I work for an organization that has some research restrictions — for instance, we do not allow non-employees to have direct data access for security purposes.

I recently invited an academic collaborator to work with me on a new (social science) project that may get launched. It would involve data collection from a non-profit. The plan was for the non-profit to send the data to my organization. My potential academic collaborator and I were in very early talks over the ideas and direction of the overall project when I mentioned the data restrictions. His response was that not having direct data access is unacceptable (although I offered to try to facilitate an on site visit) and as such, he is going to directly contact the non-profit, thereby eliminating me and my organization from the project.

The original contact was made by another employee at my organization, meaning that he would have not had access to the non-profit without me.

My gut reaction is that this behavior is unprofessional and unethical. My understanding was that many organizations restrict data access to give preference to their employees, so that this restriction is not unreasonable. My question is whether others agree regarding 1) those restrictions and 2) the ethics of this professor’s behavior. Thanks.

A follow-up question, given the response below, is whether we have any obligation (ethical or otherwise) to keep the academic on the project. We built the relationship with the non-profit for months prior to contacting the academic, so I certainly would feel comfortable moving forward with the non-profit on another idea (and possibly this one, if the logic holds on both directions).

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