Responding to Allegations of Misconduct in Research-Policies & Procedures

Background

The Public Health Service (PHS) requires that Tennessee Technological University (TTU) have in place a policy and procedures to respond to allegations of misconduct in scientific research by an employee. The policy and procedures are mandated as a part of the process to apply for federal assistance to conduct research projects. The University has developed a broader policy and procedures that encompasses responding to allegations of misconduct in all areas of research. All aspects of the requirements of the PHS are incorporated into the policy and procedures for TTU.

I. Introduction

A. General Policy
The mission statement of Tennessee Technological University (TTU) encourages research because it is an important component of a university. In carrying out its mission TTU recognizes that it has a responsibility to support all of the research activities of its faculty, students, staff and others. TTU must make every effort to ensure that high ethical standards are maintained in the research that is performed under its auspices. The policies and procedures described in this document are designed to maintain the integrity of all research and related activities at TTU.

B. Scope
These policies and procedures shall apply to all instances of alleged or apparent misconduct involving research, research training, and other activities related to research that are conducted under the auspices of TTU. These policies and procedures apply to all individuals involved in research in association with TTU including faculty, administrators, guest researchers, volunteers, technicians, collaborators, other staff, and students. For purposes of this policy statement, a modified version of the definition of misconduct included in Public Health Service (PHS) regulation codified at 42 CFR Part 50, Subpart A will be used. The PHS definition is expressed in terms of misconduct in scientific research. The definition utilized in these policies and procedures eliminates reference to "scientific" so that it is clear that the definition includes all research carried out under the auspices of TTU. For purposes of these policies and procedures misconduct or misconduct in research occurs when there is fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data. The burden of proof of an allegation of misconduct in research lies with TTU.

II. Definitions

Most of the definitions used throughout this document are modified versions of those appearing in "Instructions for Conducting Scientific Misconduct Inquiries and Investigations," published in 1994 by the Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Public Health Service.

III. Rights and Responsibilities

A. Research Integrity Officer
The Associate Vice President for Research will serve as the Research Integrity Officer (RIO) and shall have primary responsibility for adherence to the procedures set forth in this document. If the Associate Vice President for Research is a respondent or has a conflict of interest to an allegation of misconduct in research, the President shall designate another individual to carry out the responsibilities of the RIO, relative to the allegation. The RIO shall assist inquiry and investigation committees and all institutional personnel in order to assure compliance with these procedures and with applicable standards imposed by government or external funding sources. The RIO shall also maintain files of all documents and evidence, and is responsible for the confidentiality (consistent with the laws of the State-of-Tennessee) and the security of files. The RIO shall report, as required by any applicable federal, state or other regulations (e.g., the Office of Scientific Integrity of the Public Health Service), the status of any investigation.

B. Complainant
The complainant shall have an opportunity to testify before the inquiry and investigation committees, to review portions of the inquiry and investigation reports related to that testimony, to be informed of the results of the inquiry and investigation, and to be protected from retaliation. The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality (consistent with the laws of the State-of-Tennessee), and cooperating with an inquiry or investigation.

C. Respondent
The respondent shall be informed of the allegations, and notified in writing of the final determinations and resulting actions. The respondent shall also have the opportunity to be interviewed by and present evidence to the inquiry and investigation committees, and to review the inquiry and investigation reports, and to have the advice of counsel. The respondent is responsible for maintaining confidentiality (consistent with the laws of the State-of-Tennessee) and cooperating with the conduct of an inquiry or investigation.

D. Institutional Official
The President shall appoint inquiry and investigation committees and ensure that necessary and appropriate expertise is secured to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence in an inquiry or investigation. The President shall ensure that interim administrative actions are taken, as appropriate, to protect all funds utilized in research. The President will receive the report and written comments of the respondent, the witness(s) and the complainant, if any are made. The President will receive the reports of the inquiry and investigation committees and will consult with other TTU and TBR officials, as appropriate, and shall determine whether to conduct an investigation or impose sanctions (see Section X).

IV. General Policies

A. Responsibility to Report Misconduct
All employees or individuals associated with TTU are required to report observed, suspected, or apparent misconduct in research to the RIO. If the RIO is suspected of involvement in the misconduct of research, the allegation shall be reported to the President (see III.A.). If an individual is unsure whether a suspected incident of misconduct falls within the definition, he/she may contact the RIO to discuss the suspected misconduct informally. If the circumstances described by the individual do not meet the definition of misconduct in research, but are perceived as a problem needing resolution, the RIO will refer the individual or allegation to other offices or officials with responsibility for resolving the problem.

B. Preliminary Assessment
Upon receiving an allegation of misconduct in research, the RIO shall immediately assess the allegation to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant an inquiry. In assessing the allegation, the RIO also shall determine whether external support or applications for external support for research are involved, and whether the allegation falls under the definition of misconduct in research as defined in Section II of this document. The RIO will inform the Vice President for Academic Affairs of the assessment. The Vice President for Academic Affairs will review the assessment and make a recommendation to the President. The President will make the final determination if further inquiry is warranted.

C. Cooperation with Inquiries and Investigations

TTU employees have an obligation to cooperate with the RIO and other officials in the review of allegations and the conduct of inquiries and investigations. Employees have an obligation to provide relevant evidence to the RIO or other institutional officials on misconduct allegations.

D. Protection of Respondents
Inquiries and investigations will be conducted in a manner that will ensure fair treatment to the subject(s) of the inquiry or investigation and confidentiality to the extent possible consistent with protecting public health and safety, with carrying out the inquiry or investigation and in keeping with the Policies of the TBR, TTU, and the laws of the State of Tennessee. Individuals who are accused of misconduct in research have the right to consult legal counsel and to bring counsel for personal advice during interviews or meetings on the case. The hearing is administrative in nature; consequently the respondent's counsel may not question individuals or speak for the respondent.

E. Protection of Complainants
At any time, an employee of TTU may have confidential discussions and consultation about possible concerns of misconduct with the RIO, Vice President for Academic Affairs or academic dean, and will be counseled about appropriate procedures to report allegations. The RIO will monitor the treatment of individuals who bring allegations of misconduct or inadequate TTU response thereto, or who cooperate with inquiries or investigations. If the complainant requests anonymity, TTU will make an effort to honor the request within applicable policies and regulations of the State of Tennessee. TTU will make every effort to protect the positions and reputations of those persons who, in good faith, make allegations or serve as witnesses. The RIO will ensure that those making an allegation in good faith or cooperating with an inquiry or investigation into an allegation of misconduct will not be retaliated against in the terms and conditions of their employment or other status at TTU. Instances of apparent retaliation will be reviewed by the Affirmative Action Officer (AAO) for appropriate action or referral to another university official. If the AAO has been involved or has a conflict of interest, the President will assign an appropriate person to review the situation.

If retaliations are confirmed, complainants will be consulted regarding appropriate corrective actions to be taken on their behalf to restore or protect their positions or reputations.

G. Further Reporting
The RIO will inform the President via the Vice President for Academic Affairs of all actions taken.

V. Inquiry

A. Purpose
If the President determines that an allegation falls within the definition of misconduct in research, TTU must make an inquiry immediately. The purpose of the inquiry is to evaluate the situation to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of possible misconduct in research to warrant an investigation. The purpose of the inquiry is NOT to reach a final conclusion as to whether misconduct occurred or who was responsible.

B. Charge to Committee
The charge to the Inquiry Committee will specifically limit its scope to evaluate the facts only to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of misconduct in research to warrant an investigation.

C. Appointment of Inquiry Committee
If the President of TTU decides that an inquiry will be conducted, he/she in consultation with the President of the Faculty Senate, will appoint an Inquiry Committee consisting of three individuals who do not have conflicts of interest in the case, are unbiased, and have appropriate qualifications to evaluate the issues raised. If the President of the Faculty Senate is a respondent or has a conflict of interest relative to an allegation of misconduct in research, the President of TTU will appoint the Inquiry Committee in consultation with the Secretary of the Faculty Senate. The President and the President of the Faculty Senate should seek input from the Dean of the College in which the respondent holds academic rank, relative to appropriate individuals to nominate for consideration for appointment to the Investigation Committee. The committee will elect its own Chair and the RIO will provide assistance as needed. The President will notify the respondent of the proposed committee membership. If the respondent submits a written objection, within five working days, to any of the persons appointed to the Inquiry Committee, the President may replace the challenged person with a qualified substitute.

D. Inquiry Process
The inquiry will normally involve interviewing the complainant, the respondent, and key witnesses, and examining relevant research records and materials.

E. Time Limit for Completing Inquiry Report
The Inquiry Committee normally will complete the inquiry and must submit a report in writing no more than 60 calendar days after initial appointment. If the President approves an extension of this time limit, the reason for the extension will be entered into the records of the case and the report. The respondent will also be notified of the extension.

F. Inquiry Report Contents
A written report shall be prepared that states what evidence was reviewed, summarizes relevant interviews, and includes the conclusion of the inquiry as to whether an investigation is warranted.

G. Comments by Respondent and Complainant
The individual(s) against whom the allegation was made and the person(s) who raised the allegation will each be given a copy of the report. All persons involved will have ten working days to submit written comments to the President. Comments, if any, that the complainant or respondent submit on the report will become part of the inquiry record. Comments received after the ten day limit has expired will be added to the inquiry record. However, note will be made that the comments were received after the closing date.

H. Decision by President
After receiving both the report and the written comments of the respondent and complainant, if any are made, the President, after consulting with the RIO and the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and others if necessary, shall determine whether to conduct an investigation, dismiss the matter, or to take some other appropriate action.

VI. Investigation

A. Purpose
The purpose of the investigation is to examine and evaluate all relevant facts to determine whether misconduct in research has been committed, and if so, the responsible person and the seriousness of the misconduct.

B. Charge to Committee
The President, after reviewing the inquiry report, will define the subject matter in a written charge to the committee.

C. Appointment of an Investigation Committee

After the respondent has been notified that an investigation will be conducted, the President, after consulting with the RIO and the Vice President for Academic Affairs, will appoint an investigation committee consisting of not fewer than three persons. These individuals must not have any real or apparent conflicts of interest with the respondent or the case in question, and must have the necessary expertise to examine the evidence, interview the witnesses, and conduct the investigation. The committee will be selected by the President from a panel of six names provided by the President of the Faculty Senate. The President of the Faculty Senate should seek input from the Dean of the College in which the respondent holds academic rank, relative to appropriate individuals to nominate for consideration by the President for appointment to the Investigation Committee. If the President of the Faculty Senate is a respondent or has a conflict of interest relative to an allegation of misconduct in research, the President of TTU will appoint the Investigation Committee in consultation with the Secretary of the Faculty Senate. If the committee cannot be constituted from the six individuals suggested, the President shall request additional names from the President of the Faculty Senate. The committee will elect its own Chair and the RIO will provide assistance as needed. The President will notify the respondent of the proposed committee membership. If the respondent submits a written objection, within five working days, to any of the persons appointed to the Investigation Committee, the President may decide to replace the challenged person with a qualified substitute.

D. Investigation Process
The Investigation Committee will be appointed and the process initiated within 30 calendar days of the completion of the inquiry, if findings from that inquiry provide sufficient basis for conducting an investigation. The investigation will normally include examination of all documentation including, but not necessarily limited to, relevant research data materials, proposals, publications, correspondence, memoranda, and notes of telephone calls. Whenever possible, interviews will be conducted with all individuals involved either in making the allegation or against whom the allegation is made, as well as other individuals who might have information regarding key aspects of the allegations. All interviews will be transcribed or tape recorded by the Investigation Committee. No other recordings will be permitted. Complete summaries of these interviews will be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included as part of the file of the investigation.

E. Time Limit for Completing Investigation Report
An investigation should be completed within 120 calendar days of the initial appointment of the Investigation Committee. This includes conducting the investigation, preparing the report of findings, making the report available for comment by the subjects of the investigation, submitting the report to the President, and submission to other agencies as may be required (e.g., the Office of Research Integrity of the Public Health Service).

F. Investigation Report Contents
The final report must state the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, describe how and from whom information was obtained relevant to the investigation, state the findings, and explain the basis for the findings, include the actual text or an accurate summary of the views of any individual(s) found to have engaged in misconduct, the possible sanctions that can be imposed against the respondent, and include other information as may be required by a funding or sponsoring agency of a project under the purview of the respondent.

G. Comments by Respondent and Complainant
The individual(s) against whom the allegation was made and the person(s) who raised the allegation will be given a copy of the report. Comments, if any, that the complainant or respondent submit on the report will become part of the inquiry record. The comments must be presented within ten working days of receipt of the report.

H. Decision by President
The President shall decide whether misconduct has occurred, and what sanctions or administrative actions are to be undertaken (see Section X).

VII. Notification and Reporting Requirements

A. Reporting to Appropriate Agencies
The decision of the President to initiate an inquiry or investigation shall be reported in writing to appropriate individuals at funding or sponsoring agencies (e.g., Director of the Office of Research Integrity of the Public Health Service) before the date an investigation begins. The notification shall include all information that is required by the agency. If TTU terminates an investigation, the appropriate funding or sponsoring agency contact person shall be notified and provided with an explanation of the reason. If TTU is unable to complete an investigation in 120 calendar days, the appropriate agencies shall be notified and interim progress reports on the investigation will be provided. If an agency has a time limit for completion of an investigation and this limit will be exceeded, a request will be submitted to the agency with an explanation for the need for additional time.

The RIO shall notify the appropriate agency at any stage of the inquiry or investigation when:

  1. There is an immediate health hazard;
  2. There is an immediate need to protect sponsoring agency funds or equipment;
  3. There is an immediate need to protect the interest of the person(s) making the allegations or of the individual(s) who is the subject of the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates;
  4. It is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly; or
  5. There is reasonable indication of possible criminal violation.

B. Notification of Other Involved Individuals or Parties
If the President decides that an investigation shall be conducted, the RIO will notify both the respondent and the complainant in writing, and remind them of their obligation to cooperate in the investigation. The RIO will notify other campus administrators as appropriate. The RIO will also inform any persons identified as witnesses of their obligations to cooperate in the investigation. When a final decision on the case has been reached, the President will notify both the respondent and complainant in writing within five working days. In addition, the President will determine whether law enforcement agencies, professional societies, professional licensing boards, editors of journals in which falsified reports may have been published, collaborators of the respondent in the work, or other concerned parties, shall be notified of the outcome of the case. The RIO shall ensure compliance with all notification requirements of funding or sponsoring agencies.

VIII. Other Considerations

A. Termination of Institutional Employment or Resignation Prior to Completing Inquiry or Investigation
The termination of employment at TTU of the respondent, by resignation or otherwise, before or after an allegation of possible misconduct in research has been reported, will not preclude or terminate the misconduct procedures. If the respondent, without admitting to the misconduct, elects to resign his or her position prior to the initiation of an inquiry, but after an allegation has been reported, or during an inquiry or investigation, the inquiry or investigation will proceed. If the respondent refuses to participate in the process after resignation, the committee will use its best efforts to reach a conclusion concerning the allegations, noting in its report the respondent's failure to cooperate, and the effect on its review of all the evidence.

B. Restoration of Reputations
Diligent efforts will be undertaken to restore the reputation of the respondent if misconduct in research is not substantiated. The RIO will ensure that all reference to the matter is expunged from the respondent's personnel file. All persons who have been interviewed or otherwise informed of the charge will be notified in writing that the charges have been dismissed. Respondents will be consulted regarding other actions that might be taken on their behalf to restore their reputations.

IX. Retention of Records

Sufficient detailed documentation of inquiries that do not proceed to an investigation shall be maintained for at least five years after the termination of the inquiry to permit late assessment of the case. After completion of a case and all ensuing related actions, the RIO will prepare a complete file, including the original records of any inquiry or investigation, and copies of all documents and other materials furnished to the Associate Vice President for Research or committees. The Associate Vice President for Research will retain the file for five years from the date that the institution closed the case, or if the inquiry or investigation is reported to a funding or sponsoring agency (e.g., Office of Research Integrity of the Public Health Service) from the date that the agency completes its review of the case and all related actions. Access to materials in the file will be available to all authorized personnel upon request. Confidentiality of materials will be maintained within the laws of the State of Tennessee.

X. Sanctions and Administrative Actions

TTU shall impose appropriate sanctions on individuals when an allegation of misconduct has been sustained. If the President determines that the alleged misconduct is substantiated by the findings, he/she will decide after consulting with the RIO, other appropriate TTU officials, and staff of the TBR what actions will be taken. The actions may include:

  1. Restitution of funds to any sponsoring agency as appropriate;
  2. Withdrawal or correction of all pending or published abstracts and papers emanating from the research in question; or
  3. Removal from the particular project, letter of reprimand, special monitoring of future work, suspension, or steps leading to possible termination of employment.

(Approved by the Academic Council on October 4, 1995.)
(Approved by the Administrative Council on November 1, 1995.)
(Approved by the University Assembly on November 15, 1995.)