Professor John W. O’Neill of Penn State University’s (PSU) School of Hospitality Management (SHM) is the lead academic supporting the hotel industry with research and in the media.
When the university named him director of their School of Hospitality Management, he was praised for his “strong ties to industry.”
As we begin to look at how the hotel lobby is working to undermine the popularity of home sharing, it’s only natural that we would look closer at Professor John O’Neill.
Under his leadership, the school formed an “industry advisory board” to “strategically advise SHM on industry trends.” The advisory board is comprised of more than 20 industry executives, including those from Marriott International, Hyatt and Hilton Worldwide.
But Professor O’Neill is also a consultant. He lists more than 40 consulting clients on his CV, grouped under “Hospitality Organizations,” “Financial Institutions,” “Law Firms,” “Publishers” and “Public/Quasi-Public Organizations.” His list of clients includes Marriott International, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Hilton Worldwide.
No Discernable Infrastructure for Private Consultancy
If hotel chains or other potential clients want to hire Mr. O’Neill as a consultant, how would they contact him?
The standard path is through LinkedIn. But Professor O’Neill’s LinkedIn profile…
… links to his University biography, www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/w/jwo3/, a “personal” page that clearly lists his PSU contact information.
We were unable to find any standalone website on the internet for Professor John O’Neill’s consulting practice.
O’Neill’s profile on a website designed for hospitality consultants run by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC) also lists his Pennsylvania State University contact information, with his address, phone number, fax number and personal website provided by the university.
According to its website, ISHC “is truly the world’s greatest source for hospitality expertise and counsel, represented by some two hundred of the industry’s most respected professionals from across six continents.” Membership is invitation only.
What Does Penn State Know, And What Does It Permit?
Is the University unaware that Professor O’Neill is apparently operating a private consulting practice on campus? Or does it know and condone O’Neill’s actions because of his “strong ties to industry,” including Marriott International, which has “been a significant donor to the School of Hospitality Management?”
Penn State has a position on private consulting practices of faculty:
“… private consulting may create the potential for or perceptions of a conflict of interest between the faculty’s financial interests created by the consulting and his/her related Penn State research.”
“The name of the University is not in any way to be connected with the service rendered or the results obtained. The faculty member must make it clear that his or her consulting work is a personal matter.”
Based on our reporting, it appears that Professor John W. O’Neill is violating this stated policy. He is not only using University resources to host his private business, but he is using the imprimatur of the University to enrich it.
Waiting for the Provost
On October 7, 2016, we sent a letter to Penn State Provost Dr. Nicholas P. Jones asking for his help in better understanding the School of Hospitality Management’s relationship with the hotel industry lobby. Although we have not heard back from Dr. Jones yet, we have continued to investigate this messy public/private entanglement and the central role Professor O’Neill has in it.
Penn State needs to not just have ethical standards, but take their own ethical standards seriously. It appears that when it comes to Professor John O’Neill and what we guess is his lucrative consulting practice, the University has once again looked the other way.
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Evlondo Cooper is a senior fellow with Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.