Office of the Provost

A Template for
Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment
Unit Implementation Policies for Faculty

(Downloadable Word Document)

Note : This template was designed to address each element that SPG 201.65-1 and its implementing procedures require to be included in unit-specific policies on faculty conflicts of interest and commitment. Nevertheless, the template (and its attachment) represents only one of many possible approaches to drafting a unit-specific policy that includes each of these required elements.

See also “A Sample Academic Unit Policy on Faculty Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment.”

 [ACADEMIC UNIT NAME]
POLICY ON FACULTY CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AND
CONFLICTS OF COMMITMENT
[DATE]

A. Identification of Potential Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

Potential conflicts of interest and commitment are inevitable where faculty are engaged, as they ought to be, with actors and institutions outside the University. Nor are these potential conflicts necessarily problematic. Rather, the University allows and encourages faculty to engage in outside activities and relationships that enhance the University’s mission. It is nevertheless important that faculty disclose any potential conflicts of interest or commitment as soon as they arise so that they can be evaluated and, if necessary, managed or eliminated.

A potential conflict of interest arises when external ties might appear to bias a faculty member’s judgment in performing his or her University obligations. A potential conflict of commitment arises when a faculty member engages in external activities or assumes external commitments that might appear to compromise his or her ability to fulfill the responsibilities of his or her University position. (See Standard Practice Guide (SPG) 201.65-1.)

1. Potential Conflicts of Interest

Examples of potential conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

[List unit-specific examples, as well as any relevant examples from “A Guide to Discussions in the Schools, Colleges, and Research Institutes” or other sources. These examples must include examples covering at least the following issues: acceptance of gifts, honoraria or speaker fees, and meal or travel expenses.]

2. Potential Conflicts of Commitment

The existence of a potential conflict of commitment must be evaluated in light of the minimum time and effort requirements applicable to the faculty member in question.

All faculty, including visiting and clinical faculty, with at least half-time University appointments owe their primary professional commitment to the University. A commensurate commitment of those faculty members’ time and intellectual energy must therefore be devoted to activities that further the University’s mission. To meet minimum time and effort commitments within the [unit name], these faculty members are expected to [describe minimum expectations for teaching, research, administrative, clinical, etc. obligations.] For faculty employed under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, the applicable agreement describes the expected professional commitments.

Even where obligations to the University are met, a faculty member may not engage in activities that compete with the University or that otherwise diminish or undermine the University’s mission. It is inappropriate for faculty, without prior approval, to divert to other entities or institutions opportunities for research, education, clinical care or financial support which otherwise might flow to the University.

Other part-time faculty, including adjunct faculty, likewise owe the University time and effort commitments commensurate with their appointments. For these faculty members to meet minimum time and effort commitments within the [unit name], they must [describe minimum expectations for teaching, research, administrative, clinical, etc. obligations.]

With these principles in mind, examples of potential conflicts of commitment include, but are not limited to, the following:

[List unit-specific examples, such as outside professional employment or charitable activities, including consulting, entrepreneurial, or charitable work, service on outside for- or non-profit boards or in connection with professional or other associations (e.g., American Bar Association, American Medical Association, etc.), participation in conferences or conventions, etc.]

B. Disclosure, Evaluation, and Management of Potential Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

1. Disclosure of Potential Conflicts

In general, each faculty member must promptly disclose potential conflicts of interest or commitment to the [title of unit COI/COC manager (e.g., dean, associate dean, committee, or other designee)]. [Insert timing of disclosures (e.g., annually, as arise, annual with updates as needed]. Disclosures must be made [identify format for disclosure (e.g., in writing, on particular form, by e-mail, etc.)].

Disclosure will not be required under the following circumstances:

[If this is not discussed above in the definitions, list any de minimis situations in which disclosure will not be required. Such situations might for example include receipt of honoraria or speaker fees (regardless of amount or of less than a specified amount, as appropriate within the unit).]

2. Management of Potential Conflicts

Upon disclosure of a potential conflict of interest or commitment, the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] will evaluate the extent of the potential conflict to determine whether it is necessary to manage or eliminate it. The [title of the unit COI/COC manager] may ask the faculty member to provide additional information or documentation if necessary.

In some circumstances, evaluation of the potential conflict will require consultation with and processing by central administration offices. For example, centralized processing is necessary in the following circumstances:

  • Where the disclosure involves sponsored research or technology transfer, by the Office of the Vice President for Research;

  • Where there may be a conflict between two academic units, by the Provost’s Office;

  • [Other examples?]; and

  • Where the disclosure involves a purchase of goods or services, by Purchasing.

In many cases, consultation with central administration offices, even when processing by those offices is not required, may help determine how to respond to a given disclosure. Examples of potentially appropriate consultation might include the following: where the disclosure involves sponsored research or technology transfer, with the Office of the Vice President for Research; where there may be a conflict between two academic units, with the Provost’s Office; where legal obligations or potential liability may be involved, with the General Counsel’s Office; [other examples?]; and where the disclosure involves a purchase of goods or services, with Purchasing.

In response to a disclosure of a potential conflict, the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] may, after consulting with the faculty member, determine that no action is necessary.  In other cases, the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] may decide that it is sufficient to document the disclosure and his or her determination that no further management is required.  If the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] determines that management of the potential conflict is necessary, however, he/she will develop a conflict management plan in consultation with the faculty member.  That plan may include, but is not limited to:

  • Disclosing the potential conflict to appropriate sources inside and/or outside the University;

  • Modifying or limiting the faculty member’s duties to minimize or eliminate the conflict;

  • Reducing the faculty member’s appointment to accommodate the outside interest or activity;

  • Securing the faculty member’s agreement to modify or suspend outside activity, use of University resources, or other activities that create the potential conflict; or

  • Prohibiting certain outside activity as inconsistent with the faculty member’s obligations to the University.

 3. Record-Keeping and Issues of Confidentiality and Privacy

The [title of the unit COI/COC manager] will keep a record of action on disclosures made under this policy, in part to help develop a consistent practice of treating like cases alike. The record may be as simple as identifying the disclosure and, when no further action was required, including a notation to that effect on the disclosure description. Appropriate records may also be maintained in the individual faculty member’s personnel file.

The [title of the unit COI/COC manager] will make all reasonable efforts to preserve the privacy and confidentiality of personal information revealed as part of this process; to that end, the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] will keep all records that include personal information about named individuals in a secure file accessible only to the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] and the Dean of the [unit name]. Where any other faculty or staff member has a legitimate educational or business reason to access the documentation, then either the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] or the Dean may authorize access to the file and provide either copies and/or information, as may be required for the stated educational or business purpose. If the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] or the Dean provides copies of information in the files to a faculty or staff member, he or she must also ask that individual to maintain the same level of confidentiality as applicable to the original information or documents.

In some circumstances, the University is required to disclose potential conflicts to people within or outside the University. For example, if a conflict exists within the context of a federally sponsored project, the University is required both to disclose the existence of that conflict (without providing identifying information) to the federal government and to indicate whether it has managed that conflict. Also, the University may be legally required to disclose information in response to requests made under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Should any other individual have a legitimate reason to access the confidential records, whether in the context of a federally sponsored project, a FOIA request, or otherwise, the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] or the Dean may authorize access to the file, provide copies, or provide oral or written summaries. Where possible, the individual to whom the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] or Dean authorizes disclosure will be required to maintain at least the same level of confidentiality as applicable to the original information or documents.

Any faculty or staff member who becomes aware that the [title of the unit COI/COC manager] or Dean has provided or may have provided unwarranted access to conflict documentation or information, as defined in this policy, should inform the relevant superior for appropriate action. [May also refer to SOX Hotline (from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002) when it becomes available.]

C. Dispute Resolution

 A faculty member may dispute any decision made in response to the disclosure or non-disclosure of a potential conflict of interest or commitment. [Insert description of any unit-specific dispute resolution procedures (such as review by standing committee, faculty committee, executive committee, governing faculty, etc).] Following exhaustion of these unit-specific procedures, the faculty member may dispute any action or decision under this policy in accordance with applicable University procedures. [Describe/identify, including by noting that disputes re: sponsored research/tech transfer must be handled in accordance with processes adopted by OVPR Conflict of Interest Review Committee and, if appropriate, that disputes re: Medical School conflicts must follow processes of Medical School Conflict of Interest Board. Other disputes between a faculty member and the unit should be resolved through the normal grievance procedures, including, where applicable, collective bargaining agreement grievance procedures.]

D. Education and Training

[Describe processes for ongoing education and training of faculty and unit administrators regarding policy and its requirements, including timing (annual; at time of hiring or transfer into Unit; at contract renewal, promotion, or grant of tenure; at time of disclosure; at time of violation; etc.), method (acknowledgment, attendance at presentations, completion of tutorial sessions (online or in-person), etc.), content (for faculty, emphasis on disclosure; for administrators, emphasis on response and management), and responsibility for development and implementation (perhaps unit COI/COC manager, perhaps others?).]

E. Violations

Any failure to comply with SPG 201.65-1, its procedures, or this implementing policy may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of appointment in accordance with applicable disciplinary procedures. Possible violations that may lead to disciplinary action include, but are not limited to, the following: failure to disclose fully a potential conflict; failure to comply fully with a required conflict management plan; failure to maintain the confidentiality of conflict documentation and information; and failure to complete any required training or education regarding the policy. [Any other examples?][Describe procedures for determining whether violation occurred (including, if appropriate under those procedures, whether violation was intentional, unreasonable, knowing, etc.).]

F. Policy Review and Revision

The [title of unit COI/COC manager] will annually review all actions taken under this policy and make recommendations to the Dean regarding any needed revisions to the policy or any need for increased education. Any revisions in policy or practices will be discussed with the faculty. If the Dean determines that any of the changes he or she would like to adopt will materially change the policy, the Dean will follow the procedures used to adopt the original policy. In particular, the Dean will submit any materially revised policy to the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for further review and approval and then to the President for formal adoption. [Insert SPG procedures URL.] A current version of the [unit name]’s policy should be on file with the Provost’s Office at all times.

This policy applies to all faculty of the [unit name], including both full- and part-time faculty, whether classified as regular instructional, clinical, adjunct, or visiting faculty.

G. Governing Policies

This policy implements SPG 201.65-1, Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment, incorporates SPG 201.65-1 in its entirety, and includes all elements required under that SPG. Implementation of SPG 201.65-1 within the [unit name] requires compliance with other University policies and procedures, including all Regents’ Bylaws and SPGs, as well as with any relevant external rules of professional conduct and applicable law. Relevant policies, procedures, rules, and law include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Regents’ Bylaw 2.16, regarding gifts to University employees;

  • Regents’ Bylaw 5.12, regarding outside employment of University faculty;

  • Regents’ Bylaw 5.13, regarding governmental elected or appointed service;

  • Regents’ Bylaw 5.14, regarding leaves of absence;

  • SPG 201.23, regarding appointment of individuals with close personal or external business relationships;

  • SPG 201.65-0, regarding employment outside the University;

  • SPG 201.85 , regarding special stipends for work performed for other University units, the payment of honoraria, and the payment of travel expenses;

  • SPG 500.01, 601.28, and 601.11, in particular to the extent that they address copyright and other appropriate use of University resources, such as the libraries, office space, computers, secretarial and administrative support staff, and supplies;

  • Office of Vice President for Research (OVPR) Policy on Conflict of Interest in Sponsored Research and Technology Transfer Agreements;

  • [If applicable (e.g., for Medical School), insert reference to Medical School’s policy on conflicts of interest];

  • [Insert brief descriptions of any applicable rules of professional conduct applicable to faculty in academic unit]; and

  • Michigan Compiled Laws § 15.321 et seq., regarding contracts of public employees with their employers.

  • Where applicable, the current collective bargaining agreement for the graduate student employee or faculty member.

In the event of any inconsistency between this policy and other University or external requirements, those other requirements will prevail. In interpreting this policy the Dean and the [title of unit COI/COC manager] should be attentive to preserve the principle of academic freedom of speech and thought. In addition, policy administratorswill make every reasonable effort to preserve confidentiality and protect the privacy of all parties in the course of investigating and managing a potential conflict of interest or commitment.

[Note: See also “Sample Academic Unit Policy on Faculty Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment.”]