Dear Dean Theodore Ruger:
As you are certainly aware, the issues of antitrust and monopolization — especially around technology companies — have been at the forefront of the policy debate, legal cases, and the news media. Corresponding concerns have also been increasingly raised as many of the academic experts and scholars being cited by legislators, judges, and the media are also being funded by the same companies they are publicly defending.
Facebook has been working to ensure they maintain their status as a technology monopoly in today’s society in part by paying many of the experts who defend the company and/or criticize those who challenge them.
Professor Herbert Hovenkamp is taking prominent, public positions on antitrust – including those cited recently by Judge Boasberg in a dismissal of an FTC antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. Given that fact, and the well-documented reality that tech giants often subsidize favorable views of their work and power, it is essential for the public, and for the reputation of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, to be fully informed about any funding he is taking from Facebook or other companies he is commenting on.
This is much more than a theoretical question in regards to Professor Hovenkamp as it is already known that he serves on the board of the Global Antitrust Institute, which receives funding from Facebook, Google, Amazon and Qualcomm — a fact that was not disclosed to UPenn students who read an official university Q&A with him about antitrust lawsuits against Facebook and Google or to the broader public. Professor Hovenkamp also accepted Google funding at a past institution.
By striving to maintain a hold on their status and deter any competitors, Big Tech giants like Facebook and Google have had dramatic effects on the market economy in this country. As we speak, a growing movement is challenging their domination. To maintain its credibility as a voice on this and other urgent policy debates, UPenn Law must hold its faculty to a higher standard of transparency as they — with the weight of UPenn’s reputation behind them — weigh in.
It is crucial that Professor Hovenkamp disclose to the public any funding he receives from Facebook or from entities that Facebook funds. It is understandable that a top academic could be consulted or have research funded by interests and efforts within his teaching and involvement with Big Tech, but without proper disclosure Professor Hovenkamp, and UPenn, loses credibility.
Faculty members like Professor Hovenkamp enjoy significant respect and deference in the public arena thanks to their affiliations with UPenn Law. Views reached by prominent intellectuals in the course of their academic work are accorded greater deference than work funded by a private entity in order to advance a specific, narrow interest. It is of the utmost importance for the quality of democratic debate and for UPenn’s reputation that the university not allow its reputation to be misused as a shield from public scrutiny for less respectable affiliations. UPenn should require Professor Hovenkamp and other professors to clearly disclose any compensation or funding they receive from companies, either direct or indirect (e.g., from a foundation or organization largely funded by a corporation or corporate officer associated with a specific corporation with a stake in the work in question).
If Professor Hovenkamp and his peers are offering their opinions free of financial interests, they should welcome the opportunity to distinguish themselves publicly from so many other experts who cannot say the same. And if corporations are funding Hovenkamp and others’ work without public disclosure, it is likely only with the spur afforded by transparency and criticism that your law school can begin to address a heretofore hidden problem.
American Economic Liberties Project
Fight for the Future
Jobs With Justice
People’s Parity Project
UnKoch My Campus
Revolving Door Project
Prof. Marshall Steinbaum (Individual)