Conflict of Interest Policy
Conflict of Interest
Reporting and Disclosure Requirements
Conducting high quality research and instructional activities is integral to the primary missions of a university -- educating students and discovering, preserving, and disseminating knowledge. Thus, university policy encourages both public and private support of research and innovative educational programs through grants and contracts. Similarly, the university recognizes the value of outside consulting by faculty, both to the community and to the faculty members themselves, and encourages such consulting on a limited basis. However, the pursuit of even such worthy activities as grant supported research, curricular innovations, and outside consulting can come into conflict or appear to come into conflict with other legitimate university interests. The guidelines outlined below define general University policy and procedures regarding conflicts of interest in relationship to sponsored projects involving research, education, and university service. Their purpose is to protect the credibility and integrity of the University's faculty and staff so that public trust and confidence in the University's sponsored activities is ensured.
A potential Conflict of Interest occurs when there is a divergence between an individual's private interests and his or her professional obligations to the University such that an independent observer might reasonably question whether the individual's professional actions or decisions are determined by considerations of personal gain, financial or otherwise. An actual conflict of interest depends on the situation and not on the character or actions of the individual.
Potential conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts of interest may be complex and may involve many different considerations. These include both ethical and financial considerations; priorities in distribution of time and effort; guidance of students' research; guidance of contractual research; consulting; contractual obligations to research sponsors, both governmental and private; and access to privileged information. Federal and state regulations also address the role of the spouse and of dependent children as potential sources of conflict of interest. These diverse considerations and the many interactions among them must be addressed in light of the university's designated missions. Even when behavior itself is exemplary, the appearance of conflict of interest should be avoided.
Both outside consulting and outside research support lead inevitably to awareness of privileged information on research, business, and timing objectives and on progress toward these objectives. University employees should not use their knowledge of privileged information for personal gain and should not disclose such information to third parties. Further, to avoid potential adverse publicity and negative consequences to the university, to research sponsors, or to users of consulting services, privileged information should not be disclosed even when personal gain is not involved.
Conflict of Interest may take the form of conflict of commitment. In recognizing commitments and in setting priorities it must be stressed that the employee's first responsibility is to the university and its educational mission. The specific responsibilities and professional activities that constitute an appropriate and primary commitment will differ across schools and departments, but they should be based on a general understanding between the faculty member and his or her department chair or dean. Even with such understandings in place, attempts of faculty to balance University responsibilities with external activities--such as consulting, public service or pro bono work--can result in conflicts regarding allocation of time and energies. Conflicts of commitment usually involve issues of time allocation. The many diverse demands on an employee's time necessitate setting priorities. Over commitment of time or seriously unbalanced time priorities can lead to conflict of interest. Over commitment is of particular concern when it diminishes teaching and guidance of student research and when it impairs the university's ability to fully provide the time and quality of effort needed to offer quality education to our students or to meet our responsibilities as specified in research agreements.
Multiple projects in a researcher's field of interest are another potential source of conflict of interest. Such efforts can be mutually beneficial, but one project should not be conducted at the expense of another in terms of either human or material resources. To avoid problems in this area, when new research programs are initiated, their objectives should be considered in light of ongoing work. Disclosure of the general research area (not confidential or proprietary details) of one sponsor to another also is helpful. With consultation clients, care should be taken to give advice that is objective and not slanted toward research program goals; conversely, research program goals should not be altered to fill consultation client needs. In short, if consultation clients and research sponsors are each informed of commitments involving the other, these conflicts of interest can be avoided.
In accordance with Federal regulations, the University has a responsibility to manage, reduce, or eliminate any actual or potential conflicts of interest that may be presented by a financial interest of an investigator. Thus, the University requires that investigators disclose any significant financial interest that may present an actual or potential conflict of interest with a sponsored project.
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Conflict of Interest
Many of the activities described in the following list are specifically prohibited by federal or state law. Others are situations which are inherently unethical. A conflict of interest is a conflict of interest even if no wrongdoing actually occurs, and even those examples where no wrongdoing is intended should be avoided to preclude the perception of wrongdoing and to protect the reputation of the individual and the university. Generally, the State Adverse Interest Law, 71 P.S. B776.1 et seq., prohibits University employees (including faculty) from entering into contracts with the University in any proprietary capacity or from being a stockholder, partner, member, agent, representative or employee of a corporate entity which enters into contracts with the University. The State Ethics Act, 65 P.S. B401 et seq., generally exempts teaching faculty from its application. However, faculty who administer or monitor grants or subsidies are subject to the provisions of this Act. The Act prohibits a subject employee from using his employment or any confidential information received through his employment for the private pecuniary benefit of himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated. The Act also prohibits subject employees from accepting an honorarium, which is defined as "payment made in recognition of published works, appearances, speeches and presentations and which is not intended as consideration for the value of such services which are nonpublic occupational or professional in nature". The following list illustrates some of the most common conflicts of interest:
- compromising the quality of education at the university by improperly allocating time and effort to the university;
- overcommitting time so that one's instructional responsibilities are neglected, or a contract or grant does not receive the time or effort called for by the agreement;
- using or releasing privileged information for personal or third party gain;
- altering the focus of a research program for the benefit of one's outside interests or for financial gain;
- obtaining personal gain by influencing purchases of equipment, instruments, etc.;
- influencing the negotiation of contracts for inappropriate personal or third party benefit;
- compromising the educational benefit of student research to obtain results supporting outside interests;
- using more than one day in five for outside professional employment;
- accepting outside employment which might impair independence of judgment in the performance of university duties and responsibilities;
- accepting money, goods, services, entertainment, or any form of gratuity either directly or indirectly from any individual or company interested in business or financial relations with the university;
- having personal investments in any business entity which could create a substantial conflict between those private interests and university duties;
- accepting gratuities or special favors in return for influencing the conduct of research;
- consulting for one or more government agencies or other contractors in the same technical field as one's current government supported research project, which may result in giving advice of questionable objectivity;
- consulting for compensation on any university research project for which one is already being compensated;
- receiving extra compensation for duties that are a normal part of one's job description;
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To be in compliance with Federal regulations governing sponsored research, we have adopted the following definitions.
Investigator means the principal investigator/project director, co-principal investigators, and any other person at the University who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research, educational, or service activities funded, or proposed for funding, by an external sponsor. In this context, the term "Investigator" includes the investigator's spouse and dependent children.
Significant Financial Interest means anything of monetary value, including, but not limited to:
- salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria)
- equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options or other ownership interests)
- intellectual property rights (e.g., patents, copyrights, and royalties from such rights).
The term does not include:
- Salary, royalties, or other remuneration from the University;
- Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by public or nonprofit entities;
- Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for public or nonprofit entities;
- An equity interest that when aggregated for the Investigator and the Investigator's spouse and dependent children, meets both of the following tests: does not exceed $10,000 in value as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value, or, constitute more than a five percent ownership interest in any single entity; or
- Salary, royalties, or other payments that when aggregated for the Investigator and the Investigator's spouse and dependent children over the next twelve months, are not expected to exceed $10,000.
Provided, however, that the exclusions in items 1), 4), and 5) shall not apply if the compensation or transfer of an equity interest is conditioned upon a particular outcome in a sponsored research project.
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Reporting and Disclosure Requirements
The West Chester University (WCU) Grant/Contract Cover Sheet for all Public and Private Sponsors will have a check box for the Investigator to use in order to indicate whether a potential or actual conflict of interest exists involving the grant proposal that is being submitted. The above definitions should guide the Investigator in this determination. If the investigator identifies a potential or actual conflict of interest, the following procedure must be employed.
- Each Investigator is required to disclose the following Significant Financial Interests:
Regardless of the above minimum requirements, a faculty or staff member, in his or her own best interest, may choose to disclose any other financial or related interest that could present an actual or be perceived to present a conflict of interest. Disclosure is a key factor in protecting one's reputation and career from potentially embarrassing or harmful allegations of misconduct.
- Any Significant Financial Interest of the Investigator that would reasonably appear to be directly and significantly affected by the research or educational activities funded, or proposed for funding, by an external sponsor; or
- Any Significant Financial Interest of the Investigator in an entity whose financial interest would reasonably appear to be directly and significantly affected by the research or educational activities funded, or proposed for funding, by an external sponsor.
- Each Investigator who has Significant Financial Interest(s) requiring disclosure shall complete a Significant Financial Interests Disclosure Form and attach all required supporting documentation. The completed Disclosure Form must be submitted with the WCU Grant/Contract Cover Sheet and the proposal to the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR). Supporting documentation that identifies the business enterprise or entity involved and the nature and amount of the interest should be submitted in a sealed envelope marked confidential and accompany the Disclosure Form.
- As required by Federal regulation, all Significant Financial Interests must be disclosed prior to the time a proposal is submitted. All financial disclosures must be updated by Investigators during the period of the award, either on an annual basis or as new reportable Significant Financial Interests are obtained.
- The Director of Sponsored Research shall conduct an initial review of all financial disclosures to determine whether a conflict of interest exists. If the initial determination is made that there may be a potential for conflict of interest covered by this policy, then the Disclosure packet will be referred to the Conflict of Interest Review Committee (CIRC). Committee members are appointed by the Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs. The CIRC shall consist of a minimum of four faculty members representing a cross-section of academic disciplines and a research administrator. A conflict of interest exists when the CIRC reasonably determines that a Significant Financial Interest could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of the proposed sponsored project. The Committee shall determine what conditions or restrictions, if any, should be imposed by the institution to manage actual or potential conflicts of interest arising from disclosed Significant Financial Interests.
- Prior to consideration by the CIRC, the Investigator, in cooperation with the academic unit or College, shall develop and present to the CIRC a Conflict of Interest Resolution Plan that details proposed steps that will be taken to manage, reduce, or eliminate any actual or potential conflict of interest presented by a Significant Financial Interest. At a minimum the Resolution Plan shall address such issues as:
If the CIRC determines that imposing the above referenced conditions or restrictions would be inequitable, or that the potential negative impacts that may arise from a significant financial interest are outweighed by interests of scientific progress, technology transfer, or the public health and welfare, then the CIRC may recommend that, to the extent permitted by Federal regulations, the research go forward without imposing such conditions or restrictions. In these cases, the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs shall make the final decision regarding resolution.
- Public disclosure of significant financial interests;
- Review of research protocol by independent reviewers; and
- Monitoring of research by independent reviewers. Where the CIRC deems it appropriate, the CIRC shall review the Resolution Plan and approve it, or add conditions or restrictions which may include the following:
- Modification of the research plan
- Disqualification from participation in all or a portion of the research funded;
- Divestiture of significant financial interests; or
- Severance of relationships that create actual or potential conflicts of interest.
- The approved Resolution Plan shall be incorporated into a Memorandum of Understanding between WCU and the faculty member that details the conditions or restrictions imposed upon the Investigator in the conduct of the project or in the relationship with the Business Enterprise or Entity. The Memorandum of Understanding shall be signed by the Investigator, the Department Chair/Unit Head and, on behalf of the University, the Investigator's Dean or equivalent administrator, and the President or Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs acting on his/her behalf. Actual or potential conflicts of interest will be satisfactorily managed, reduced, or eliminated in accordance with these Guidelines and all required reports regarding the conflict of interest submitted to the sponsor prior to expenditure of any funds under an award. [For example, the Public Health Service requires the University to report to the PHS Awarding Component the existence of a conflicting interest (but not the nature of the interest or other details) found by the University and assure that the interest has been managed, reduced, or eliminated. The National Science Foundation only requires the University to report conflicts which cannot be satisfactorily managed, reduced, or eliminated.]
- Records of investigator financial disclosures and of actions taken to manage actual or potential conflicts of interest, shall be retained by the OSR until 3 years after the later of the termination or completion of the award to which they relate, or the resolution of any government action involving those records.
- Whenever an Investigator has violated this policy or the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, the CIRC shall recommend sanctions which may include disciplinary action ranging from a public letter of reprimand to dismissal and termination of employment. If the violation results in a collateral proceeding under University policies regarding misconduct in science, then the CIRC shall defer a decision on sanctions until the misconduct in science process is completed. The CIRC's recommendation on sanctions shall be presented to the Investigator's Dean or equivalent administrator who, in consultation with the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs, shall present their recommendations to the President for enforcement of any disciplinary action.
In addition, the University shall follow Federal regulations regarding the notification of the sponsoring agency in the event an investigator has failed to comply with this policy. The sponsor may take its own action as it deems appropriate, including the suspension of funding for the Investigator until the matter is resolved.
- Collaborators from other institutions must either comply with this policy or provide a certification that their institutions are in compliance with Federal policies regarding investigator significant financial interest disclosure and that their portion of the project is in compliance with their institutional policies.
- The Pennsylvania State University, "Investigator Significant Financial Interest Disclosure Policy for Sponsored Projects", 1995.
- Stanford University, "Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest", 1994.
- University of Delaware, "Conflict of Interest Policy", University of Delaware, 1987.
- "Investigator Financial Disclosure Policy". Federal Register, 59 (123):38-42, 1994 and 60 (132):35820-35823, 1995.
- "Principles to Govern College and University Compensation Policies for Faculty Engaged in Sponsored Research", A Joint Statement of The Association of American Universities, The American Council on Education, and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, 1978.
- "On Preventing Conflicts of Interest in Government - Sponsored Research at Universities", A Joint Statement of The Council of the American Association of University Professors and The American Council on Education, December, 1964.
- "Consulting and Other Outside Activities of Principal Investigators Under
Grant Policy Manual, Section 516.3, p. v-5, National Science Foundation,
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