CORE UNIVERSITY MISSIONS of scholarly education, the ad- vancement of knowledge, and the rigorous evaluation of ideas make universities
bastions of open collaboration. In
computing, such open sharing has fu-
eled computing’s rapid advance and
created win-win-win global partner-
ships in education, innovation, and
use, benefitting all. But increasing in-
ternational tension and distrust,a and
its projection into universities, is erod-
ing open collaboration and inquiry.b
Trade secret and intellectual property walls. In 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act
recast universities as intellectual property owners raising new barriers to
information sharing in universities.c
Technology and trade secrets under
non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Exclusive licensing. Competing with
industry partners. Billion-dollar litigation. These practices force faculty,
staff, and students to self-censor communication: “Have you signed an
NDA?” “Have they licensed technology
X? “Is person Y consulting at startup
Z?” By 2000, an inspired response
sought to create “demilitarized zones”
for intellectual property.d As Intel VP
of Research, I was stunned by a young
professor’s decrial of the situation:
“Why do I have to understand intellectual property contracts, NDAs, and
keep secrets? I became an academic to
a Chien, A. Open collaboration in an age of distrust. Commun. ACM (Jan. 2019).
b I focus on U.S. universities, but those in many
countries share these ideals.
c National Research Council. Managing University Intellectual Property in the Public Interest.
The National Academies Press, 2011.
d Tennenhouse, D. Intel’s open collaborative
model of industry-university research. J. RTM,
create new knowledge and share it, not
to become an expert in IP law.”
In the past two decades, U.S. uni-
versities have experienced significant
growth in foreign-national students
at both undergraduate and graduate
levels (now 65% in computing Ph.D.
programs). Drawn by U.S. leadership
in computing, and the opportunities
of an open university educational and
research environment, their contributions to the U.S. economy are well
documented.e International student
exchange has benefitted individuals,
economies, and nations.
National boundary walls. We are
experiencing growing international
tension, arising from competition for
economic leadership, regional influence and hegemony, and even military
advantage, often between political
systems (democracy, autocracy).f The
international diversity of university
communities translates national sovereignty over citizens directly into boundaries in the university—departments,
research groups, or even classrooms.
Broadening definitions of sensitive
technology imposed by sovereign governments raises new walls. Increasing
restrictions on knowledge/technology
sharing and interaction with untrusted individuals and entities raise new
walls. Interaction restrictions are particularly corrosive—compliance can
require off-putting questions—“What
is your citizenship?” “Who is your employer?” “With whom, and under what
circumstances, can this knowledge be
shared?” Recent faculty guidance at a
e Anderson, S. Immigrants and Billion-Dollar
Companies. National Foundation for American Policy, Oct. 2018.
f Hong Kong’s violent protests against Chinese
rule. Economist (July 27, 2019).
leading university allowed “speaking
with employees of X, but only if they are
U.S. citizens.”g A standing government
directive requires faculty to vet all new
collaborations with a list of untrusted
individuals and entities.h
Fewer walls. Shaping less damaging walls. What to do? Walls arise
from different forces. We have learned
to shape those that arise from the
profit motive, shaping them to balance inquiry with entrepreneurship.
Walls that arise from national security
and sovereignty cannot be resisted; so
perhaps, in analogous fashion, we can
shape them to minimize damage to
To this end, faculty should engage
and shape policies to limit the harm of
rising barriers and defend university
missions of education, invention, and
rigorous evaluation. This spirited defense must be in the cause of society—
not perceived as a parochial “academic”
or research community interest.
The ACM and IEEE Computer
Society, as international leadership
organizations, must work to shape
national policies around the world to
support open collaboration and inquiry
Andrew A. Chien, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Andrew A. Chien is the William Eckhardt Distinguished
Service Professor in the Department of Computer Science at
the University of Chicago, Director of the CERES Center for
Unstoppable Computing, and a Senior Scientist at Argonne
Copyright held by author/owner.
g Lee, J.L. Huawei’s U.S. research arm builds
separate identity. Reuters ( June 24, 2019).
h U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control Sanctions Programs; http://
Sustaining Open Collaboration
DOI: 10.1145/3354460 Andrew A. Chien