Policy Topic: Research and Sponsored Activities
Administering Office: Chancellor’s Office
All employees of Western Carolina University (the “ University”) are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment (as the terms are defined below) that have the potential to directly and significantly affect the University’s interests or compromise their objectivity in carrying out their University employment responsibilities or otherwise compromise performance of University employment responsibilities, unless such conflicts are disclosed, reviewed, and appropriately managed in accordance with the provisions of this policy.
It is the policy of the University that activities undertaken by its faculty, staff and students in furtherance of the mission of the University shall be conducted in an ethical and transparent manner consistent with federal and state law and University of North Carolina (“UNC”) policies and University policy.
A. Conflicts of Interest. The provisions of this policy pertaining to Conflict of Interest apply to all faculty and EHRA non-faculty employees.
B. External Activities for Pay. The provisions of this policy pertaining to External Professional Activities for Pay apply to all faculty and EHRA non-faculty employees who are classified as .75 FTE or greater and work 9 months or more per year.
C. Conflict of Commitment. The provisions of this policy pertaining to Conflict of Commitment apply to all employees, including SHRA employees.
This Policy does not apply to independent contractors.
This Policy does not apply to student workers. For purposes of this policy a “student worker” is a student who is enrolled in educational programs and activities but also works on a limited basis for the University as part of a financial assistance arrangement.
“Conflict of Commitment” relates to an individual's distribution of time and effort between obligations to University employment and participation in other activities outside of University employment. The latter may include such generally encouraged extensions of professional expertise as professional consulting (i.e., External Professional Activities for Pay). Such activities promote professional development and enrich the individual's contributions to the University, to the profession, and to society. However, a Conflict of Commitment occurs when the pursuit of such outside activities involves an inordinate investment of time or is conducted at a time that interferes with the employee’s fulfillment of his/her Employment Responsibilities.
“Conflict of Interest” relates to situations in which financial or other personal considerations, circumstances, or relationships may compromise, may involve the potential for compromising, or may have the appearance of compromising a Covered Employee’s objectivity in fulfilling their University duties or responsibilities, including research, service and teaching activities, and administrative duties. A Covered Employee may have a Conflict of Interest when he or she, or any member of that person's Immediate Family has a personal Financial Interest in an activity that may affect decision making with respect to his/her Employment Responsibilities.
“Covered Employee” is any faculty or EHRA non-faculty employee, including part-time and employees on leave, with regard to the Conflict of Interest and External Professional Activities for Pay provisions of this Policy, and all employees, including SHRA employees, with regard to Conflict of Commitment provisions of this policy.
“Department” means an academic department, a professional school without formally established departments or any other administrative unit designated by the Chancellor for purposes of implementing this policy. “Department Head” refers to the immediate supervisor of the employee, whether in an academic or administrative department.
“EHRA” means an employee who is exempt from the State Human Resources Act.
“Employment Responsibilities” include "primary duties" and "secondary duties." Primary duties consist of assigned teaching, scholarship, research, institutional service requirements, administrative duties and other assigned employment duties. Secondary duties may include professional affiliations and activities traditionally undertaken by Covered Employees outside of the immediate University employment context. Secondary duties may or may not entail the receipt of honoraria, remuneration or the reimbursement of expenses, include membership in and service to professional associations and learned societies; membership on professional review or advisory panels; presentation of lectures, papers, concerts or exhibits; participation in seminars and conferences; reviewing or editing scholarly publications and books without receipt of compensation; and service to accreditation bodies. These activities, which demonstrate active participation in a profession are encouraged, provided they do not conflict or interfere with the timely and effective performance of the individual's primary duties or violate University policies.
“External Professional Activities for Pay” is defined as any activity that (i) is not included within one's University Employment Responsibilities; (ii) is performed for any entity, public or private, other than the University; (iii) is undertaken for compensation; and (iv) is based upon the professional knowledge, experience, and abilities of the employee. Activities for pay not involving such professional knowledge, experience and abilities are not subject to the advance disclosure and approval requirements of this Policy, although they are subject to the basic requirement that outside activities of any type must not (i) result in the neglect of the employee’s primary duties; (ii) create Conflicts of Interest; (iii) involve inappropriate uses of the University name or resources; or (iv) include claims of University responsibility for the activity. External Professional Activities for Pay of employees subject to the State Personnel Act are addressed in University Policy #87 pertaining to secondary employment.
“Financial Interest” is defined as: (i) payment for services to the Covered Employee not otherwise defined as institutional salary (e.g., consulting fees, honoraria, paid authorship); or (ii) equity or other ownership interest in publicly or non-publicly traded entities (e.g., stock, stock options, or other ownership interest); or (iii) intellectual property rights and interests upon receipt of income related to such rights and interest, held by the Covered Employee or members of his/her Immediate Family.
Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds or retirement accounts, in which the Covered Employee or member of his/her Immediate Family do not directly control the investment decisions and intellectual property rights assigned to the University and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights are excluded from the definition of Financial Interest. Covered Employees are required to disclose Financial Interests in a timely and accurate manner as provided in this Policy.
“Immediate Family” for purposes of this policy a Covered Employee’s Immediate Family includes that person’s spouse and dependent children.
“Inappropriate Use or Exploitation of University Resources” means using any services, facilities, equipment, supplies or personnel which members of the general public may not freely use for other than the conduct of Employment Responsibilities. A person engaged in External Professional Activities for Pay may not use University resources in the course and conduct of externally compensated activities, except as allowed by applicable University policies and state law. Under no circumstances may any employee use the services of another employee during University employment time to advance the externally compensated employee’s External Professional Activities for Pay.
“Investigator” means the research project director or principal investigator and any other person, collaborator or consultant, regardless of title or position, who is responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of research or who proposes research funded by the PHS (e.g., National Institutes of Health) or the NSF.
“SHRA” means an employee who is subject to the State Human Resources Act.
“Significant Financial Interest” in the context of PHS and NSF funded research, means a financial interest consisting of one or more of the following interests of the Covered Employee (and those of the employee’s spouse and dependent children) that reasonably appears to be related to the Covered Employee’s Employment Responsibilities:
Investigators must disclose any reimbursed or sponsored travel for them and their spouse and dependents. The term Significant Financial Interest does not include the following types of financial interests: (i) salary, royalties, or other remuneration paid by the University to the Covered Employee if the employee is currently employed or otherwise appointed by the University, including intellectual property rights assigned to the University and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights; (ii) any ownership interest in the University held by the Investigator, if the University is a commercial or for-profit organization; (iii) income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and retirement accounts, as long as the Covered Employee does not directly control the investment decisions made in these vehicles; (iv) income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by a federal, state, or local government agency, an institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education; or (v) income from service on advisory committees or review panels for a federal, state, or local government agency, an institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education.
Although this policy applies to conflicts which may arise with respect to any research or non-research activity conducted under University auspices, regulations issued by the National Science Foundation (“NSF”) and Public Health Service (“PHS”) set specific requirements for University research funded by those agencies (regulations may be accessed in Section XIII below). This policy is intended to comply with those federal regulations.
As a part of its obligations for such federally funded research the University is required to certify in the application for funding from those agencies that the University (i) has in place a written and enforced administrative process to identify and manage, reduce or eliminate conflicting interests; (ii) will, before expending any funds under the award, make available via publicly accessible web site or via written response to any requestor information concerning the nature of any Significant Financial Interest that is disclosed to the University, is related to PHS-funded research, and is a Conflict of Interest ; (iii) will make available to the federal agency on request information regarding all conflicting interests identified by the University and how those interests have been managed, reduced or eliminated to protect research from bias; and (iv) will otherwise comply with all aspects of the regulations.
The Office of Research Administration shall ensure that appropriate certifications related to research objectivity and financial conflict disclosures are submitted to federal agencies and that information concerning Significant Financial Interests is made publicly available. The Office of Research Administration may develop implementing procedures as may be necessary to these undertakings.
A. Categories of Activities that may Create a Conflict of Interest
Activities that may create a financial Conflict of Interest may be categorized under four (4) general headings: (i) those that are allowable and are disclosed; (ii) those that are allowable with administrative approval and are disclosed; (iii) those that generally are not allowable and require an approved Conflict of Interest management plan; and (iv) those that are not allowable under any circumstances. The following examples are merely illustrative and do not purport to include all possible situations within the four (4) categories.
1. Activities that are Disclosed and Allowable
The examples cited below involve activities external to University employment, and thus may present the appearance of a financial Conflict of Interest, but have little or no potential for affecting the objectivity of the Covered Employee's performance of University Employment Responsibilities; at most, some such situations could prompt questions about Conflict of Commitment.
2. Activities Requiring Disclosure for Review and Approval
The examples cited below suggest a possibility of conflicting interests that can impair objectivity, but disclosure and resulting analysis of relationships may render the activity permissible and may result in the establishment of an approved management plan.
3. Activities Generally not Allowable / Approval & Conflict Management Plan
The examples cited below involve situations that are not generally permissible because they involve potential financial Conflict of Interest or they present obvious opportunities or inducements to favor personal interests over University interests. Before proceeding with such an endeavor, the Covered Employee would have to demonstrate that in fact his/her objectivity would not be affected, University interests otherwise would not be damaged, and an approved Conflict of Interest management plan is in place.
4. Activities not Allowable Under any Circumstances
The examples cited below are activities that are not allowable under any circumstances.
B. Conflict of Interest Disclosure, Review, and Approval Procedures
1. Annual Disclosure. Covered Employees must submit to their Department Head (or Director in administrative departments) a complete and accurate Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form (“Disclosure Form” available as Appendix A at Section XIII) on September 1 each year that discloses potential Conflicts of Interest during the upcoming academic year. Note that the obligation to disclose potential Conflicts of Interest is a separate obligation and is not excused by the filing of a Notice of Intent for Review of External Professional Activities for Pay pursuant to Section VI below.
2. Supplemental/Amended Disclosures. Covered Employees also must submit to their Department Head or Director a supplemental Disclosure Form any time circumstances change which either eliminate a potential Conflict of Interest previously disclosed or give rise to a new potential Conflict of Interest. Regarding the latter circumstance, the Disclosure Form must be submitted at least thirty (30) days before the date of a new activity that may give rise to a Conflict of Interest, unless the disclosure relates to PHS supported research, in which case the disclosure must be made at the time of application.
3. Review Process / Determinations. The Conflict of Interest review process is a two-step review and approval process initiated by the Covered Employee’s immediate supervisor. The Department Head (or Director in administrative departments) has the initial responsibility to determine compliance with this Policy and to review potential conflicts identified in the Disclosure Form. In the event the Department Head or Director determines that the Disclosure Form was not submitted timely or is incomplete, the Department Head shall obtain full compliance with this policy. Review and approval by the Department Head or other reviewing official (as evidenced by the reviewing official’s signature on the Disclosure Form) does not constitute a representation or warranty by the reviewing official that the information provided by the Covered Employee is complete or accurate.
If the Department Head or Director determines that the activities disclosed do not present a Conflict of Interest, he/she shall record the decision on the Disclosure Form and forward it to the Dean (or Vice Chancellor for administrative departments or divisions) for his/her review and requisite approval.
If the determination is that a Covered Employee has a Conflict of Interest, the Department Head or Director shall work with the employee to develop a proposed Conflict of Interest management plan (“Management Plan”) in accordance with Section V.C below. The Department Head or Director may seek the advice and counsel of the Dean or Vice Chancellor, other University officials or the University Conflict of Interest Panel (“COI Panel”) in the development of the Management Plan. The Dean or Vice Chancellor and the COI Panel must approve the Management Plan prior to the employee’s engagement in the disclosed activities.
If the Department Head or Director is uncertain about whether disclosed activities create a Conflict of Interest, he/she shall consult with the Dean or Vice Chancellor, other University officials or the COI Panel if necessary. If the determination is that a Covered Employee has a Conflict of Interest, a Management Plan shall be developed and approved as described above.
4. Submission and Maintenance of Completed Disclosures. Once the Disclosure Form has been reviewed and approved by all requisite reviewers, the original Disclosure Form should be submitted to the Office of Human Resources and Payroll for maintenance in the Covered Employee’s permanent personnel file, and copies of the Disclosure Form should be submitted to and maintained in confidence by the Department Head and the Office of Research Administration.
5. Conflict of Interest Review Panel. The Conflict of Interest Review Panel (“COI Panel”) is comprised of the following individuals, who shall serve by virtue of their office or shall be appointed for terms of three (3) years by the bodies identified: (1) the General Counsel or his/her designee; (2) the Provost or his/her designee, who shall serve as chair of the panel; (3) the Associate Dean for Research and Director of Research Administration or his/her designee; (4) a representative of the Provost’s Council appointed upon consensus of the council; and (5) a representative of the Faculty Senate appointed upon consensus of the senate.
The COI Panel shall be responsible for (i) providing counsel and assistance to Department Heads or Directors in making Conflict of Interest determinations upon request of the reviewing official; (ii) reviewing and approving proposed Management Plans regarding Conflict of Interest management, mitigation or elimination; and (iii) assisting the Office of Research Administration or applicable Vice Chancellor with investigations and reporting obligations concerning undisclosed Conflicts of Interest and violations of this Policy and federal law and regulations.
6. Appeals of Conflict of Interest Determinations. A Covered Employee may appeal the COI Panel’s determination that a Conflict of Interest exists and/or the terms and conditions of the recommended Management Plan. The Covered Employee shall prepare a short, plain written statement that describes the nature of the appeal and the remedy sought. The appeal must be submitted to the Chancellor within ten (10) calendar days of receipt of the COI Panel’s determination. The decision of the Chancellor shall be final.
7. PHS and NSF Requirements. Research supported by the PHS or the NSF may impose different or additional obligations on Investigators with regard to disclosure and reporting of Conflicts of Interest and Significant Financial Interests. More information pertaining to these requirements may be found at the agency links provided in Section XIII below or obtained in the Office of Research Administration.
C. Management/Mitigation of Conflicts of Interest
Once a Conflict of Interest is identified through the submission of a Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form or otherwise, the Department Head or Director should collect all relevant information necessary to make an informed judgment on the matter. The Department Head or Director, upon consultation with other University officials or the COI Panel, must examine a range of research and business alternatives in the development of an appropriate Management Plan. These alternatives include, but are not limited to:
Department Heads or Directors are responsible for monitoring a Covered Employee’s compliance with the Management Plan.
A. General Guidance
The University seeks to appoint and to retain employees of exceptional competence in their fields of professional endeavor. Because of their specialized knowledge, these employees have opportunities to engage in activities outside of University employment, including secondary employment consisting of paid consultation or other service to both public and private entities. Practical applications of specialized knowledge enhance teaching, research, and administration. Consequently, participation of employees in External Professional Activities for Pay is an important characteristic of academic employment that often leads to societal benefits. However, these activities must be undertaken only if they do not create Conflicts of Interest or Conflicts of Commitment or involve the Inappropriate Use or Exploitation of University Resources.
External Professional Activities for Pay should generally be limited to no more than the equivalent of 20 percent (20%) of the Covered Employee’s contracted time during the appointment.
B. External Activities for Pay Disclosure and Review Procedures
1. Notice of Intent
Any employee who plans to engage in external professional activities for pay must complete the"Notice of Intent to Engage in External Professional Activity for Pay" ("Notice of Intent" available as Appendix B at Section XIII). A Notice of Intent must be completed for each proposed activity. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the Notice of Intent must be filed in a timely manner and in any event not less than ten (10) calendar days before the date the activity is scheduled to begin.
2. Review and Approval Process
a. Approval of Activity Consistent with Policy
The Notice of Intent shall be initially reviewed by the employee's Department Head or Director. If the Department Head or Director determines that the proposed activity is consistent with this policy, the employee shall be notified in writing of such determination within ten (10) days of the date the Notice of Intent was filed. . Approval may be granted for a period not to exceed the balance remaining as of the date of approval of either: (i) the fiscal year in the case of 12 month employees and employees with contract service periods that include the summer session; or (ii) the academic year in the case of 9 month employees with no summer session contracts. If the approved activity will continue beyond the end of the relevant fiscal or academic year in which it was begun, the Covered Employee must file and additional notice at least ten (10) calendar days before engaging in such activity in the succeeding year.
b. Approval/Disapproval of Activity Involving Financial Interest
Covered Employees must disclose their financial interests consistent with the University and UNC Conflicts of Interest policies.
If the Covered Employee intends to engage in activities (i) with an organization that also provides funding that directly or indirectly supports the Covered Employee’s Employment Responsibilities (i.e., may create a potential Conflict of Interest); or (ii) with a private entity in which the Covered Employee or member of the Covered Employee’s Immediate Family holds an equity or ownership interest or holds an office, then the procedure described in Section IV.B.2.a above shall be modified as follows: (i) the decision of the Department Head or Director to approve the activity must be reviewed promptly and approved or disapproved within ten (10) calendar days of receipt by the administrative officer to whom the Department Head or Director reports, and (ii) an appeal of a disapproval by that officer shall be to the Chancellor or his/her designee. The decision of the Chancellor or his/her designee shall be final.
3. Appeals of Decisions
In the event of such notification by the Department Head or Director, the Covered Employee shall not proceed with the proposed activity but may appeal that decision to the administrative officer to whom the Department Head/Director reports, and then to the Chancellor or the Chancellor’s designee. Appeals shall be made in writing within ten (10) calendar days of receipt of notification.
The administrative office shall make a recommendation to the Chancellor or his/her designee regarding such appeal, and a decision on the appeal shall be given by the Chancellor or his/her designee to the Covered Employee within ten (10) calendar days of the date on which the appeal is received.
C. Reporting Requirements
Annual departmental summaries of all Notices of Intent filed and of actions taken during the preceding fiscal year shall be submitted by Department Heads or Directors to the Chancellor or his/her designee (the Provost’s office has been designated to receive and report on these activities) each July 1. On or before September 1 of each year, UNC General Administration’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs will initiate the submission of annual summary reports from the Chancellor to the President.
D. SPECIAL PROVISIONS
1. External Professional Activities for Pay performed for another state agency also must comply with state policies regarding dual employment and compensation, unless an exception to those policies is expressly authorized by the Chancellor or his/her designee.
2. Additionally, senior academic and administrative officers may be subject to special regulations regarding honoraria. Regulations for Senior Academic and Administrative Officers on External Activities for Pay and Honoraria may be found at UNC Policy Manual 300.2.2.2 [R].
3. These procedures shall not be required of Covered Employees serving on academic year appointments if the External Professional Activity for Pay is wholly performed and completed outside the academic year and the activity does not conflict with University policy, and the activity is not conducted concurrently with a contract service period during a summer session. Notwithstanding this provision, Covered Employees are expected to disclose financial interests in accordance with the University’s Conflicts of Interest policy.
4. In those instances when State-reimbursed travel, work time, or resources are used or when the activity can be construed as related to the Covered Employee’s State position or official duties on behalf of the State, the Covered Employee shall not receive financial consideration, including an honorarium. In these instances the Covered Employee may request that the honorarium be paid to the University. The honorarium may be retained by the Covered Employee only for activities performed during non-working hours or while the Covered Employee is on annual leave, and all expenses must be the responsibility of the employee or a third party that is not a State entity. Third party support must be disclosed on the Notice of Intent.
Conflict of Commitment relates to an employee’s distribution of effort between obligations to Employment Responsibilities and his/her participation in other activities outside of the University. The issue, in each case, is whether the employee is meeting the requirements of the job. For example, if presented with evidence that a faculty member is not meeting full-time responsibilities to the University, the UNC Code prescribes that "neglect of duty" is a ground for disciplinary action, including the possibility of discharge. In another related context, Section VII of this Policy addresses External Professional Activities for Pay. In another example of special legislation, the Board of Governors has established rules for monitoring and regulating the involvement of university employees in political candidacy and office holding that could interfere with full-time commitment to University duties.
A Conflict of Commitment occurs when the pursuit of such outside activities involves an inordinate investment of time that interferes with the employee's obligations to students, colleagues, and to the mission of the University. For example, an employee engaged in private consulting for pay during normal University business hours may be deemed to have a Conflict of Commitment. On the other hand, a faculty member engaged in professional activities related to his/her field of academic or research expertise for up to 8 hours per work week would generally not be deemed to have a Conflict of Commitment.
Covered Employees who do not comply with the provisions of this policy regarding Conflicts of Interest, External Activities for Pay, and Conflicts of Commitment will be subject to disciplinary action.
Every Covered Employee is responsible for complying with this policy and applicable federal law and regulations pertaining to Conflicts of Interest. A member of the University community who has reason to believe that another employee has an undisclosed Conflict of Interest or is otherwise violating University policy or federal law and regulations must report the concern to his or her immediate supervisor. Should the allegation(s) be considered by the supervisor to constitute a possible undisclosed Conflict of Interest or other serious violation of this Policy or federal law and regulations, the supervisor shall report the matter to the Office of Research Administration for investigations related to sponsored research, and to his/her Vice Chancellor for investigations related to all other matters. The COI Panel will assist in all investigation and enforcement activities as appropriate.
For purposes of implementation and administration of this Policy, the Office of Research Administration is responsible for: (i) providing appropriate certifications for federally funded research; (ii) providing information pertaining to Significant Financial Interests as prescribed by federal regulation; (iii) assisting with the activities of the COI Panel; (iv) training Investigators, Department Heads, Directors, and Deans on the requirements of this Policy; and (v) serving as the public disclosure contact as prescribed by federal regulation.
Contact information for the Office of Research Administration is:
Office of Research Administration
Western Carolina University
Cordelia Camp Building, Room 110
Cullowhee, NC 28723
It shall be the responsibility of every academic and administrative Department Head or Director to provide training to his/her Department at the beginning of each academic year on the requirements of this Policy.
The Office of Research Administration shall provide training to Department Heads and Investigators.
Additionally, Investigators who participate in research funded by the PHS must complete required training prior to engaging in agency supported research and at least every four (4) years thereafter. An Investigator must immediately complete training when he/she is new to the University or when the Investigator is found to be in violation of this Policy or an applicable Management Plan. Additional compliance obligations related to the National Institutes of Health are summarized in an agency training tutorial found in Section XII below.
Completed Disclosure Forms and Notices of Intent, including attachments and supplemental documentation, are confidential personnel records as defined by the State Personnel Act. The provisions of that Act governing access to and confidentiality of personnel records shall be strictly observed; provided, however, that the University may be obligated to report disclosed or undisclosed Conflicts of Interest and make certain information publicly available under federal regulations.
This Policy shall be reviewed and revised as necessary in the event UNC policies are revised.
University Policy #87, SHRA Employee Secondary Employment Policy: https://www.wcu.edu/discover/leadership/office-of-the-chancellor/legal-counsel-office/university-policies/numerical-index/university-policy-87.aspx
UNC Policy 300.2.2: Conflict of Interest and Commitment http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/policy/index.php?pg=dl&id=283&format=pdf&inline=1
UNC Policy 300.2.2 [G]: Guidelines on Implementing UNC Policy 300.2.2 http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/policy/index.php?pg=dl&id=13546&format=pdf&inline=1
UNC Policy 300.2.2.1 [R]: External Activities for Pay http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/policy/index.php?pg=dl&id=18166&format=pdf&inline=1
UNC Policy 300.2.2.2 [R]: External Activities for Pay / Honoraria for SAAOs http://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/policy/index.php?pg=vs&id=277&added=1
WCU Office of Research Administration Conflicts of Interest web page: research.wcu.edu
Appendix A - Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form