of events, which any objective third party could reasonably recognize as a potential appearance of ethics violations and conflicts of interest, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, demonstrate a disturbing failure of judgment, foresight, and leadership, and
WHEREAS the disturbing trend at Tennessee Tech of bypassing and undercutting faculty and established academic procedure in order to more quickly respond to corporate interests is a bad precedent for maintaining the mission of higher education and academic freedom in the state of Tennessee (a pursuit of knowledge for the common good, and to promote a healthy society),
WE, the Tennessee Technological University Chapter of American Association of University Professors, hereby RESOLVE to call for the entire Board of Trustees to recuse themselves due to potential conflict of interest (to wit, one of their members being in violation of policy and a potential target for the inquiry/investigation), and for the President’s role in the inquiry/investigation to instead be filled by an external agent chosen by the Faculty Senate; we further call for the Board to take no action regarding extending the university president’s contract unless and until the ongoing investigation is finished and establishes his degree of culpability.
March 1, 2018