Policy No: 2056 Responsible Office: Office of Compliance Last Review Date: 11/09/2020 Next Required Review: 11/09/2025
Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy
This policy sets forth general guidance for the University of South Alabama (USA or University) campus community in identifying and managing Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment and explains the importance of such guidance and why it is necessary. USA strives to conduct its activities in ways that promote and maintain public trust and project its values of integrity, transparency, and scholarship. USA allows and encourages members of its community to engage in outside activities and relationships that enhance the mission of the University. However, all must realize that potential Conflicts of Interest or Conflicts of Commitment are inevitable in our complex higher education and academic medical system operating environments.
While this policy is of general applicability to all members of the USA campus community, additional policies and procedures which set forth provisions related to specific Conflict of Interest or Conflict of Commitment scenarios or federal regulations are referenced at the conclusion of this policy.
This policy applies to all members of the USA campus community, which includes trustees, employees (administrators, faculty, staff), students, contractors, visiting scholars, and University-authorized volunteers acting on behalf of USA. This policy also applies to College of Medicine clinical faculty (excluding those with adjunct status).
The following defined terms are used for purposes of administering this policy but may be defined differently in other USA policies and materials.
Conflict of Interest: A potential Conflict of Interest (COI) exists whenever personal, professional, commercial, or financial interests or activities outside of the University have the possibility (either in actuality or in appearance) of (1) compromising a USA campus community member’s judgment; (2) biasing the nature or direction of scholarly research; (3) influencing a faculty or staff member’s decision or behavior with respect to teaching and student affairs, appointments and promotions, uses of University resources, interactions with human subjects, or other matters of interest to the University; or (4) resulting in a personal or family member’s gain or advancement at the expense of the University.
Conflict of Commitment: A potential Conflict of Commitment (COC) exists when a USA campus community member’s external relationships or activities have the possibility (either in actuality or in appearance) of interfering or competing with the University’s educational, research, or service missions, or with that individual’s ability or willingness to perform the full range of responsibilities associated with his or her position.
Family Member: Includes spouse, son/daughter, grandson/granddaughter, parent, grandparent, sibling, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, cousin, and in-laws or step relations in those capacities; any person living in the campus community member’s household; any person, regardless of his/her legal residence or domicile who receives 50% or more of his/her support from the campus community member (or the campus community member’s spouse); or any person who resided with the campus community member (or his/her spouse) for more than 180 days over the past year.
Financial Interest: Anything of monetary value, whether or not the value is readily ascertainable. Examples include but are not limited to the following:
- Salary, royalties, or other payments for services external to USA, including payments for consulting services, speaking arrangements, advisory committees, and/or related travel expenses;
- Gifts or gratuities of any monetary value;
- Rent, loans, or forgiveness of debt;
- Intellectual property rights;
- Equity interests; e.g., owning or having the right or obligation to acquire stocks or stock options or other securities in a business entity;
- Holding a position in a non-USA entity giving rise to a fiduciary duty such as a consultant, employee, director, or any position of management.
Industry: For purposes of this policy, this term represents all private sector corporations and companies. Sectors include but are not limited to healthcare, health insurance, technology, construction, retail, pharmaceuticals, automobile manufacturing, food, banking, etc.
4. Policy Guidelines
USA encourages professional interactions, activities, and development that enhance the value of members of the USA campus community; that enhance USA's presence in the local, national, or international communities; and that provide public service. Nonetheless, in the complex environment of a university, these opportunities may also present potential for, or appearance of, conflicting loyalties and responsibilities. Members of the USA campus community must not use their official University positions or influence in their external involvements, at the expense of the University, for personal (or family member) gain.
The USA Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment policy requires members of the USA campus community to be aware of the potential for COIs and COCs. Members must self-report any perceived or actual conflicts to their immediate supervisor, so that the potential conflict can be appropriately reviewed and, if necessary, managed. All members of the USA campus community are expected to comply with this policy, as well as any other applicable policies or procedures adopted by USA organizations, schools, or departments pursuant to or in furtherance of this policy.
4.1 Rights to Outside Interests
Members of the USA campus community have the right to acquire and retain outside interests of a professional, personal, or economic nature that do not conflict with University interests or with the individual member’s commitment to the University, to the University’s students, sponsors, or to other parties to whom the University has a duty.
4.2.1 Professional Commitments
Members of the USA campus community must meet the specific responsibilities and professional activities specified in their USA job description and/or duties as communicated via offer letter or contract (as applicable).
4.2.2 Requirement to Disclose
Members of the USA campus community must disclose all actual or potential COIs or COCs via the COI Disclosure Reporting System to their supervisor (or designee), as potential conflicts arise or are identified. All disclosures must be made promptly.
4.2.3 Requirement to Abide by Management Plans
Upon determination that a disclosed potential conflict does exist, the member must abide by the prescribed Management Plan which manages/eliminates the conflict.
4.2.4 Prohibition Against Using Position or Influence for Personal Gain or Advancement
It is not acceptable for any member of the USA campus community to use his/her official position or influence to further his/her personal gain or advancement, or that of family members or personal associates, at the expense of the University and against University policy.
4.2.5 Use of University Resources
Except as authorized by the appropriate University official, members may make only incidental use of University resources for purposes unrelated to the education, research, scholarship, and public service missions of the University. Such resources include but are not limited to facilities, personnel, students, equipment, and confidential information.
The following procedures outline the disclosure reporting requirement processes:
5.1 Annual and Supplemental COI Disclosures
Members of the USA campus community as designated in section 5.2 will be required to complete a COI or COC Disclosure annually, regardless of whether members believe they have a COI or COC situation. In addition, updates to each yearly campaign’s COI Disclosure will be required if one of the following circumstances is met:
- Upon development of a new potential conflict later in the year;
- Principal Investigator (PI) is funded by the Public Health Service (PHS); or
- PI is funded by a non-PHS organization that requires compliance with PHS financial COI regulations.
5.2 Who is Required to Submit a COI Disclosure?
Those required to maintain an annual COI Disclosure include the following:
- Any full-time employee in a faculty position (excludes adjunct/temporary and part-time faculty);
- Any employee in an administrative/managerial position;
- Any employee who serves in a supervisory role who may periodically influence purchase decisions;
- Any employee or student (who, regardless of title or position, is independently responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research at USA, which includes, but may not be limited to, a project director, co-investigator and key personnel), identified by a PI working on an externally sponsored project funded by a PHS agency or non-PHS organization compliant with PHS COI regulations. Note: The PI/project director is responsible for making the determination of any other individuals who meet this definition;
- Any other member of the USA campus community (not already identified) who leadership sees fit (examples include but are not limited to contracted, interim leadership roles, business partners, visiting scholars, temporary faculty, etc.); and
5.3 Initiation of Annual COI Disclosure Campaign
Members of the USA campus community required to complete a COI Disclosure will be notified at the commencement of the annual campaign. Notification will include instructions and the deadline for completing the COI Disclosure. Periodic reminders may be provided. Members shall complete the annual COI Disclosure by the specified deadline. COI Disclosures will be sent for review to the member’s supervisor (in most cases, a Department Chair, Dean, Director or Administrator).
5.4 Review of COI Disclosures
Supervisors of members who answer in the affirmative to any of the COI Disclosure questions will be prompted by the COI Disclosure Reporting System to review the disclosure(s) and make one of the following determinations:
- The disclosure does not constitute a COI or COC, and the member is in compliance with this policy; or
- The disclosure constitutes a COI or COC or the appearance of a COI or COC, and a Management Plan may be required, pending a second review by the reviewer’s supervisor.
If necessary, the reviewer can request additional information from the member prior to making a determination. Reviewers will be prompted to enter a reason for their determination. If the reviewer determines there is a conflict (real, perceived, or potential), a second review will be required by the reviewer’s supervisor (e.g., a Dean or Administrator). Accordingly, Vice Presidents will review Dean and Administrator disclosures, and the President will review Vice President disclosures. The Executive Director, Office of Research Compliance and Assurance, will review any research related conflicts; General Counsel reviews Board of Trustee disclosures (identified Trustee conflicts would be communicated to the Board of Trustees Chairperson).
5.5 Development and Administration of a Management Plan
For any COI Disclosure resulting in the determination by the reviewer and reviewer’s supervisor that a real, perceived or potential COI or COC exists, the development and implementation of a Management Plan may be required. The purpose of the Management Plan is to help the member avoid being in a COI or COC situation. Management Plan templates will be available in the Office of Compliance. The COI Disclosure Reporting System will facilitate the following related steps:
- Allow reviewer to draft, save, and finalize the Management Plan;
- Facilitate review and approval by the second reviewer (per section 5.4);
- Document the acknowledgement/agreement between all parties; and
- Schedule periodic monitoring and follow-up by the reviewer.
5.6 Requests for External Professional Activities by Faculty
Any faculty member who seeks External Professional Activities will be required to prospectively submit an electronic External Professional Activities Request Form, featured in the COI Disclosure Reporting System. This form is separate from the aforementioned COI Disclosure Form, and will be reviewed by the requestor's supervisor (Department Chair) and by the Dean - who has final approval authority. See sections 4 and 5 of the External Professional Activities Policy for more details. Requesters should be familiar with the External Professional Activities Policy prior to submitting a request.
The following are examples of engagements that may require an External professional Activities Request Form:
- Speaking Engagement with Industry;
- Consulting with public or private sector (paid or unpaid);
- Clinical Advisory Board participation; or
- Attendance at Industry-sponsored events (if Industry pays for the member's travel expenses);
- Employment by an entity other than USA.
5.7 Review of Requests to Participate in Professional External Activities
Upon review of an External Professional Activities Request Form (per section 5.6, above), reviewers will determine if the requested activity is compliant with USA policies and procedures, and then communicate their determination to the requestor. If the activity is determined to be compliant with USA policies and procedures and the requestor proceeds with the activity, the requestor may also need to update his/her annual COI Disclosure. An approval may be granted with conditions that will need to be acknowledged and agreed to by the requestor.
In the event the faculty member is denied the opportunity to engage in External Professional Activities by the reviewer, the faculty member may appeal in accordance with the Faculty Grievance Policy.
All unit Vice Presidents are responsible for overall implementation of this policy. Violations of this policy are grounds for disciplinary action up to, and including, termination of employment. The Chief Compliance Officer will periodically monitor the disclosure reporting system to assure all members complete their annual disclosures timely, reviewers conduct all necessary determinations and follow-up, and that Management Plans are implemented when necessary, and adhered to over the designated time frames. Violations may also be reported to the State Ethics Commission or the Board of examiners of Public Accounts, as applicable.
7. Related Documents
7.1 University Policies:
External Professional Activities
Familial Relationships in Sponsored Research
7.2 Federal Regulations:
42 CFR 50, Subpart F, "Responsibility of Applicants for Promoting Objectivity in Research for which PHS Funding is Sought" (FCOI Regulation)
National Science Foundation Grantee Standards, Grant Policy Manual, Chapter V