Conflict of Interest

Guideline Date: September 2017      Revision: 1     Last Review: August 2017

The University encourages its faculty, staff and students to engage in appropriate relationships with private industry and the nonprofit sector as part of its mission to be a nexus for research and creativity. At times, however, these external activities may have the potential for a conflict of interest (COI) when the activities, income or other interests affect or appear to affect activities pursued on behalf of the University.

There are risks if conflicts are not appropriately managed. For example, below are some possible risks:

  • Protection of human subjects may be compromised
  • Integrity of research may be at risk
  • The public may lose trust in the University and its research
  • The investigator/faculty member may lose the respect of the academic community
  • There may be a negative impact on students' ability to pursue their research interests
  • Research results may not be published or may be excessively delayed
  • The University may lose intellectual property
  • Iinferior or more costly goods and services may be purchased
  • University resources may be improperly used

Examples of COIs include the following: 

  • Giving remunerated lectures on behalf of companies whose economic interests are affected or perceived to be affected by an investigator's scholarly work
  • A paid consultancy with a company that has an interest in the investigator's University work
  • Equity holding in a company by an inventor who is evaluating technology licensed to that company
  • Holding an office in a company whose interests would reasonably appear to be affected by the faculty member's research
  • Receiving income from intellectual property rights not held by the University
  • Involving students on research projects, the results of which cannot be published for proprietary or security reasons

Disclosure of financial, personal, or professional relationships that raise a potential or perceived conflict of interest is at the heart of the University's policies regarding conflicts of interest and paid outside consulting.

Financial Conflicts of Interest

  • University employees are required to disclose significant financial interests and business relationships related to their University responsibilities:
  • Annually, during the conflict of interest campaign
  • Within 30 days of the acquisition or discovery of a new significant financial interest or business relationship

Conflicts of Commitment

Another kind of conflict is a conflict of commitment. This can occur when University employees have relationships with outside entities that require a commitment of time that could conflict with their University responsibilities. To ensure that an employee's outside professional activities do not conflict with their University responsibilities, academic and administrative faculty members intending to engage in compensated outside professional activities, such as consulting, must provide prior notice and receive written approval from their supervisor prior to engaging in the activity.

Human Subjects and Conflict of Interest

Research involving human subjects poses a special conflict of interest concern. For example, research may involve drugs, equipment, materials or methods in which the investigator or family members by have a financial or business interest. Such interests may appear to compromise the rights and well-being of the research subjects and the integrity of the related research. For this reason, potential, perceived, and actual conflicts of interest must be disclosed to both the University and the University's Institutional Review Board (IRB). The University and the IRB also required disclosure of faculty interests that may affect the design, implementation, or reporting of research conducted by student investigators.

Use of the University Name and Logos

Association of the University's name or logo with commercial interests may lead to a conflict of interest. For example, in the course of consulting or research, faculty members may provide professional evaluations of products or services. However, care must be taken to avoid identifying the University with their opinions or conclusions in any public or private reports that may support their own outside financial interests. Faculty must also avoid implying an endorsement on the part of the University.

Managing Conflicts of Interest

The presence of an actual, potential, or perceived conflict of interest does not automatically constitute wrongdoing, nor does it always lead to biased behavior. The goal of COI disclosure is to identify potential risks and proactively manage them.

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