Academic Freedom and the Institutional Review Board
Statement by the Senate Committee on Academic Freedom & Tenure
October 23, 2009
The University of Minnesota's Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure advises the Institutional Review Board (IRB) that it is not an infringement of academic freedom for the IRB to place restrictions on faculty members who permit or encourage inappropriate research by students using human subjects. Rather, faculty members who advise students have a responsibility to offer rigorous training and oversight consistent with IRB expectations when students are conducting research with human subjects.
The Committee takes the position that the safety of the human subjects, and the safety of the students conducting the research, is paramount, and that the IRB does not infringe academic freedom when it acts to protect human health and well-being. The Committee is also of the view that the IRB may appropriately consider the qualifications of the faculty member to supervise the research proposed by the student and may, without infringing academic freedom, inquire about and ultimately not approve such student research if the proposed supervision appears inadequate.
Finally, the Committee endorses the proposition that when questions arise, the IRB should work with the faculty member and the student to ensure that an appropriate research project will be undertaken. Ultimately, however, the Committee believes that the IRB must make a decision about whether or not it can approve the project. The faculty member and the student must be notified of their right to appeal the decision.