Conflict of Interest
Conflict of Interest for Externally Funded Projects; Policy 9.0
All employees of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) serve a public interest role and thus have a clear obligation to conduct all affairs of the TBR in a manner consistent with this concept. The TBR, in concert with state law, has developed a policy on Conflict of Interest in conducting state business that affects all employees (Tennessee Board of Regents, Policy No. 1:02:03:10, 2002).
In addition to the TBR Conflict of Interest policy, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U. S. Public Health Service (PHS) have promulgated additional regulations related to Conflicts of Interest that affect institutions applying for research funding. The NSF and PHS require each institution to maintain an appropriate policy to ensure that the financial interests of the employees of the institution "do not compromise the objectivity with which such research is designed, conducted, or reported." The NSF and PHS serve as models for other federal agencies and both agencies have recommended a "uniform" policy for all federal agencies (Federal Register, pp. 33242 & 33308, 1994; Federal Register, pp. 35809 & 35820, 1995.) In order to comply with federal mandates and to be consistent in application, this Office of Research policy shall apply to externally funded projects unless specific statutes or rules result in discrepancies. In such a case, the requirements of the external organization will prevail unless they are in conflict with the laws of the State of Tennessee.
A conflict of interest may occur when a University employee's affiliation with an external organization meets one of the following criteria:
- The employee is an officer, director, partner, trustee, employee, advisory board member, or agent of an external organization or corporation either funding a project or providing goods and services under a project on which the employee is participating in any capacity.
- The employee is the actual or beneficial owner of more than four percent (4%) of the voting stock or controlling interest of such an organization or corporation.
- The employee has dealings with such an organization or corporation from which he/she derives income of more than $4,000 per year (exclusive of dividends and interest) or a total income of more than $10,000 (including dividends and interest).
- The employee's immediate family (spouse, parents, parents-in-law, siblings, children, other relatives living at the same address as the employee or individuals reported as dependents on federal income tax forms) meet any of the criteria stated in 1-3 above individually or collectively.
Each University investigator(s) participating in an externally funded project must disclose whether or not he/she has external affiliations that may compromise the design, conduct, or reporting of proposed activities. A disclosure statement must be completed prior to the University's acceptance of the award or issuance of a purchase order, contract, or subcontract for the acquisition of goods and services.
A disclosure must be made by the investigator(s) at the time of proposal submission by answering the questions contained on the Proposal Endorsement Form (PEF). Signatures on a completed PEF identifying no conflict of interest with the external organization shall suffice for negative disclosure.
Positive disclosures must be indicated on the PEF and detailed by the respective investigator(s) in a separate statement that must be forwarded to the Office of Research at the time of submission of the proposal for funding consideration. If there is a change in the conflict of interest status of the investigator(s) prior to the time of award or after a contract is issued, the change(s) must be reported to the Office of Research in writing.
Investigators seeking funding from either the National Science Foundation or the Public Health Service are required to disclose to the investigator's employer all significant financial interests of the investigator 1) that would reasonably appear to be affected by the research or educational activities funded or proposed for funding by the NSF or PHS or 2) in entities whose financial interests would reasonably appear to be affected by such activities. Such disclosures must be submitted prior to the time the proposal is submitted to the Federal agency. Further, such disclosures must be updated during the period of the award, either annually or as new reportable financial interests arise. Tennessee Technological University is responsible for eliminating or managing such conflicts prior to receipt of the award.
Review of Disclosure Statements
The Associate Vice President for Research will review the conflict of interest disclosure statement to determine if the financial interest could affect the design, conduct, or reporting of the proposed sponsored project. If the initial review indicates there could be a conflict of interest, the Associate Vice President for Research will notify the President of the University through the Vice President for Academic Affairs. The disclosure statement will be reviewed by a Financial Disclosure Committee (FDC) composed of the Associate Vice President for Research, the Director of Purchasing, the President of the Faculty Senate, and the Dean of the College in which the investigator(s) is housed. The following general guidelines will be applied when reviewing a financial disclosure statement:
- Assure adherence to relevant federal and state statutes, TBR policies, and University policies and procedures.
- Consider the nature and extent of the financial interest of the investigator(s) and the organization or activity.
- Give consideration to the terms and conditions of award, agreement, contract, or other documents that may mitigate or complicate the given situation.
- Consult with and obtain additional information from the investigator(s) as may be helpful in resolving actual or potential conflicts of interest.
- Act within five working days so as not to unduly delay the proposed project or activity.
If the FDC determines that a financial conflict exists, it will recommend to the President of the University ways to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflict. A conflict of interest exists when the FDC reasonably determines that a significant financial interest could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of the project. Examples of conditions or restrictions that might be imposed to manage conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to:
- Public disclosure of significant financial interest.
- Monitoring of the project by independent reviewers.
- Modification of the project plan.
- Disqualification from participation in all or a portion of the project.
- Divestiture of significant financial interest.
- Severance of relationships that create actual or potential conflicts of interest.
Notification to Funding Agency of Potential Conflict of Interest
The Associate Vice President for Research will notify the funding agency, prior to the expenditure of any funds, of the existence of a conflict of interest and the action taken to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflict. Tennessee Technological University will make available, upon request, all conflicting interests identified and how those interests were managed, reduced, or eliminated.
Maintenance of Records
The University will maintain records of all disclosures and of all actions taken to resolve conflicts of interest for three years beyond the termination or completion of the grant to which they relate, or until the resolution of any action taken by the funding agency involving those records, whichever is longer.
Conflict of Interest Possibly Resulting from Outside Employment; Policy 9.1
Employees of Tennessee Technological University (TTU) and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) serve a public interest role and thus have a clear obligation to conduct all affairs of the State of Tennessee in a manner consistent with this concept. Many times, individuals participate in employment and consulting activities with various organizations outside their duties with TTU. This could lead to potential conflicts of interest if safeguards are not taken. The purpose of the policy in this document is not to restrict individuals in their activities, but rather to call to their attention possible problem areas that can result in the establishment of conflicts of interest.
The TBR, in concert with state law, has developed policies on Conflict of Interest (TBR Policy No. 1:02:03:10, 2002); Outside Employment (TBR Policy No. 5:01:05:00, 2002); and Procurement and Contracting (TBR Policy No. 4:02:10:00, 2002) that directly affect all employees when conducting state business. These policies are fully delineated in the Policy and Guidelines pages on the TBR web site.
TTU supports the concepts of outside employment as stated in TBR Policy No. 5:01:05:00 (2002) and, as such, has established a general policy and guidelines for such activities ( TTU Faculty Handbook ***fix link***, Section 18). Outside employment can "contribute to the quality of instruction, enhance the professional competency of the individual, and bring credit to the Institution." In order for outside employment to be of value to the employee and University, "it is reasonable...to expect that faculty and staff members engaged in outside activity cooperate with their chairpersons and supervisors, maintain at all times a professional attitude toward obligations and commitments owed to the institution and the Tennessee Board of Regents, and exercise a proper sense of priorities in complying with them."
Additional information on potential conflicts of interest can also be found in policy statements promulgated by the Office of Research. These include Policy 9.0, Conflict of Interest for Externally Funded Projects; Policy 10.0, Misconduct in Research; Policy 13.0, Protection of Human Subjects; and Policy 14.0, Care and Use of Laboratory Animals in Experimentation. These four policies are dictated, in part, by federal and state regulations and laws. In addition, statements of conflicts of interest related to employment are embodied in the standards of most professional organizations.
"Outside employment must not constitute a conflict of interest or compete with the education, research, or public service programs" of the institution. ( TTU Faculty Handbook, 18.3.4***fix***). This is a very broad statement that requires good judgment in interpreting specific situations. It is expected that all researchers at Tennessee Technological University will carry out their duties in an ethical manner and that they will avoid conflicts of interest in such matters as contracting with organizations and employment outside TTU. The TBR and TTU have policies that allow faculty members and other professional staff members to be employed (consulting) by other organizations during the normal work week (TTU Faculty Handbook,18.4.2***fix***.) Department Chairpersons should attempt to accommodate (in so far as is consistent with the needs of the University) the expected commitment of time that the outside employment will require. To ensure continued enjoyment of the privilege of consulting, it is important that all comply with the relations specified in this policy. The privilege of consulting must not be abused, and conflicts of interest must be avoided.
It is the responsibility of every employee to carry out his/her work in accordance with ethical standards and to be familiar with and in compliance with policies related to outside employment. Common sense is sufficient for interpreting what is in keeping with the concept of good ethics and what is within the bounds of policies. When questions arise, discussions among all concerned may help to clarify the situation and to identify ways of handling cases so as to be in keeping with good ethical behavior and in conformity with policies and be able to carry out one's research with a minimum of intrusion. Occasionally, a very complex situation may require an opinion of the TBR legal counsel.
As a minimum, each employee is expected to notify his/her Chairperson prior to undertaking outside consulting and employment. In the case of professionally related employment, permission of the supervisor is required. The notification/request should be made in writing in conformity with the policies of the University. At the end of each academic term, each employee must report the time commitment to outside employment and consulting on forms provided by each college or school. A summary report from each unit will be forwarded to the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Updated August 4, 2008