Policies and Procedures

Review Policy: 9.03 Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

THIS REVIEW VERSION HAS NOT BEEN APPROVED FOR FINAL RELEASE.
COMMENTS MAY BE SUBMITTED VIA THE POLICY FEEDBACK FORM BELOW UNTIL 5 p.m. ON:

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The policy draft below is a revision of current UNI policy 9.03 "Management of Conflicts of Interest in Projects with External Funding", and provides a more comprehensive conflict of interest policy.

Purpose of Policy

The purpose of this policy is to ensure that university employees are able to act and make decisions that are free from bias engendered by conflicts of interest and commitment, and to facilitate integrity and transparency in academic and business activities.  This policy provides a framework for identifying potential or perceived conflicts of interest or commitment, disclosing and reporting them, and managing any conflicts.

Policy Statement

The University of Northern Iowa holds to the following general principles:  1) that all employees of the university shall devote sufficient time and attention to their assigned duties and responsibilities within the institution in order to perform them with competence and integrity; and 2) that activities undertaken and decisions made by such employees should be objective and free from bias that may arise from external or personal interests.

To uphold these principles, the university requires the disclosure, review/approval, and management of external activities or financial interests that have the potential to interfere with one or more of the following:

  • Performance of Duties: Employees are expected to devote sufficient time and attention to their university duties to perform them conscientiously. An external activity with the potential to interfere with the employee's university duties is known as a conflict of commitment.
  • Objectivity: Employees are expected to be objective in the decisions they make while performing their university responsibilities. Financial or other personal considerations with the potential to compromise an employee's objectivity are known as conflicts of interest.
  • Appropriate Use of State Resources: State law prohibits an employee from using state resources, including the university name and trademarks and other property, for personal benefit.

An employee’s relationship with, equity interest in, or management role within a non-university entity does not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest.  A conflict may arise, however, when such relationships interfere or compete with one another or with an employee's relationship to the university.

Applicability of Policy

This policy shall apply to all University employees, including institutional officials, academic administrators, faculty, and staff, as well as temporary employees and staff or faculty members who are also students.  It shall not apply to those in student employee positions (those subject to Policy 4.35 Student Employees) or students employed on fellowships or assistantships.  Students are encouraged to follow the principles embodied in this policy and to discuss any potential conflicts with their supervisors, the Dean of Students, and/or the Dean of the Graduate College.  

All employees are also subject to Iowa Code § 68B.2A: Conflicts of Interest.  In all cases, where stricter requirements are outlined in any federal or state law or regulation, Board of Regents policy, or policy maintained by a funding sponsor, those stricter requirements will prevail.     

Subrecipients, vendors, and contractors must provide certification prior to the awarding of any funds that they either have a conflict of interest policy in place that is minimally consistent with this policy and any prime sponsor requirements, or otherwise certify that their employees, collaborators, and subrecipients will comply with this policy. 

General Prohibitions

Employees are prohibited from using confidential information for personal gain.  See also Policy 4.35 Confidential Information.

Employees are prohibited from being paid by the University as well as an external entity for the same services or time worked.  

Employees may not use university time or resources for non-university purposes.

Employees generally may not accept honoraria or gifts – monetary or otherwise – from a person or entity doing (or seeking to do) business with the University or who will be directly and substantially affected by the actions of the university or the employee, unless the value is less than the amount specified in state regulations (currently $ 3.00).  See also Iowa Code 68B.21-68B.23 and UNI Policy 10.09 Federal and State Lobbying and Political Activity

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts

At a minimum, disclosures of potential conflicts of interest and commitment must be made prior to initiating the conflicting activity, and otherwise on an annual basis until the conflict no longer exists.  Disclosures must be made using the COI Disclosure Form.

Disclosures should be made as early as possible to enable review by appropriate personnel and development of a management plan, as appropriate.  In the case of external proposals for funding, a disclosure statement must accompany the contract or grant proposal forwarded to the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs for approval prior to submission to the sponsor.  A conflict of interest does not have to be resolved prior to the submission or awarding of a grant or contract, but the conflict must be resolved before any expenditure of funds from the sponsor. 

For some interests, disclosure alone may be sufficient.  In others, a conflict of interest management plan that outlines the actions taken to mitigate the conflict may be required.  In some circumstances, recusal from participation on certain matters may be necessary, or, in very unusual situations, divestiture of the interest or resignation from a conflicting position.

Certain conflicts of interest and commitment must be reported to funding sponsors or others as outlined in external laws, regulations, and policies.  These requirements will be referenced in funding agreements, as applicable.   See, for example, the policy and procedures for complying with potential conflicts on projects involving Public Health Service funding

Required Disclosures

Disclosure as a potential conflict is required in the following circumstances:

1.  Having (or an immediate family member having) a significant financial interest (defined for disclosure purposes as more than $ 10,000 in value or 5% equity interest*) or receiving compensation from an external entity that does business or seeks to do business with the university, when the company’s success is dependent on activities or decisions made by the employee in the course of their usual work for the university.  (Also see UNI Purchasing Guidelines, section 10).  Disclosure is not required for mutual fund and/or retirement accounts, as long as the employee does not directly control the investment decisions being made.  *If the disclosure is pursuant to funding from a Public Health Service agency, a significant financial interest is defined as over $ 5,000

2.  Serving on a board or otherwise having a formal advisory role in a company or organization whose success is dependent on activities or decisions made by the university or employee

3.  Directing research at other educational institutions.

4.  External activities that involve the use of university resources, facilities or the time of other employees.

5.  Receiving personal reimbursement for travel or other expenses from an external entity, when the travel is related to disciplinary expertise or university responsibilities.  (This refers to private reimbursement as a form of compensation, not work done under standard consulting or grant/contract agreements as outlined below.)

Information regarding required disclosures for consulting services is provided below.

Disclosures that are Not Required

Honoraria (gifts) for scholarly presentations are not typically considered a conflict of interest, but they cannot be accepted from individuals or entities seeking to do business with or regulated by the institution, unless the value is under $ 3.00.    

Other activities that do not require disclosure:

  • Salary or other remuneration from the University of Northern Iowa;
  • Ownership interest in a business enterprise which is an applicant under Phase One of the Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer programs;
  • Equity interests in business enterprises or entities if the value of such interests is less than five percent of the enterprise or entity (when aggregated for the investigator, the investigator's spouse/domestic partner, and dependent children); and
  • Professional services which are unrelated to the employee’s university responsibilities, do not make use of university resources, and are being provided to an external entity that has no business relationship with the university.

Professional or Consulting Services

When evaluating whether professional services provided to an external entity constitute a conflict of interest or commitment, consider these factors:  1) whether the services are related to the employee’s university responsibilities and/or disciplinary expertise; 2) whether the services are being provided during the typical working hours for the employee; 3) whether the consulting is paid or unpaid; and 4) whether the entity has any sort of business relationship with the university.   

In all cases, if the employee will be providing professional services to an entity that itself provides goods or services to the university which may be affected by the employee’s activities or decision-making, disclosure is required.  One way to determine if an entity provides goods or services to the University is by asking the Office of Business Operations if the external entity is on the university’s list of approved vendors and suppliers.    

I.  Activities unrelated to the university or employee’s position

Employees who engage in consulting in areas of expertise not substantially related to their university activities or responsibilities, whether paid or unpaid, may do so without disclosure as long as the activity is not on university time, does not use university resources, does not create conflicts in the employee’s role, and the external entity is not providing goods or services to the university which may be affected by the employee’s actions.  External activities that could fit in this category include:  a) Providing advice privately on topics that are not within the employee’s areas of expertise at the university; b) Providing services privately that are not services that the employee is expected to provide in his/her university role.  Example:  If one’s area of expertise and responsibilities is teacher education, providing grant-writing services to a local nonprofit does not represent a conflict of interest, provided the work is not performed during work time and does not involve university resources.  Activities under these circumstances do NOT require disclosure to the university. 

II.  Activities related to the university or employee’s position

For those employees who will be using their disciplinary expertise to advise an external entity or otherwise providing services (such as teaching, technical skills, diagnostic skills, etc.), consider whether those activities are part of the individual’s usual dutiesIn determining if consulting or professional services are part of the employee’s position responsibilities, consider if the employee is receiving “credit” in some way as part of their position (e.g., are they activities that are evaluated by their supervisor or PAC, or will those activities be reported on the Faculty Activity Report?) 

If the services are determined to be related to the employee’s university duties and/or expertise, the next question is whether the services will be performed during the employee’s regular work hours, and whether there will be remuneration for those services. 

All such services to be provided by staff or administrators during their regular work hours must be disclosed as described above and receive approval from the employee’s supervisor.  If payment by the external entity is offered and desired by the employee for these activities, the payments must be turned over to the university or the employee must take vacation or unpaid leave (to avoid “double-dipping”).  If the services will be performed outside of work hours, whether paid or unpaid, disclosure is not typically required.  

Faculty may engage in paid or unpaid consulting in their areas of expertise up to 1 day per week, provided the work does not interfere with their usual responsibilities – see UNI Policy on Extra Income Compensation 4.16

Disclosure of unpaid professional services by faculty to a non-university entity when the services are part of the individual’s regular position responsibilities are NOT required.  Examples include: a) Reviewing and editing scholarly journals, b) Service on government advisory boards or editorial boards that involves limited use of university time and only incidental use of university resources or personnel, c) Service on grant review or accreditation panels, d) Writing books or textbooks in the employee’s disciplinary area; e) providing advisory, professional development, or clinical services to local or national organizations, when the activities are unpaid; and f) providing unpaid services to local nonprofits, provided they are not otherwise doing business with the university. 

Disclosure of paid professional services by faculty to a non-university entity when the services are part of the individual’s regular position responsibilities ARE required.  (Reimbursement of costs and tokens of appreciation or recognition for service under $ 3.00 are not considered payment for services.)  Common examples of paid consulting or professional services include: a) Providing clinical services to local organizations or individuals; b) Receiving compensation for advising companies, organizations, or boards on their services or operations; c) Offering professional development, trainings, or workshops.  In most of these instances, filing and approval of the disclosure form will be sufficient.  However, when remuneration to the individual is significant (e.g., over $ 10,000), or when the activities constitute a potential conflict of commitment, a management plan may be necessary.  

Management Plans

Management plans are required for external activities, significant financial interests and/or management roles with the potential to impair an employee's ability to perform his/her university duties responsibly and with integrity. The form and content of management plans vary depending on the nature of the financial interest or management role and the presumed risks.  Disclosure and supervisory approval may be sufficient in some instances.  Other activities require a detailed plan that describes the conflict; specifies the actions to be taken to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflict; and defines the effective period of the plan.  All written plans must be reviewed and updated no less than annually for as long as the conflict exists.  A template for developing a management plan is provided on the COI webpage.

Disclosure and Plan Review and Approval

Individuals with potential conflicts as described above must complete a COI disclosure form and submit it to their departmental supervisor and the UNI Conflict of Interest Officer.  The supervisor must review all such disclosures; and assess whether a conflict of interest or commitment exists and, if so, assist the employee in determining what actions should be taken to manage, reduce, or eliminate the conflict.  Once the form is completed and approved by the supervisor, it must be submitted to the COI Officer for review, guidance, and approval. 

If a faculty or staff member disagrees with a decision made by the department and/or COI Officer, they can request that the disclosure/management plan be referred for review by their division head (Vice President).  For faculty, this refers to the Provost. The decisions made by the division head will be final. 

Records will be maintained by the individual, supervisor, and COI Officer of all disclosures and actions taken to resolve actual or potential conflicts until at least three (3) years after the termination of any relevant activity or external funding agreement. 

Employee Training

This policy and related procedures will be maintained in a publicly accessible section of the University’s website and otherwise made available upon request within five business days of a request.  The Conflict of Interest Officer or their designee will also inform and offer training on the policy to all employees periodically and as required by external laws and sponsors.  

Compliance and Remedies

Disclosure is the responsibility of the individual and/or unit who becomes involved in activities that may be in conflict.  Failure to disclose those relationships is a serious personnel matter that may result in discipline, including termination of employment in egregious circumstances.  Consequently, an allegation of a failure to fully disclose a potential conflict of interest must be brought to the Conflict of Interest Officer, who will refer the matter to the appropriate administrative official(s), depending on the situation and position of the individual(s) involved (faculty, staff, or others).  In cases of external funding, the Director of the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs will be involved.  In cases of purchasing or external contracting, the Director of Business Operations will be involved.  Overall, the matter will be handled in accordance with the appropriate university conduct policy for that individual and other applicable policies (see below). 

In the event of noncompliance by contractors or subrecipients, the Director of the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs may take such actions as are necessary to encourage the subentity to comply, up to and including the option to cancel any contracts and require repayment of any funds expended while the entity was not in compliance.  

Related Policies and References

Iowa Code Chapter 68B – covering gifts, honoraria, outside employment, and other activities of state employees

Board of Regents Policy 1.3 Conflicts of Interest

UNI Policy 4.03 Conflict of Interest in Employment (Nepotism)

UNI Policy 4.16 Extra Income Compensation

UNI Policy 4.41 Special Compensation and Summer Appointments

UNI Policy 5.29 P & S Miscellaneous Policies – F. Consultant Services

UNI Policy 9.01 Grants, Contracts, and Agreements

UNI Conflicts of Interest webpage and forms

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Review Policy: 9.03 Conflicts of Interest and Commitment