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University Policy 54

Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment

Formerly Executive Memorandum 95-112
Initially Approved: October 19, 1995
Revised: December 12, 2005
Revised: July 10, 2006
Revised: July 16, 2012
Posted: August 17, 2012
Revised: December 19, 2016
Revised: November 23, 2021

Policy Topic:  Governance and Administration; Research and Sponsored Activities
Administering Office:  Chancellor’s Office 

I.  POLICY STATEMENT

It is the policy of the Western Carolina University that Covered Individuals are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, including the appearance of conflicts, unless such conflicts are disclosed, reviewed, and appropriately managed in accordance with the provisions of this policy and the related procedures. 

II. SCOPE AND APPLICATION OF POLICY

This Policy applies to Covered Individuals as defined by this policy. This Policy does not apply to independent contractors.

III. DEFINITIONS 

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. 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 individual’s fulfillment of his/her employment responsibilities. 

Conflict of Interest” is any situation in which a Covered Individual, or the individual’s immediate family members, have financial or other personal considerations, circumstances, or relationships that:

  • may compromise, 
  • may involve the potential for compromising, or 
  • may have the appearance of compromising 

a Covered Individual’s objectivity in fulfilling their University duties or responsibilities.

Covered Individual” is any University employee, student or trainee in the performance of the teaching, research, public service, administration and business operations of the University or any individual, regardless of employment type or status, involved in federally funded research including the design, conduct, or reporting of such research. (*Note that only certain Covered Individuals identified in section VI are required to submit disclosure forms.)

EHRA” means an employee who is exempt from the State Human Resources Act.

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 individual. 

Financial Interest” is defined as:  

  1. payment for services to the Covered Individual not otherwise defined as institutional salary (e.g., consulting fees, honoraria, paid authorship); or
  2. equity or other ownership interest in publicly or non-publicly traded entities (e.g., stock, stock options, or other ownership interest); or 
  3. intellectual property rights and interests upon receipt of income related to such rights and interest, held by the Covered Individual or members of his/her immediate family. 

Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds or retirement accounts, in which the Covered Individual 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. 

Immediate Family” includes Covered Individual’s spouse and dependent children.

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 Public Health Service (e.g., National Institutes of Health) or the National Science Foundation.

SHRA” means an employee who is subject to the State Human Resources Act.

University Resources” means any services, facilities, equipment, supplies or personnel which members of the general public may not freely use.

IV. CONFLICTS OF INTEREST 

A Covered Individual has a conflict of interest when he or she, or any member of the individual’s immediate family, has a personal or financial interest in an activity that affects, or has the appearance of affecting, the objectivity of the individual’s decision-making with respect to the individual’s University responsibilities.  The following categories may pose a conflict of interest and must be avoided or disclosed and managed.

A.   Contracts, Gifts, or Favors for Personal Benefit

A state criminal statute, N.C.G.S. 14-234, prohibits Covered Individuals from:

  • deriving a direct benefit from any contract that he or she creates or administers on behalf of the university;
  • attempting to influence any other person who is involved in making or administering the contract in which the covered employee will benefit; and
  • soliciting or receiving any gift, favor, reward, service, or promise of reward, including a promise of future employment, in exchange for recommending, influencing, or attempting to influence the award of a contract by the public agency he or she serves.

Additionally, Covered Individuals may neither accept nor offer, either directly or indirectly, any personal gift or favor or loan to or from an organization, entity, or person that is conducting or seeking to conduct business with the University. (see N.C.G.S. 14-234 and N.C.G.S 163A-150).

B.   Use of University Resources, Privileged Information, and Reputation

A Covered Individual may not make use of University resources or privileged information acquired in connection with University employment for purposes other than University responsibilities. Additionally, Covered Individuals may not associate his/her name with the University in such a way as to profit financially by trading on the reputation or good will of the University.

C.   Financial Interests

  1. Income Producing External Activities and Outside Employment
    A Covered Individual may wish to engage in outside employment or activities for pay while employed by the University.  External activities for pay and outside employment may be approved so long as they do not conflict with the individual’s official duties. 
    Examples:
    • Service as an officer, director or trustee in businesses related to your professional field
    • Outside research and consulting
    • Artistic performances
    • Fellowships
    • Positions held at other institutions
    • Workshops, seminars or training programs
    • Honoraria
    • Expert Witness testimony
    • Publishing contracts

  2. Equity and Ownership Interests
    Equity and ownership interests may create a conflict of interest when a Covered Individual participates personally and substantially, on behalf of the University, in any particular matter in which the individual or the individual’s immediate family has a financial interest.

    Examples:
    • Referring University business to an external enterprise in which a Covered Individual or immediate family member has a financial interest.
    • Participating in University research involving a technology owned by or contractually obligated to an enterprise or entity in which the Covered Individual or immediate family member has a consulting relationship, equity or ownership interest, or holds an executive position.
    • Participating in University research that is funded by an enterprise or entity in which the individual or an immediate family member has an equity or ownership interest.
    • Requiring students to purchase the textbook or other intellectual property owned by a Covered Individual or an immediate family member.
    • Receiving royalties from the publication of books or for the licensure of patented inventions subject to the UNC Patent and Copyright Policies.
    • Signing agreements that assign University patent and other intellectual property rights of third parties, without prior institutional approval.
  3. Honoraria and Expense Reimbursement
    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 Individual’s University responsibilities on behalf of the state, the individual shall not receive any financial consideration, including an honorarium.  In these instances, the individual may request that the honorarium be paid to the university.  

    The honorarium may be retained by the individual only for activities performed outside of normal working hours, or while the individual is on earned paid or annual leave, or uncompensated leave approved by the department head, and all expenses are the responsibility of the individual or a third party that is not a state entity. 

  4. Significant Financial Interests and Sponsored Travel for Sponsored Research
    This section is designed to comply with the National Science Foundation’s and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Objectivity in Research policies.

    Any investigator applying to, or submitting a grant or contract proposal for external funding through the University or conducting research or other activities pursuant to such a federal grant or contract, must report any “Significant Financial Interest” that would reasonably appear to affect the proposed or funded research activities.  Investigators involved in the design, conduct, or reporting of PHS-funded research must also report any reimbursed or sponsored travel for themselves and their spouse and dependents (including, at minimum, the purpose of the trip, the identity of the sponsor/organizer, the destination, and the duration). 

    Under the federal regulations, if a Significant Financial Interest may directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of the research, a conflict will be deemed to exist. 

    A significant financial interest is:
    • Salary or other payments for services (including consulting fees or honoraria); income from intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, and royalties), that, when aggregated from a single entity for the employee and immediate family, are expected to exceed $5,000 during the prior twelve month period; or
    • equity interests, such as stock and stock options, that, when aggregated for the employee and immediate family:
      • exceeds $5,000 in value as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value; OR
      • represents more than a (5%) ownership interest in any single entity

The term Significant Financial Interest does not include the following types of financial interests: 

    • 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; 
    • any ownership interest in the University held by the Investigator, if the University is a commercial or for-profit organization;
    • 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; 
    • 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 
    • 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.

D.   Research 

Research conducted by faculty or students under any form of sponsored research must maintain the University’s open teaching and research philosophy and must adhere to a policy that prohibits secrecy in research.  Such conditions on publication must be in compliance with UNC Policy Manual, 500.1 and 500.2 and with campus Intellectual Property policies.

Example:

  • Accepting support for University research under conditions that require results to be held confidential, unpublished, or inordinately delayed in publication.  

V. CONFLICTS OF COMMITMENT 

A Conflict of Commitment occurs when the pursuit of such outside activities involves an inordinate investment of time that interferes with the individual's obligations to students, colleagues, and to the mission of the University.  Outside activities may include one’s involvement with professional or learned societies, participation on review panels, and external professional activities for pay.  Such activities often promote professional development and enrich one’s contributions to the institution, his/her profession or discipline, and to the community, and are generally encouraged. 

It is the policy of WCU that Covered Individuals shall devote their time, energy and professional loyalty to the service of the University in keeping with their primary assignment of responsibility.  Therefore, outside activities must be arranged so as not to interfere with one’s responsibility or commitment to the University.

VI. REQUIRED DISCLOSURE FORMS

In accordance with the provisions of this policy and the related procedures, it shall be the responsibility of every academic and administrative Department Head or Director to review the following disclosure forms and develop management plans as needed in consultation with the Conflict of Interest Panel (Section VII).

  1. Conflict of Interest Form: All potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Most conflicts of interest can be managed once disclosed. The following individuals are required to complete and submit the Conflict of Interest Disclosure form annually and as needed to disclose new conflicts of interest:
    1. All faculty members;
    2. All non-faculty EHRA staff;
    3. Any individual, regardless of employment type or status, involved in federally funded research including the design, conduct, or reporting of such research;
    4. Any SHRA employee at the request of the applicable Executive Council member for the department or division.

  2. Notice of Intent to Engage in External Activities for Pay Form: The following individuals are required to complete and submit the Notice of Intent to Engage in External Activities for Pay form as needed to disclose new activities:
    1. All faculty members; 
    2. All non-faculty EHRA staff. 

  3. Secondary Employment Form:
    1. All SHRA staff (See University Policy #87 pertaining to secondary employment)

VII. 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) Chief Compliance Officer, who shall serve as chair of the panel; (3) the Provost or his/her designee; (4) the Director of the Office of Research Administration or his/her designee; (5) a representative of the Staff Senate appointed upon consensus of the senate; and (6) 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; and (ii) reviewing and approving proposed Management Plans regarding Conflict of Interest management, mitigation or elimination. 

VIII. RESEARCH AND SPONSORED PROJECTS

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. This policy is intended to comply with those federal 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.

The Office of Research Administration is responsible for: 

  1. providing appropriate certifications for federally funded research; 
  2. providing information pertaining to Significant Financial Interests as prescribed by federal regulation; 
  3. assisting with the activities of the COI Panel; 
  4. training Investigators on the requirements of this Policy; and 
  5. 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
(828) 227-7212

IX. TRAINING

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.  

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.

X. CONFIDENTIAL RECORDS; REQUIRED REPORTING

Completed disclosure forms, including attachments and supplemental documentation, are confidential personnel records as defined by the North Carolina Human Resources Act (N.C.G.S 126-22 et al.). 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.

XI. ENFORCEMENT AND REPORTING VIOLATIONS OF THIS POLICY

Covered Individuals who do not comply with the provisions of this policy will be subject to disciplinary action.

A member of the University community who has reason to believe that another individual 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 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.  

XII. RELATED POLICIES AND RESOURCES

University Policy #87, SHRA Employee Secondary Employment Policy

UNC Policy 300.2.2

UNC Policy 300.2.2 [G]

UNC Policy 300.2.2.1 [R]

UNC Policy 300.2.2.2 [R]

WCU Office of Research Administration Conflicts of Interest web page

N.C.G.S 126-22 et al. (“The Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records”)

Typeable PDF - Conflict of Interest Disclosure Form
Typeable PDF – Notice of Intent to Engage in External Professional Activities for Pay Form

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