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Updated 10:00 AM July 29, 2005




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Conflict of interest, commitment policies adopted

A revised policy covering issues of conflict of interest and conflict of commitment calls upon units to develop a plan for managing situations as they arise. The Standard Practice Guide (SPG) also makes faculty and staff responsible for reporting potential conflicts, Provost Paul N. Courant said in a July 21 report to the Board of Regents.

SPG 201.65-1 helps define conflict of interest and conflict of commitment more thoroughly. It also acknowledges that in this day when faculty and staff are encouraged to have interests and activities outside the University such conflicts are inevitable and, therefore, require management, says James Hilton, associate provost for academic, information and instructional technology affairs.

"The review of our existing policies started two years ago and was driven by two things. First, a number of interesting cases on the national front highlighted the need for articulating conflict of commitment. In fact, the copyright policy, which was finished in 2002, was probably the first U-M policy to address the notion of conflict of commitment. That policy explicitly prohibits using faculty-owned copyrighted works to compete with the teaching, research and service missions of the University," Hilton says.

"Second, as the number of conflict of interest policies proliferated—for example new policies in schools and grant administration—it seemed prudent to re-examine our umbrella conflict of interest policy."

SPG 201.65-1 states a conflict of interest may exist "whenever personal, professional, commercial or financial interests or activities outside of the University" have the potential to:

• compromise a faculty or staff member's judgment;

• bias the nature or direction of scholarly research;

• influence a decision or behavior regarding teaching, student affairs, appointments and promotions, use of University resources or human subjects; or

• result in personal or family gain at the expense of the University.

A conflict of commitment is defined as potentially existing when the faculty or staff member's external relationships, in reality or appearance, interfere or compete with the educational, research or service missions of the University, or with the individual's ability to "perform the full range of responsibilities associated with his or her position."

The SPG goes on to define the rights and responsibilities of faculty and staff, including the right to outside interests and involvement with professional organizations, and the requirement to disclose potential conflicts and abide by the plan set forth by the unit.

Hilton says the next step for implementation of the SPG is for each unit to establish its own procedures for carrying out the policy.

"I believe that this is a good policy. It balances the academic freedom of the individual on the one hand with the need for accountability to the public on the other," he says. "It is nuanced in recognizing and providing a framework for dealing with a complex set of issues."

A faculty and staff committee appointed by the provost and vice president for research developed a set of core principles that guided development of the revised SPG. Prior to putting it in place earlier this month, drafts of the policy were reviewed and feedback was given by the executive officers, faculty through their respective deans, the Senate Assembly Research Policies Committee, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee.

"It has been a very dynamic and responsive process that will continue as the individual units refine their implementation procedures," Hilton says.

To read the SPG, go to:

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