The WSU Conflict of Interest procedures provide, among other things, background information, definitions, and procedures for disclosure and review of real and perceived conflicts of interest. In addition, it provides for a certification process when submitting proposals to the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health (Public Health Service), as mandated by these federal agencies.
An actual or potential conflict of interest can occur when an employee is in a position to influence a decision that may result in a personal gain for that employee or for a relative as a result of WSU’s business dealings. A relative is defined as any person who is related by blood or marriage or whose relationship with the employee is similar to that of persons who are related by blood or marriage.
No “presumption of guilt” is created by the mere existence of a relationship with outside firms. However, if employees have any influence on transactions involving purchases, contracts, or leases it is imperative that they disclose to an officer of WSU as soon as possible the existence of any actual or potential conflict of interest so that safeguards can be established to protect all parties. Employees have an obligation to conduct business within guidelines that prohibit actual or potential conflict of interest. Worcester State University’s conflict of interest policy is mandated by the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, which provides guidelines for political activity as Conflict of Interest Law and Massachusetts Financial Disclosure Law.
See MA State Ethics website http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=ethhomepage&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Ieth and WSC Employee Handbook http://worcester.edu/hr/Shared%20Documents/EmployeeHandbook.pdf as references.
National Science Foundation and Public Health Service Conflict of Interest
Both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Public Health Service (PHS) require principal investigators and co-principal investigators "to certify that they have read and understood the institution's conflict of interest policy," that they have made all required financial disclosures, and that "they will comply with any conditions or restrictions imposed by the institution to manage, reduce, or eliminate actual or potential conflicts of interest." Moreover, the University's representative must certify that the University "has implemented and is enforcing a written policy on conflicts of interest," that all financial disclosures required by the conflict of interest policy were made, and that actual or potential conflicts of interests, if any, were, or prior to expenditure of funds under the award, will be satisfactorily managed, reduced or eliminated in accordance with the institution's conflict of interest policy, or disclosed to PHS or NSF.
In its Notice No. 117 dated June 30, 1994 and updated in its Notice No. 118 dated July 13, 1995 on the subject of Investigator Financial Disclosure Policy, the National Science Foundation requires that all grantee institutions employing more than fifty persons have in effect on October 1, 1995 a written and enforced conflict of interest policy. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services published its final rule on "Objectivity in Research" on July 11, 1995 in the Federal Register (60 Fed. Reg. 35820) to coincide in effective date and requirements with NSF's Financial Disclosure Policy. As the NSF Notice states:
“Funding sources and personal gain represent two aspects about which investigators must be ever mindful, because without clear guidelines there is a possibility for conflict of interest issues to arise. Donors, for example, providing grants to conduct research may sometimes possess a vested or proprietary interest in the research results. Professors themselves may hold equity positions or policy making authority in an enterprise from which they would benefit personally by research sponsored by the enterprise, a government, or other private agency, and that is conducted using university facilities, equipment, or personnel.”
In addition, there are large numbers of other types of funded and unfunded interactions between WSU faculty members and government, industry and other non-University organizations through research, projects and consulting.
NSF and PHS (NIH) require that an institution's policy provide for disclosure prior to submitting a proposal, and that all actual or potential conflicts be satisfactorily managed, reduced, or eliminated prior to the time funds from an award are expended, or disclosed to NSF or PHS. In addition, both NSF and PHS require that, during the period of any award, the University obtain updated financial disclosures from investigators either on an annual basis or as investigators obtain new reportable financial interests.
WSU Disclosure Process
WSU requires, for NSF and NIH submissions, that Principal Investigators complete a Disclosure of Significant Financial Interest and Obligations Form and a Conflict of Interest Certification Form (see Appendix A and Appendix B) at the time the Principal Investigator submits the proposal for review and authorization by the Grants Office. This form includes check boxes in which the respondent shall indicate whether or not a conflict of interest exists or is likely to exist in connection with the proposal being submitted. Co-investigators and any other individuals who are expected to participate in the design, conduct, and/or reporting of the research also must complete both forms concurrent with the Principal Investigator.
Any Disclosure Statements must be updated when a new reportable significant financial interest or potential conflict of interest exists.
Review Process for NSF and PHS Proposals
Should a disclosure associated with any NSF or NIH (PHS) submission indicate a potential or actual conflict of interest, the Grant Coordinator will advise the Provost or appropriate area Vice President. The Grant Coordinator will gather further information and supporting documentation from the investigator and send it to the Provost or appropriate Vice President for resolution. All such documentation and subsequent discussions will be confidential. The investigator will have an opportunity to meet with the Provost or Vice President to explain the financial documentation and to discuss possible resolutions. Should the findings indicate significant financial interest, conditions or restrictions will be imposed to effectively manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflicts. The guidelines of this policy and procedures statement will be used in the determination, including the definitions of significant financial interest and conditions or restrictions found in the Definitions section. The Provost or area Vice President will make its recommendations to the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), who will make the final decision.
If it is determined that imposing conditions or restrictions would be either ineffective or inequitable, and that the potential negative impacts that may arise from a significant financial interest are outweighed by interests of scientific progress, technology transfer, or the public health and welfare, then the Provost or appropriate area Vice President may recommend to the ELT that the research be permitted to go forward without imposing such conditions or restrictions. In such cases, the conflict of interest of the investigator(s) will be disclosed to the government agency as required.
Appeal Process for NSF and PHS Proposals
Should the faculty member or other individual not agree with the final decision of conditions or restrictions, he/she can appeal in writing to the Provost or appropriate Vice President within ten (10) days after receipt of notification, spelling out why such conditions and restrictions are inappropriate. The Provost or area Vice President will then consult with the ELT and a decision will be made. While it is possible that a modification of the conditions and restrictions will be agreeable to all parties, the decision of the ELT is final.
Conflict of Interest - A conflict of interest may arise when an individual is or may be in a position to influence University business, research, or other decisions in ways that could lead to any form of personal gain for the individual or his/her family, or give improper advantage to others. A real or perceived conflict of interest may also arise when someone engages in an action or decision that compromises the integrity of teaching, research, advising, or scholarship.
Family - The family of a faculty member means spouse, minor children, and other persons financially dependent upon the faculty member. A relative is any person who is related by blood or marriage or whose relationship with the employee is similar to that of persons who are related by blood or marriage.
Investigator - The term investigator means the principal investigator, co-principal investigators, and any other person at the institution who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research or educational activities.
Relationships which can give rise to conflicts of interest - Relationships as used in this policy include relationships with others which can give rise to real or perceived conflicts of interest. These include, among others, personal relationships created by kinship, friendship, or professional contacts, and financial relationships created by contracts, shared property rights, or state or Federal law. Though a domestic partnership may create a real or perceived conflict of interest, this policy is not meant to force disclosure of one's sexual orientation. By policy, WSC does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Significant Financial Interest - The term significant financial interest means anything of monetary value, including, but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria); equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options or other ownership interests); and intellectual property rights (e.g., patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights) when related to the subject matter of the individual's research and/or scholarly activities, including teaching and advising.
The term does not include:
· salary, royalties or other remuneration from the University;
· income from service on advisory committees or review panels for public or nonprofit entities;
· financial interests in business enterprises or entities if the value of such interests does not exceed $10,000 or does not represent more than a 5% ownership interest for any one enterprise or entity when aggregated for the investigator and the investigator's family;
· royalties or other payments that, when aggregated for the investigator, and the investigator's family, are not expected to exceed $10,000 during the next twelve-month period;
· income from self-authored textbooks, software, etc. used for your teaching purposes.
A significant financial interest becomes a conflict of interest if it could result in personal gain, advantage to others to the detriment of WSU, or influence the outcomes of research.
Conditions or Restrictions - Examples of conditions or restrictions that might be imposed to manage, reduce or eliminate actual or potential conflicts of interest include:
· public disclosure of significant financial interests;
· monitoring of funded research by independent reviewers;
· modification of the funded research plan;
· disqualification from participation in the portion of the NSF-or PHS-funded research that would be affected by the significant financial interests;
· divestiture of significant financial interests; or
· severance of relationships that create actual or potential conflicts.
To comply with this policy and procedures and in order to submit a proposal for funded research to NSF and/or NIH (PHS), a principal investigator will submit the Disclosure of Significant Financial Interest and Obligations Form and a Conflict of Interest Certification Form together with the NSF or NIH (PHS) proposal to the Grants Office when requesting submission authorization. Forms may be obtained from the Grants Office.
- Appendix A - Disclosure of Significant Financial Interest and Obligations Form
- Appendix B - Conflict of Interest Certification Form