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Policy No: 2056
Responsible Office: Compliance
Last Review Date: 03/08/2024
Next Required Review: 03/08/2029
Policy No: 2056
Responsible Office: Compliance
Last Review Date: 03/08/2024
Next Required Review: 03/08/2029

Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment

1. Purpose

This policy sets forth general guidance for the University of South Alabama (USA or University) 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.

2. Applicability

This policy applies to all members of the USA campus community, which includes 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), and to USA Health administrators. USA’s Board of Trustees (BOT) Conflict of Interest disclosure and review processes are set forth in Article VI of USA's BOT Bylaws.

3. Definitions

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 and USA Health administrators 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 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  Responsibilities

4.2.1  Professional Commitments

Members of the USA 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 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 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.

5. Procedures

The following procedures outline the disclosure reporting requirement processes:

5.1  Annual and Supplemental COI Disclosures

Members of the USA 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 or part-time (.5 FTE or greater) employee in a faculty position (excludes adjunct/temporary faculty, and part-time faculty <.5 FTE);
    • Any employee in an administrative/managerial position in the University General Division;
    • USA Health administrators;
    • 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 
    • Coaches.

5.3  Initiation of Annual COI Disclosure Campaign

Members of the USA 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.

Supervisors (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 performed by the reviewer’s supervisor in consultation with the Office of Compliance and, if applicable, the Office of Research Compliance and Assurance. If this second review confirms there is a perceived, potential or actual COI, a Management Plan must be developed and that plan must be approved by the reviewer’s supervisor in consultation with the Office of Compliance and, if applicable the Office of Research Compliance and Assurance.

The supervisor in the COI Disclosure Reporting System will be the same person who employees report to in all other job functions; for instance, disclosures submitted by a faculty member will be reviewed by his/her Department Chair. A COI disclosure submitted by the University President will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees Chair pro tempore.

5.5  Development and Administration of a Management Plan

For any COI disclosure resulting in a determination by the reviewers 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 employee avoid being in a COI or COC situation. Management Plan templates will be available from the Office of Research Compliance and Assurance. The COI Disclosure Reporting System will facilitate the following related steps:

    • Allow reviewer to draft and save a Management Plan;
    • Facilitate review and approval by the second reviewer and reviewer's supervisor (per section 5.4); and
    • Document the acknowledgement/agreement between all parties.

The supervisor/reviewer should periodically monitor adherence to the Management Plan to assure compliance. In lieu of a formal Management Plan, less formal action steps can be recommended by the primary and secondary reviewers to address scenarios that don't rise to the level of an actual COI, such as potential or perceived COI’s.

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.

6. Enforcement

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 Office of Compliance 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

Speech, Expressive Activities, and Use of University Space, Facilities, and Grounds

Conflicts of Interest in Research

Institutional Conflict of Interest

Procurement Conflicts of Interest

Faculty and Staff Authored Textbooks (Faculty Handbook Section 6)

Faculty and Staff Interactions with State, Local and Federal Officials and Agencies

Faculty Grievance Policy (Faculty Handbook Section 4)

Board of Trustees (BOT) Bylaws (Section VI)

7.2  State & Federal Regulations:

Alabama Ethics Act

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