Ethics in Research
Formerly Executive Memorandum 96-114
Initially approved November 1, 1989
Revised January 1, 1994
Revised June 10, 1996
Revised August 25, 2008
Administering Office: Academic Affairs
Western Carolina University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of scholarly
integrity on the part of all students, faculty, staff, and employees. It is the policy
of the University that all scholarly activities be characterized by ethical and legal
behavior. Further, in the event of an allegation of scholarly misconduct, it is the
policy of the University that all affected parties inside or outside the institution
be fully informed.
All members of the University community have a personal responsibility to implement
this policy with respect to any scholarly work in which they are engaged or about
which they are knowledgeable. Failure to comply with this policy shall be handled
according to procedures outlined below.
The term “research” is defined as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing,
and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. For
the purposes of this policy, research includes all basic, applied, and demonstration
research in all academic and scholarly fields. Research fields include, but are not
limited to, the arts, the sciences, liberal arts, applied sciences, social sciences,
the professions, and research involving human subjects or animals.
The term "ethics in research" is defined as adherence to established professional practices of investigation, experimentation,
interpretation, and publication of scholarly activities. It includes every aspect
of research from conceptualization through collaboration, conduct and completion of
projects, authorship, review, and publication, all pursued in a manner which brings
credit to the University's community of scholars.
The term "unethical behavior in research" is defined as a breach of the above-referenced ethical principles.
The term "misconduct in research" is defined as: 1) fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, as these terms are defined
below, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted
within the scientific community, in proposing, performing, or reviewing research,
or in reporting the results; or 2) any material failure to comply with federal or
University requirements affecting specific aspects of the conduct of research, such
as but not limited to, the protection of human subjects and the welfare of laboratory
animals. It does not include honest error or honest differences in opinion, interpretations,
or judgments of data.
The term “fabrication” is defined as making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
The term “falsification” is defined as manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing
or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in
the research record. The research record is the record of data or results that embody
the facts resulting from the research inquiry and includes, but is not limited to
research proposals, laboratory records, both physical and electronic, progress reports,
abstracts, theses, or oral presentations, internal reports, books, dissertations,
and journal articles.
The term “plagiarism” is defined as the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or
words without giving appropriate credit.
The term "member of the University community" is defined as a student, faculty member, administrator, staff member, affiliate,
or employee of Western Carolina University.
The term "supervisor" is defined as the project leader, department head, dean, director, unit head, vice
chancellor, chancellor, or other University employee to whom a member of the University
community reports directly.
The term "inquiry" is defined as an informal information-gathering and fact-finding action to determine
whether an allegation of misconduct warrants investigation.
The term "investigation" is defined as a formal gathering, examination, and evaluation of all relevant facts
to determine whether an event of misconduct in research has occurred, to identify
the member(s) of the University community responsible, to determine the extent of
adverse effects stemming from an event of misconduct, and to recommend corrective
or punitive action to the Chancellor.
1. Initiation of Action
A. Research Misconduct or Unethical Behavior. A member of the University community who has reason to believe that research has
not been, or is not being, conducted properly should consult confidentially with his
or her supervisor regarding the basis for concern. Should the supervisor consider
the evidence to be serious enough to constitute a possible case of misconduct in research,
the matter must be handled in accordance with Sections 3 and 4 below. Should the supervisor
consider that the evidence constitutes possible unethical behavior the matter must
be handled in accordance with Section 2 below.
B. Mistreatment of Animals or Human Subjects. If the alleged misconduct involves research with animals, the matter shall be reported
to the Provost, who shall refer the incident to the Institutional Animal Care and
Use Committee (IACUC) for review in accordance with its procedures to determine possible
violations of IACUC policy. If the alleged misconduct involves research with human
subjects, the incident shall be reported to the Provost and WCU Institutional Review
Board (IRB) for review of potential noncompliance with DHHS Office of Human Research
Protections (OHRP) and local IRB policies and procedures.
2. Instances of Possible Breaches of Ethics
A. Should a member of the University community bring an allegation of unethical behavior
in research to the attention of a supervisor, the two individuals shall consult informally
and in strict confidence regarding the situation. If the discussions confirm the potential
seriousness of the situation, the supervisor of the individual accused of unethical
behavior shall be informed in writing of the particulars in the matter. This written
report shall be prepared by the concerned party when he or she shares a supervisor
with the accused individual. When the supervisor is different, the report shall be
prepared by the supervisor of the concerned party. Upon receipt of the report, the
supervisor of the accused party shall take action appropriate to ascertaining the
accuracy of the allegation and take actions which are appropriate to correct and prevent
recurrence of any unethical practices and to discipline any individuals guilty of
B. When a member of the University community brings an allegation of unethical conduct
in research to the attention of his or her supervisor and the supervisor informs the
concerned party that he/she does not intend to act on the allegation, then the concerned
party may take the matter to the next higher level of supervision in the University.
The correct procedure to follow in such an instance is to request one's supervisor
to make an appointment with the appropriate person at the next level. The procedure
outlined in Section 1 above and in this Section shall be followed at each level until
the concerned party is satisfied, the allegation is determined by the Provost to be
without merit, or the unethical practice is eliminated and appropriate corrective
C. The University will undertake diligent efforts, as appropriate, to restore the
reputations of the persons alleged to have engaged in unethical behavior in research
when allegations are not confirmed, and to undertake diligent efforts to protect the
positions and reputations of those persons who, in good faith, made the allegations.
3. Instances of Misconduct in Research: The Inquiry
A. Should an allegation be considered by the supervisor to be serious enough to constitute
possible misconduct in research, then an inquiry must be conducted. A written, confidential
report describing the allegation shall be prepared by the concerned party and sent
to the Provost, via appropriate supervisory personnel. Upon receipt of the written
allegation, the Provost shall immediately and confidentially inform the supervisor
of the accused party and the accused party of the allegation. The Provost shall conduct
an inquiry using methods deemed appropriate to the circumstances. The inquiry shall
normally be completed within 30 calendar days. If the inquiry takes longer than 30
days to complete, the record of the inquiry shall include documentation of the reasons
for exceeding the 30 day period. If the Provost determines that the charges warrant
an investigation, then the procedures described in Section 4 shall be followed.
B. Should the inquiry result in a decision by the Provost that the allegation does
not constitute misconduct in research but does constitute unethical behavior, then
the Provost shall refer the matter to the accused's supervisor for action as described
in Section 2. Should the Provost determine that neither misconduct in research nor
unethical behavior has occurred, then all references to the allegation shall be removed
from all personnel files at every level and all materials relating to the allegation
shall be forwarded to the Chancellor who shall be responsible for their security.
Further, the University shall vigorously implement Section 5.F. Should the Provost
determine that the allegation was maliciously motivated or made in bad faith, he or
she shall refer the concerned party to the appropriate body for potential disciplinary
action in accordance with established University policies.
C. Detailed documentation of the inquiry must be maintained for at least a three year
period after the termination of the inquiry.
4. Inquiries Warranting an Investigation
A. If the Provost determines that an allegation warrants it, an investigation shall
be conducted. The investigation shall begin within 30 calendar days of the completion
of the inquiry and must be completed within 120 calendar days after initiation of
the investigation. If the investigation cannot be completed in 120 calendar days,
or if the concerned parties agree to an extension of time, the record of the investigation
shall include documentation for exceeding this time period.
- If the allegation involves the welfare of laboratory animals, the Provost shall refer
the matter to the IACUC for processing in accordance with their procedures.
- In all other cases, the Provost shall appoint an ad hoc committee consisting of the
Provost as Chair, the Dean of Graduate School and Research, and such other members
of the University community or the broader community of scholars who possess the requisite
expertise as deemed appropriate by the Provost. Each committee member must be without
conflicts of interest.
At the same time the matter is referred to the ad hoc committee, the Provost shall
take appropriate action to preserve and protect data and records of the research of
the accused party. The research record will become University records and will be
maintained in accordance with this and other applicable University policy. Further,
the Provost shall notify the accused party of the substantive allegations against
him/her and the right to appear before the ad hoc committee at an investigatory hearing.
The accused party shall be given not fewer than 10 working days advance written notice
of the investigatory hearing.
The Provost shall take appropriate steps to inform any research sponsors in accordance
with applicable laws and regulations. Accused parties may be suspended from the research
project in question if the Provost determines that serious harm could result from
their continuance. Any such suspension shall not relate to other duties at the University.
Furthermore, in cases involving animals, where there is sufficient preliminary evidence
of serious mistreatment or noncompliance with University policy, the Chairperson of
the IACUC may suspend the animal activity, in accordance with IACUC policies, pending
the outcome of the investigation described below.
B. The ad hoc committee shall conduct a prompt and thorough investigatory hearing
in order to ascertain the facts in the case and to determine whether the accused party
violated this policy and, if so, to what extent. The hearing shall be held with testimony
taken from the informant, the accused party, research collaborators or assistants
of the accused party, and any other persons deemed appropriate to render a full and
complete evaluation of the facts. The accused party shall have the right to counsel,
to present witnesses and testimony, to examine documents and evidence prior to the
hearing, and to cross-examine the informant and other witnesses. The hearing shall
be closed and all possible steps shall be taken to preserve the confidentiality of
the proceedings, unless the accused and the ad hoc committee agree otherwise. A written
transcript of the hearing shall be made, with a copy furnished at University expense
to the accused. The ad hoc committee shall consider only evidence presented at the
hearing in determining its findings and shall render its findings and recommendations
within 90 days of the initiation of the investigation.
A finding of research misconduct requires that: (a) there is a significant departure
from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and (b) the misconduct
is committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and (c) the allegation is
proven by a preponderance of evidence.
C. The Chancellor may accept or reject all or any part of the ad hoc committee's findings
and recommendations in the best interest of the University. The Chancellor shall normally
make a decision within 30 days of receiving the ad hoc committee report. Should the
Chancellor decide to take action against the accused, such actions shall be in accordance
with established University policies and procedures for sanctions and dismissals,
subject to the requirements of Section 7 below. After rendering a decision, the Chancellor
shall communicate that decision to the accused, to the Provost, and to other members
of the University community as appropriate, and shall authorize the Provost to make
appropriate disclosures to granting agencies or other affected parties. The accused
shall have the opportunity to respond to proposed findings of research misconduct
through appeal procedures as established in University Policy, (i.e., through the
Grievance or Faculty Hearing Committee, as appropriate).
If the investigation determines that neither misconduct in research nor unethical
behavior has occurred, then all references to the allegations shall be removed from
all personnel files and all materials relating to the allegation shall be forwarded
to the Chancellor who shall be responsible for their security. The files must be retained
for three years. Further, the University shall vigorously implement Section 5.F.
D. Detailed documentation must be prepared and maintained for at least a three-year
period to substantiate the findings of the investigation.
5. Inquiries, Investigations, and Reporting - General Requirements
A. The Provost shall secure any necessary and appropriate expertise to carry out a
thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence in any inquiry or investigation.
Further, the Provost must take precautions against real or apparent conflicts of interest
on those involved in the inquiry or investigation.
B. The privacy of those who report apparent misconduct in research must be protected
to the maximum extent possible.
C. To the extent possible consistent with a fair and thorough investigation and as
allowed by law, information about the identity of the accused subject, informants,
and research subjects will be limited to those individuals who have a need to know
the information in the administration of this policy.
D. If, at any time during the inquiry or investigation, sufficient evidence surfaces
that warrants the termination of the research, the Provost will notify the Principal
Investigator(s) of such action and request that the Vice Chancellor for Administration
and Finance and the Associate Dean for Graduate School & Research take appropriate
action to protect the federal funds supporting that research.
E. Written reports shall be prepared for both the inquiry and investigation that state
what evidence was reviewed, summarizes relevant interviews, and includes findings
and recommendations. The individual(s) against whom the allegation was made shall
be given a copy of the reports of the inquiry and investigation. If they comment on
one or both reports, their comments may be made part of the record.
F. The University will undertake diligent efforts, as appropriate, to restore the
reputations of the person(s) alleged to have engaged in misconduct when allegations
are not confirmed.. The University will be diligent in protecting the position and
reputation of those persons who make allegations of misconduct in research in good
faith or serve as informants in inquiries or investigations. Further, persons who
make good faith allegations of misconduct in research or serve as informants will
not be subject to retaliation, intimidation or any adverse employment action as a
result of bringing an allegation or providing information under this policy.
6. Reporting to the Office of Research Integrity (ORI)
Inquiries and investigations of research sponsored by National Science Foundation
or National Institutes of Health funds also have additional reporting responsibilities
as outlined below.
A. Notify ORI if there is an immediate health hazard involved, an immediate need to
protect federal funds or equipment and individuals affected by the inquiry, and that
the alleged incident will be publicly reported. Further, if there is reasonable indication
of possible criminal violation, ORI must be informed within 24 hours of receiving
B. Promptly advise ORI of any developments during the course of the investigation
which discloses facts that may affect current or potential Department of Health and
Human Services funding for individual(s) under investigation or that the Public Health
Services needs to know to ensure appropriate use of federal funds and otherwise protect
the public interest.
C. Provide ORI with a copy of written findings that an investigation is warranted
within 30 days of the date of the findings.
D. Inform ORI that an investigation will be initiated on or before the date the investigation
E. If the University terminates an inquiry or investigation of a National Science
Foundation or National Institutes of Health funded project for any reason without
completing all relevant requirements, a report of such termination shall be made to
ORI, including a description of the reasons for such a termination.
F. Documentation to substantiate the investigation findings must be maintained. If
the investigation cannot be completed in 120 calendar days, WCU must submit to ORI
a written request for an extension. The request should include an explanation for
the delay, an interim report on the progress to date, an outline of what remains to
be done, and an estimated date of completion.
G. Upon completion of the investigation a report must be submitted to the Director,
ORI within 120 calendar days of initiation of the investigation. The final report
to ORI must describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was
conducted, how and from whom information was obtained relevant to the investigation,
the findings, the basis for the findings, and include the actual text or an accurate
summary of the views of any individual(s) found to have engaged in misconduct, as
well as a description of any sanctions taken by the institution.
7. Administrative and Disciplinary Actions
A. Seriousness of the Misconduct. In determining what administrative or disciplinary actions are appropriate, the Chancellor
should consider the seriousness of the misconduct, including, but not limited to,
the degree to which the misconduct was knowing, intentional, or reckless; was an isolated
event or part of a pattern; or had significant impact on the research record, research
subjects, other researchers, institutions, or the public welfare.
B. Possible Administrative and Disciplinary Actions. Administrative and disciplinary actions available include, but are not limited to,
appropriate steps to correct the research record; letters of reprimand; the imposition
of special certification or assurance requirements to ensure compliance with applicable
regulations or terms of an award; suspension or termination of an active award; written
warning; demotion; suspension; salary reduction; dismissal; or other serious discipline
according to the appropriate policies applicable to students, faculty or staff. With
respect to administrative actions or discipline imposed upon employees, the University
must comply with all relevant personnel policies and laws; With respect to administrative
actions or discipline imposed upon students, the University must comply with all relevant
student policies and codes.
C. Criminal or Civil Fraud Violations. If the University believes that criminal or civil fraud violations may have occurred,
the University shall promptly refer the matter to the appropriate investigative body.
8. Relationship to Other Policies
This policy is meant to complement, not replace, other policies that may apply to
conduct occurring during the research process, such as:
A. University of North Carolina or State of North Carolina Policies: University or State personnel policies and procedures, policies relating to financial
misconduct, policies relating to human or animal subject research, student codes of
conduct, or other applicable policies.
B. Federal Policies and Procedures: Research which is required to comply with separate federal and institutional policies
which conform to policies and rules implemented in response to the Office of Science
and Technology Policy’s Federal Policy on Research Misconduct; for example, The Health
and Human Services Policies codified at 42 CFR Part 93.
C. Questionable Research Practices Policies: Nothing in this policy is meant to prohibit the adoption of policies and procedures
addressing questionable research practices, which do not rise to the level of research
misconduct, as defined in this policy, but which violate the traditional values of
research, and are detrimental to the research process.