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Documents: UW deal with Foxconn largely confidential (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Foxconn Technology Group will manage their new research partnership largely behind closed doors, according to documents laying out the agreement.

Foxconn and UW-Madison announced plans in August to establish a technology institute on campus as well as a research center in Mount Pleasant, where the Taiwanese electronics company is building a massive flat-screen manufacturing plant with the help of up to $3.2 billion worth of state incentives.

The deal also calls for Foxconn to provide as much as $100 million worth of matching grants to pay for engineering research at UW-Madison.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported on Thursday that it has obtained documents outlining the agreement between UW-Madison and Foxconn. The documents suggest the school and the company will establish a joint steering committee to oversee the partnership. UW-Madison officials told the newspaper the committee isn’t subject to the state’s open-meetings law unless members are holding university records.

Other clauses in the documents declare that broad swaths of information, including sales information, research plans, technical information, patent applications, designs and products, will all be confidential. If either party violates the confidentiality clauses, the other could obtain a restraining order.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said Wisconsin’s open-meetings and open-records laws don’t exempt research findings.

“I think it’s obnoxious that the University of Wisconsin would agree to (a) secrecy provision in exchange for a $100 million deal that is already designed to primarily benefit the other party,” Lueders wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “These provisions should never have been agreed to, and steps should be taken to remove them.”

The documents also suggest that Foxconn and the university will share intellectual-property rights.

The UW-Madison Teaching Assistants Association said in a statement to the State Journal that sharing those rights endangers academic freedom and the Wisconsin Idea, a general statement holding that the university’s research should be used to benefit Wisconsin residents.

“The fruits of research at UW belong to the people of Wisconsin, not to a private corporation,” according to the statement.

The deal also calls for the university to make sure Foxconn has opportunities to recruit students such as by organizing an annual campus Foxconn Day and job interviews with select students.

John Lucas, a university spokesman, said in an email to the AP on Thursday that the deal is consistent with many other agreements UW has reached with private entities and “embodies the core concepts we use with all of our sponsors.” Asked for examples of other contracts, he said he had none.

Lueders called on the university to provide support for that claim.

“The UW is a public institution that is supposed to represent the public interest,” Leuders wrote in his email. “Creating layers of secrecy over what it is doing under contract with Foxconn is contrary to that ideal.”

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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