Conflict of Interest and Commitment

Overview

The integrity of RIT’s research, teaching and learning, outreach and public service activities is paramount. While the university encourages its faculty and staff to engage in relationships with business entities to further RIT’s mission, inherent in these relationships is the potential for professional judgment to be influenced by the existence of such relationships.

RIT is committed to ensuring that relationships between its faculty and staff and business entities are transparent, grounded in objectivity, and do not improperly influence any individuals’ professional judgment, the exercise of university responsibilities, or the performance of university-related activities. Thus, RIT has adopted a comprehensive Individual Conflict of Interest and Commitment (ICIC) policy that requires employees to disclose any potential, real, or perceived conflict.

Read the Full Policy Document

Flowchart showing the 6 steps: Prevention, Discolsure, Assessment, Treatment, Recording & Reporting, and Monitoring.

Employees must avoid conflicts of interest and commitment to protect the integrity of the university, its staff, faculty, students, and the scholarship process.

Employees must disclose any outside activities or financial interests that actually or potentially create a conflict of interest or commitment, or may reasonably be perceived to actually or potentially create such conflicts. Disclosure must be made annually and upon any change in circumstances.

Supervisors shall review disclosures and determine whether an outside activity or financial interest actually or potentially creates a conflict of interest or commitment, or may reasonably be perceived to actually or potentially create such conflicts.

Upon a determination that a disclosure creates an actual, potential, or perceived conflict that can be managed, supervisors must create a written Management Plan to treat the conflict. Guidance for Management Plans can help with treatment strategies.

Disclosure Statements and Management Plans shall be recorded and maintained in RIT's Conflict of Interest and Commitment software solution (myinfo.rit.edu) consistent with RIT's Record Retention Policy.

Supervisors must oversee compliance with any Management Plans.

Guidance for Management Plans

 
  • RED
  • Actual Conflict of Interest
  • Management Plan required

An Outside Activity or Financial Interest poses an actual Conflict or is otherwise prohibited by policy. The Outside Activity or Financial Interest may go forward only after prior disclosure and only with an appropriate Management Plan in place to eliminate the Conflict, safeguard against bias interfering with university-related decision-making, and provide mechanisms for continued oversight.

Red Designation Example:
Having a Financial Interest in an outside company that conducts business with RIT to which the Employee may be in a position to refer students or staff, resulting in personal gain. The Employee's Financial Interest in the outside entity may compromise, or have the appearance of compromising, the Employee's professional judgment in performing their university duties.

 
  • YELLOW
  • Potential or Perceived Conflict of Interest
  • Management Plan recommended

An Outside Activity or Financial Interest poses a potential Conflict or reasonable likelihood of the perception of one. Activities are likely permissible, but a Management Plan would decrease likelihood of a Conflict developing now or in the future.

Yellow Designation Example:
It is unlikely that the Employee can influence a business decision pertaining to the Financial Interest or Outside Activity, but the appearance of influence exists. A Management Plan is recommended.

No Conflict exists, but it is reasonably possible that there will be a change in scenario in the future that will require a Management Plan (e.g., the Employee's Immediate Family Member is enrolled in an academic department but not currently assigned to the Employee's course at this time). Management Plan is not required at this time, but a Management Plan would be recommended and caution should be exercised.

 
  • GREEN
  • No Management Plan required
  • No Actual/Potential Conflict and Generally Permissible Activities

Outside Activity or Financial Interest does not appear to present an actual, potential, or perceived Conflict. These disclosed situations may go forward after disclosure without a Management Plan.

Green Designation Example:
The Outside Activity is considered part of the Employee's position responsibilities (e.g., "academic activities" for faculty).

The Outside Activity or Financial Interest will have no opportunity to compromise or appear to compromise the Employee's professional judgment (e.g., teaching, research, business decision-making).

Conflicts for Researchers

All members of the RIT community, including faculty, students, and staff are expected to adhere to the highest ethical and professional standards when pursuing sponsored project activities.  Involvement with externally sponsored projects elevates these expectations to obligations because sponsors impose significant statutory and regulatory administrative requirements in connection with funding provided for these projects.  This document explains RIT's commitment to the legal and ethical administration of externally sponsored projects; provides administrative guidance to ensure compliance with the necessarily dynamic policies associated with such projects, and enables the Principal Investigators (PIs) and their operational units, Sponsored Research Services (SRS), and Sponsored Program Accounting (SPA) to facilitate the orderly administration of such externally sponsored projects. 

Read the Full Policy Document

What To Disclose

The following examples are provided to guide RIT employees when they complete their initial or annual disclosure of outside activities ot when they file an amended disclosure should circusmtances arise or change. These examples are provided to illustrate the range of potential, real, or perceived conflicts that should be disclosed; they are not inclusive and are not without exeptions.

Serving as a board member or in an executive or managerial capacity or holding significant financial interest in a for-profit or not-for-profit entity that does business with RIT.

Directing purchasing opportunities to an employee- or family-owned company or business.

Using RIT resources to conduct a funded project that is sponsored by an entity in which an employee or family member holds a significant financial interest.

 

Involving the employee in professional organizations, boards, panels, advisory commissions, or government, charitable, or community organizations to the point where the employee no longer effectively satisfies his/her responsibilities to RIT

Teaching courses in an employee’s field at another institution of higher education

Engaging in direct competition with RIT either personally or through a firm in which the employee is consulting or has significant financial interest

Undertaking or orienting university research to an outside organization (including another academic institution, federal laboratory, business, or consulting entity) to the exclusion of or at the expense of RIT

Submitting invention disclosures or patent applications with an organization external to RIT or being named as an inventor by an entity other than RIT

Consulting for an outside entity (see next set of examples for guidance)

Working for or consulting with an outside entity, whether remunerated or uncompensated, requires pre-approval as described in Section 1. Depending on the department, this type of outside activity may be built into one’s plan of work. Generally, a supervisor’s review will determine there is not a conflict of interest or commitment as long as:

  • RIT resources (laboratories, studios, equipment, computational facilities and/or human resources) are not used without reimbursing the university. Such reimbursement arrangements must have prior written approval before the outside activity begins. 
  • Students are not employed by the employee on an employee consulting project, nor are any  class or other educational activities involved. Such activities do not unduly interfere with the time and energy committed by the individuals to their primary responsibilities to the Institute. The Policy for Faculty Extra Service Compensation and Summer Employment defines consulting for faculty as “... activities ... carried out on the faculty member’s own time, over and above the time expected to be devoted to his or her normal workload.” 
  • Such involvement does not restrict or delay publication of research findings developed in  the course of the employee’s regular university activities.

There are times when a faculty or exempt staff member is asked to sign an agreement in association with a consulting arrangement. Each person needs to make sure that the consulting agreement does not prohibit competitive involvement or assert ownership of resulting work in a field of work, which is central to the employee’s work at RIT. If you have questions, consult with your immediate supervisor who can seek clarification from the university if needed.  Exempt staff members do not have a defined consulting period; the appropriateness of consulting by employees will be determined by unit supervisors following the disclosure and management process outlined in Section 1.

What Not To Disclose

There are situations that generally do not need to be disclosed at any time; the following list is provided as guidance for employees to determine if they are engaged in activities that do not require disclosure. Employees who have questions about disclosing situations not listed but similar in nature or function should talk with their immediate supervisor to determine if they should disclose their unique situation.

  • Serving as an officer, board member, or volunteer in a not-for-profit organization when that organization does not engage RIT in services
  • Serving as an officer, board member, or volunteer in a professional, community-based, or a charitable organization
  • Receiving an honorarium as a one-time payment for a speaking engagement (when this is a consulting arrangement, you do need to disclose it)
  • Serving on a governmental panel or commission in which RIT has no interest
  • Acting as a referee or preparing an article for publication in a professional journal
  • Attending or presenting at an academic, professional, or technical conference

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.