Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

General Questions: 

What is a conflict of interest or commitment?

Conflicts of Interest exist whenever an individual’s personal, professional, commercial, or financial interests or activities outside of the Institute have the possibility—whether real or perceived—of: (1) compromising an employee’s judgment; (2) biasing the nature or direction of scholarship; (3) influencing an employee’s decision or behavior with respect to teaching and student affairs, promotions and appointments, uses of Institute resources, interactions with human subjects, or other matters of interest to the Institute; or (4) resulting in a personal or family member’s gain or advancement at the expense of the Institute. Family members are defined as spouses, parents, siblings, in-laws, children, domestic partners, and dependents.
Conflicts of Commitment exist whenever an employee’s external commitments, relationships, or activities have the possibility—whether real or perceived—of interfering or competing with the Institute’s mission, or with that individual’s ability or willingness to perform the full range of responsibilities associated with his or her position.

Why do I need to be concerned about conflict of interest situations?

Regardless of your position at RIT, the potential exists for real or perceived conflicts of interest to have an influence on your actions in the classroom, on a project, or as part of other work activity. Conflict of interest diminishes the public's view and trust of you and RIT. In research, the integrity of your research data and the protection of any human subjects used is critical. As an overriding need to your RIT commitments is the need to follow Institute policy, state laws, and federal regulation to ensure that your efforts and RIT's mission are addressed.

Why is a conflict of interest and commitment policy necessary?

Individual conflict of interest and conflict of commitment disclosure and appropriate management promotes and maintains the trust of the public in RIT research and scholarly activities by protecting research subjects and data, faculty, colleagues, staff, students, and the public from the negative consequences associated with a conflict. RIT faculty, students, and staff all bear a shared responsibility for oversight; yet each remains accountable for the protection of scientific integrity and the effectiveness of the conflict management process.
The issues of conflict of interest and commitment are not unique to RIT. Since 1995, federal regulations require that institutions have policies to ensure the design, conduct, or reporting of Public Health Service (PHS) funded research is not biased by financial interests of investigators. Under the regulations, investigators must disclose significant financial interests that might be affected by their proposed research by the time PHS applications are submitted, and institutions must review the disclosures and take appropriate steps to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflicting interests prior to expending PHS funds.
In recent years, scrutiny by regulatory agencies and the public at large has continued to increase, and many of the concerns have focused on the impact of financial interests on the safety of human research subjects. These concerns were heightened by high profile cases such as the Jesse Gelsinger gene transfer trial at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999 and the clinical trials during the 1980s and 90s at the Fred Hutchinson cancer center in Seattle where investigators held significant financial interests. While the conduct of the trials might not have been affected, the perception that they might have was certainly suggested. Effective policies can help re-establish trust in the scientific community and alert investigators to possible situations in which questions could be raised, hoping to avoid them.

Where can I find the RIT Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment policy and implementation procedures?

You can find the RIT Conflict of Interest and Commitment policy and implementation procedures here.

What are some examples of situations that create conflicts of interest or commitment?

The following are some examples of situations that can create conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment. Please note that the examples are a guideline and when such conflicts are disclosed can be managed to accommodate you and RIT.

  • A faculty member publishes research results, or provides expert commentary on a subject, without simultaneously disclosing any financial interest relating to such results or such subject.
  • A student enrolls in Independent Research for credit. The faculty member has a company. It is decided that the student’s course work will be performed at the company. The professor orders items through RIT (or takes items from RIT) that the student needs to perform the course research.
  • A staff member is part of the committee that will select a purchasing contract for widgets. The spouse of the staff member is a sales executive for Company X, who makes widgets. Such a contract would reward the spouse and the staff member financially as a result of such a large contract. The staff member does not disclose the conflict to the committee members, but instead lobbies hard to award Company X the contract. The committee awards Company X the contract based on the staff member's recommendation.
  • A Principal Investigator sub-contracts work from RIT to his/her own company without disclosing to RIT or the RIT research sponsor his/her relationship to the company.
  • A faculty member does consulting for company X. Then company X comes to RIT and asks to enter into a sponsored research agreement (SRA) with the work to be performed at RIT by the faculty member. As a result, the faculty member gets a course release to do this sponsored research work. The terms of the SRA are such that all work performed by faculty member must be kept proprietary. This faculty member cannot share any of the knowledge gained from the SRA work with his/her students, faculty or anyone at RIT.
  • While RIT faculty and staff are encouraged to be involved in consulting activities from which they profit financially. As a rule, such activities are not a conflict as long as:
    • RIT resources (e.g. laboratories, studios, equipment, computational facilities and/or human resources) are not used more than incidentally.
    • Such activities do not unduly interfere with the time and energy committed by the individuals to their primary responsibilities to RIT.

Whom can I contact with questions?

If you have questions, please contact Jackie Montione-Baldwin at 475-4903 or jmmcps@rit.edu.

What education and training resources are available to assist faculty and staff?

Training resources is available through the Center for Professional Development (CPD).
You may also contact the member of the ICIC Committee most closely associated with your college or department at any time to discuss policies in greater detail.

Who decides whether my situation represents a conflict of interest or commitment?

Your initial disclosure is to your immediate supervisor. Your supervisor will review your disclosure and determine whether a real, perceived, or potential conflict exists. Next, your supervisor will approve and forward your disclosure to the second-level supervisor for approval.
If a conflict is deemed to (potentially) exist and if you and your supervisor cannot agree on a conflict management plan, the second-level supervisor will refer your case to the Individual Conflict of Interest & Commitment Committee. The ICIC Committee will develop a Conflict Management Plan for resolving the conflict.

What is the purpose of a conflict management plan?

The purpose of the conflict management plan is to address the perceived, potential, or actual conflict of interest or commitment issues between you and your supervisor/RIT. The overriding goals of the conflict management plan, as relevant to your situation, is (but is not limited to):

  • Protect research subjects and students from harm or undue risks associated with conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment.
  • Ensure the integrity and independence of protocol design, research conduct, data collection, and interpretation
  • Ensure appropriate use of Institute and/or sponsor resources
  • Promote education of students that encourages critical thinking. Conflict review should recognize the potential influence from outside interests or relationships on the development of students’ careers.
  • Promote the integrity of academic decision-making
  • Safeguard the open access to data and the timely publication of research results
  • Promote ethical actions by Institute faculty, staff, and students
Disclosure Questions: 

Why do I have to disclose my outside activities/commitments?

RIT regards its faculty, staff, and students to be men and women of high integrity and ethical standards, and expects them to act accordingly. Occasionally, faculty and staff members may engage in activities with outside entities that may pose potential conflicts of interest or commitment, and faculty and staff are expected to disclose these to their supervisor.
Occasionally the pursuit of technology transfer, research, or other professional activities may lead to situations that place faculty or staff in conflict with their responsibilities to the Institute. These relationships must be set up in ways that maintain the openness, scientific integrity, and independence crucial to academic endeavors. Consequently, clear boundaries must be established between faculty and staff responsibilities to the Institute and to outside interests or obligations, so as to ensure that decision-making and the use of resources and time are consistent with a faculty/staff member’s responsibilities and obligations as an Institute employee, mentor and/or supervisor.

How does the disclosure process work?

The RIT conflict of interest/commitment management process begins with disclosure to one’s immediate supervisor by submitting the Conflict of Interest and Commitment Questionnaire through Oracle employee self serve. After you complete the questionnaire, it will be automatically emailed to your supervisor. Your supervisor will review the questionnaire and determine whether a real, perceived, or potential conflict exists.
If your supervisor determines that there is no conflict, your disclosure is approved and forwarded to the second-level supervisor for review before final approval. If you have a conflict, you and your supervisor will develop a plan of action to manage or eliminate the conflict. This conflict management plan will be submitted to the second-level supervisor for approval.
If you and your supervisor cannot agree on a conflict management plan, the second-level supervisor will refer your case to the Individual Conflict of Interest & Commitment Committee.
The ICIC Committee will make a recommendation for resolving the conflict through a conflict management plan. The ICIC Committee’s decisions may be appealed to the Provost or ranking divisional officer, whose decision is final.

What is a “significant financial interest”?

Federal research regulations define “significant” as financial interests exceeding $10,000 or representing more than 5% ownership regardless of dollar value.

How do you define family members in terms of disclosure?

Family members are considered to be parents, siblings, spouses, in-laws, domestic partners, children, and dependents.

Can I submit my disclosure online?

Yes, the disclosure is available through employee self serve in Oracle under My Conflict of Interest. Instructions for completing the disclosure are available at this site.

Does a financial interest related to research doom the research project?

No. A financial interest does not automatically constitute a conflict that precludes the acceptance of research support. The ICIC Committee and the Vice President for Research have determined that financial interests must be assessed within a specific factual context and that most conflicts of interest can be reduced, eliminated, or managed.

Is a financial interest automatically a conflict of interest?

Not necessarily. Some argue that any financial interest in a company automatically puts the individual into a situation where there is a conflict with his or her research responsibilities. Nevertheless it is important to note that the threshold for reporting includes some financial interests that are of such low value and/or limited duration that they do not meet the definition of disclosable interests. For example, the thresholds for reporting gifts from non-governmental donors or financial interest in non-governmental sponsors of grants or contracts is gifts of $50 or more, income of $500 or more, or loans with a balance of $500 or more within the 12 months prior to the date the award was made.

Are there set rules as to what constitutes a conflict of interest, or general guidelines for investigators as to what may or may not be acceptable financial interests?

The ICIC Committee reviews each disclosure in accordance with RIT’s Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment policy. In general, the Committee asks:

  • Are the research interests and the private interests kept separate?
  • Is the research appropriate to the Institute?
  • Is the teaching and research environment open?
  • Is there freedom to publish?
  • Have licensing agreements been appropriately reviewed?
  • Are RIT resources used appropriately?

The ICIC Committee then determines whether the financial interest represents a real or perceived conflict of interest, and if so, whether any action should be undertaken to eliminate, reduce, or otherwise manage the conflict. The Committee applies standards that have evolved over time, based on their prior experience, the appearance of new types of conflicts, and input from the local and national research community.

What financial gains do not involve a conflict of interest?

Not all financial gains are a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest situation generally does not exist when an RIT employee's personal financial gains result from:

  • Properly approved remuneration from the Institute such as salary, royalties, or other interests of value.
  • Income from activities unrelated in any way to his/her position at the Institute.
  • Income from seminars or lectures sponsored by public non-profit entities.
  • Income from service or advisory committees or review panels for public or non-profit entities or from service as a reviewer of manuscripts for possible publication by journals and other publishers.
  • An interest arising solely by reason of investment in a business by a mutual, pension, or other institutional investment fund over which the researcher exercises no control.
  • Income from royalties from intellectual property unrelated to his/her Institute duties and in which the Institute has no interest.
  • Income from routine consulting, consistent with the Institute's policy on consulting, and which does not pose any potential conflict with Institute interests.
  • Royalties, stipends, and/or honoraria received for published scholarly works and other writings, creative works, lectures, and/or presentations.

What happens if I do have a conflict of interest?

 
If your supervisor determines that the disclosed activities or commitments constitute a real or perceived conflict of interest, then he/she will work with you to develop a plan of action to manage or eliminate the conflict. This conflict management plan will be submitted to the second-level supervisor for final approval.
If you and your supervisor cannot agree on the need for a conflict management plan, the second-level supervisor will refer your case to the Individual Conflict of Interest & Commitment Committee. The ICIC Committee will develop a conflict management plan for resolving the conflict.

Are the financial values aggregated for all my interests?

No, they are aggregated for each single firm or corporation based on the limits. For example, if you and your family received more than $10,000 from Company A in salary, honoraria, etc.; therefore, it must be reported for Company A. However, if you and your family received only $8,000 in salary, honoraria etc. from Company B; then you do not have to report for Company B.

Do I need to report stock options?

Yes, particularly when a value cannot be placed on the options. If the options were valued by a certified financial authority, then they will need to be reported only if they exceed the defined limits.

I cannot accurately value my equity holdings in a start-up company; how shall I report these?

You must report all of you and your family members' equity holdings in start-up companies that cannot be publicly valued. Report them as the number of shares and/or percentage ownership in the company.
 

Do I need to disclose my equity holdings in 401(k), 403(b), IRA or other retirement accounts?

Typically these will not count towards your total if they are not under your direct control but managed by fund managers. Only report those holdings that you and members of your family have a direct trading influence upon, such as those held in personal investment accounts or owner managed IRAs and where they exceed the limits stated in the questionnaire.

My remunerations from patents, etc., are from licenses executed by my previous employer; do I still need to report these?

Yes, but state that they are coming from patents, etc, owned by your prior employer. You should always notify your supervisor of these relationships as soon as possible in case a question arises during your employment.

Do I need to have approval for outside activities?

Not all activities, only those which need to be disclosed as per the RIT Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy.
 

Procedural Questions: 

What is the conflict of interest and commitment questionnaire?

The conflict of interest and commitment questionnaire is the mechanism that allows you to disclose your activities and interests on a regular basis during your employment at RIT. This form is used to help you, your supervisor(s), and RIT manage potential and actual conflicts of interest and commitment as outlined in the Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy.

Where can I find instructions for filling out the conflict of interest and commitment questionnaire?

You can find the instructions for filling out the questionnaire here.

When is the conflict of interest and commitment questionnaire due, and to whom do I submit it?

The questionnaire is to be submitted upon hiring and on an annual basis thereafter. The online questionnaire asks you four initial questions. If you answer "no" to all four questions, then your supervisor will receive notice that you completed the process. If you answer "yes" to at least one of the questions, you will provide further disclosure information, and it will be automatically submitted to your supervisor. Other than the disclosure upon hiring, you will receive an annual email communication which provides you the due date.
In addition, if any of the following situations arise, you must submit a new questionnaire:
a. before his/her external activities, significant financial interests, or relationships (including consulting arrangements) change,
b. before he/she or family members engage in relationships, commitments, or activities (financial, fiduciary, or uncompensated) that might present or appear to present a conflict of interest or commitment with regard to his/her employment at RIT,
c. before hiring RIT students or other RIT employees over whom he/she has an academic or supervisory relationship in an external entity in which he/she or a family member holds a significant financial interest, or
d. before directing purchasing opportunities to a company or business in which he/she or a family member holds a significant financial interest.

How often do I need to submit a conflict of interest and commitment questionnaire?

You need to fill out the questionnaire upon hiring, annually and any time circumstances arise that may create conflicts of interest or commitment.

What if I begin employment after the annual due date?

If you begin employment after the annual due date, then you need to submit your initial questionnaire when you start your position. You do not wait until the next annual due date.

Who gets to see the information I provide in my disclosure?

Procedures are in place to maintain your confidentiality and to limit access to disclosures. The details of reported disclosures are treated sensitively and shared only on a need-to-know basis within the Institute. If a conflict is determined to exist, the ICIC committee must know of the conflict and other pertinent information as is needed to make a judgment.
Other individuals with rights of access to certain information when a conflict exists include the vice president of sponsored research, IRB members, and institutional officials. The decision of the ICIC Committee may be shared with Institute officials as deemed necessary. In cases relating to projects involving human subjects, the recommendation will be shared with the IRB. It may also be shared with the research sponsor if requested. Other than these mandated disclosures or limited internal disclosures, the information is treated as confidential.

What are the penalties if I fail to complete, sign, and submit my annual disclosure?

If an employee fails to comply with any aspect of the policy, or conflict management plan, the employee’s supervisor will report the violation to the dean, director, or divisional officer for resolution. A finding of non-compliance will result in corrective or disciplinary actions in additional to any legal penalties under state and federal laws that may be appropriate. Please refer to the following sections of the RIT Policy Manual:

What are the possible consequences of mismanaging conflict of interest situations?

 
If a conflict of interest situation is not managed appropriately, the consequences to you and RIT can include, but are not limited to:

  • Damage to the reputation of the Institute and the individuals involved
  • Compromised research subject safety
  • Compromised data integrity
  • Unfavorable press coverage
  • Loss of research funds
  • Investigation by federal, state, or Institute entities or officials
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Civil legal action
  • Disciplinary action

What is the Individual Conflict of Interest/Commitment Committee?

The Individual Conflict of Interest/Commitment (ICIC) Committee is drawn from RIT staff, faculty, and administration. The ICIC committee is charged with overseeing the education and training process and provides recommendations to resolve conflicts in the form of the conflict management plan.

Who is on the Individual Conflict of Interest/Commitment Committee?

 
The ICIC Committee is comprised of both faculty and staff. Specifically, the committee consists of:

  • One member selected by the Provost
  • One member selected by the Vice President for Finance and Administration
  • Three members selected by the Academic Senate
  • Three members selected by Staff Council
  • One ex-officio, non-voting member appointed by the Vice President for Research who shall provide administrative support to the Committee

How often does the Individual Conflict of Interest/Commitment Committee meet? How long does approval take?

 
The ICIC Committee will meet at least twice each academic year to review activities related to disclosures and the related management plans; and at additional meetings when unresolved conflicts are encountered.
The entire approval process is intended to take place in a timely fashion. All levels of review should be accomplished within a timely period (normally 30 days) of the employee submitting the initial questionnaire, but this period may be shortened at the request of the employee and with agreement from his/her supervisor.

How can I appeal a decision by the ICIC Committee?

The ICIC Committee’s decisions may be appealed to the Provost or ranking divisional officer. The Provost or ranking divisional officer’s determination is final.