That's the title of a recent article (g) in Unispiegel, a section of the Spiegel website) dedicated to higher education news. It details a secret contract signed by the Humboldt University and the Technical University and Deutsche Bank. The Deutsche Bank funds two professorships and an institute (the "Quantitative Products Laboratory"), and in return gets certain privileges (my translation):
A steering committee directs the research initiative, deciding among other things about the practical implementation, the research strategy to be employed, [and] personnel resources… The committee is composed of two representatives of the Deutsche Bank and two university professors. The deciding factor is the voting procedure in a tie: "If the voting results in a tie, the Managing Director will have the final say," it provides in paragraph 3 of the contract. And the Managing Director comes from Deutsche Bank.
The bank also decides which research results will be made public. Papers "will be made available to the Deutsche Bank at least 60 days before they are presented to third parties, for instance for purposes of a first publication, so that a decision can be made whether to permit their publication." The Deutsch Bank generously concedes that it will be "generous" in its decisions about publication, however only to the extent that "the interests of Deutsche Bank are not affected." Only after two years are scholars free to publish their research any way they please.
Deutsche Bank also secured influence over teaching, by specifying that "their employees will, according to valid regulations, be hired as adjunct professors and to grade student work." In Paragraph 7 the Bank specifies, under the heading "Personnel Marketing", that it will be assisted by the university in hiring new employees.
The secret contract was revealed by a professor emeritus of political science, Peter Grottian. According to the Spiegel article, the "scientific community" has reacted with "outrage". The head of the German University Association said, for instance, "One can hardly avoid the impression that this contract involves the purchase of academic work (Wissenschaft)." Yet he must know that this story is just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm of two minds about this sort of thing. People who study more practical sorts of majors such as finance or biology (and, to an extent, law) are likely to seek jobs in the private sector after they graduate, and programs that let them gain real-world experience are a fine idea. (Ideally, there should also be similarly well-funded programs for people who don't intend to go work for private industry, but I'm not holding my breath for that.) I also don't have a huge problem with naming rights. As tacky as the results might be sometimes, it's hardly a threat to academic freedom, as long as the donors don't get any influence over who will be hired for a sponsored professorship or what will be taught in the building named after them.
But this deal is bad for two reasons: first, because it remained secret. This is not unusual in Germany, in which a combination of strict privacy laws, no whistleblowing culture, and a clubby insider mentality impair transparency and accountability everywhere you turn. The Humboldt University and the Technical University are both financed by German taxpayers' money, and any important contract the University enters into should be open for public inspection. The rule should be firmly established from the very beginning, so that Deutsche Bank, or a pharmaceutical company, or an insurance company, know that any provision they negotiate with a university will be public, for all to see.
Second, this contract shows how private industry dominates in negotiations with universities. On one side of this deal you have rich, cunning, hard-charging businesspeople working for billion-euro globe-spanning corporation. On the other, you have professors and bureaucrats who may well have never spent an hour working in the private sector under normal conditions (i.e., not as interns or consultants). German universities rarely have dedicated administrators responsible for negotiating third-party contracts, and even if they do, these people are probably tenured bureaucrats who will never as hard-charging and aggressive as private-sector operators. Further, the professors are often under pressure to obtain outside funding, and the private-sector people know this. Given these incentives, it's no wonder that private firms often steamroll universities in negotiating these sorts of contracts. The universities underestimate their bargaining power.
This problem of private-sector actors seeking inappropriate concessions is definitely not limited to Berlin, it happens all over the place, including the university I work at. The key thing is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater: some cooperation between the private sector and universities is desirable, it just needs to happen in ways that preserve academic freedom. Here's my preferred solution: First, pass a law simply making it illegal for a university that receives any public money to bargain away any of its academic freedom in contracting with the private sector. Any contract provision that purported to give a private company any say over publications, etc. would be unenforceable. That would set up appropriate ground rules before the negotiations even began. Second, all contracts entered into with third-party funders must be made public, preferably by being scanned in on the Internet and posted to a website. Once again, you could make this a private-law enforcability rule: any contract or provision that was not made public cannot be enforced in a court of law.
The solutions should be applicable nationwide, to prevent a "race to the bottom". These rules might deter some cooperation between higher education and the private sector, but I would hope that it would be precisely the most problematic sorts of "cooperation" that would fade away, while the healthier kind went on unimpeded.