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University Policy 56

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 such practices.

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 action taken.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 the information.

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 begins.

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.

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