Research ethics FAIL: UH Foundation

Posted by Betsy on April 4, 2009 in Language, Personal |

I applied for and was awarded a grant for $645 in April 2008, and I have yet to receive the funds. Beyond the money, however, I am upset about the complete ethical FAIL on the part of the foundation that awarded the grant.

This grant is from the ‘Oihana Maika’i Fund, which is administered by the University of Hawaii Foundation. Awardees are selected by a committee appointed by the chair of the Department of Second Language Studies (SLS). The application for the award is here. I had to submit an application that detailed the study I intended to perform and what expenses would be involved.

I completed the research that the grant was intended to fund in November 2008, and I submitted my receipts to the Department of SLS that same month. I have communicated back and forth with the department since then, mostly inquiring about when I would receive the funds. This morning, I received an email from the department as follows, with my own emphasis added:

I called the UH foundation to check on your check, and learned that it was on hold. “They” need a list of the names of the participants in your study and a statement that all of them were students.

Say what?!? The foundation that awarded me a grant to do research involving human participants wanted me to utterly betray the confidentiality of my research participants?!?

Now, even if I had wanted to betray my participants, I could not have. Any idiot who wants to get research designated “exempt from review” by their institutional review board knows that you CANNOT collect participants’ names. What would you need them for, anyway? So, I don’t even have a list of their names. And if I did, I wouldn’t give it to the UH Foundation. Not for love or money – which they already said they would give me, without mentioning these ridiculous extra hoops to jump through. (They promised me money, that is, not love :)

After my initial wave of disgust at the Foundation passed, I began to wonder what their motives were. Why in the world would they want the names of my participants? Were they planning to contact them and confirm that they had indeed participated in my research? Or worse, did they want to add some names to their call list to solicit funding? And why did they want to confirm that the participants were all students? That was not a factor in my application for the grant, so it would seem to be related to their desire to contact the participants – if they were students, the foundation could easily access their contact information by having only their names. So, if my participants were not all students, would the Foundation decide to renege on the the award? Fundamentally, why does the Foundation offer research grants if they don’t understand the simplest thing about the nature of research?

Luckily, my contact in the Department of SLS understood my objections and inability to produce the names. He intervened for me, and managed to get the Foundation to accept my word that my participants were promised confidentiality and that they were all students. So, with any luck, I’ll be receiving my check in, oh, say, three more months? Unless they can invent some new reason to withhold the money.

University of Hawaii Foundation

University of Hawaii Foundation: Heavy on the DISCOVER-y (of confidential information) and low on the EDUCATE and INSPIRE.


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