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Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy

Authority: President
Date Enacted or Revised: March 28, 2011; Revised February 2016; March 16, 2022

Purpose

McNeese State University faculty and staff disseminate knowledge and information both inside and outside the University through traditional academic pursuits, such as teaching, lectures, scholarly publications, training of undergraduate and graduate students, and public service appointments. Consultancies, advisory engagements, service on for-profit or not-for-profit boards, and various other outside activities provide opportunities for faculty and staff to direct their expertise and learning to useful applications. The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, Louisiana Revised Statutes 42:1101-1170, is applicable to McNeese employees (see http://ethics.la.gov/Pub/Laws/ethsum.pdf).

In pursuit of its mission, and consistent with the requirements of external agencies, particularly the federal and state government, McNeese State University implemented the Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy to identify and address potential, actual, and apparent conflicts of interest and conflict of commitment. Each member of the McNeese community has an obligation to act in the best interests of the University and must not let outside activities or outside financial interests interfere with those obligations. The policy builds on generally accepted recommendations and guidelines and is intended to increase the awareness of faculty, staff, and students to the potential for conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment and to establish procedures whereby such conflicts may be avoided or properly managed. McNeese State University follows the Association of American Universities’ three-fold approach for the framework of a Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy: disclose always; manage in most cases; prohibit the activity when necessary to protect the public interest or the interest of the University.

The Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy does not override regulations and protections afforded intellectual property or proprietary information.

Principles Related to Conflict of Interest/Commitment

The free and open exchange of ideas and the results of scholarly activities is the essence of academic freedom and is fundamental to the integrity of the University as a community of scholars. Faculty members must foster an atmosphere of academic freedom by promoting the free, open, and timely exchange of results of scholarly activities. Financial conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment cannot be permitted to undermine independent inquiry or uncensored publication of ideas and findings.

Faculty members should not be induced by financial interests to:

  1. Give outside sponsors or other organizations or individuals authority to direct their studies or to restrict or unreasonably delay the release or publication of research results;
  2. Participate under the aegis of the University in scholarly activities whose existence, methods, purpose, or results are held confidential. Although this second prohibition does not apply to projects undertaken as part of a faculty member’s permissible outside activities, faculty should avoid entangling outside projects with their academic duties in ways that could subject members of the University community to improper constraints (e.g., by assigning students or trainees to work for academic credit on outside projects that require their ideas or scholarly products to be held in confidence);
  3. Assign students to participate in research projects or other scholarly projects that constrain or could constrain their ability freely to discuss, defend, and publish their research; or
  4. Without the prior approval of their college dean, assign any student to any research project or other scholarly project in which the faculty member or a member of their family has a financial interest directly or through an outside entity.  A faculty member must ensure that the assigned work of students is not exploited in service of the faculty member’s outside activities.

Required Disclosure of Potential Conflict of Interest/Commitment

If there is a relation or affiliation between the faculty scholar and the source of the information or materials, a financial conflict of interest exists and the circumstances must be disclosed, evaluated, and managed or eliminated according to this policy.

Instructional subject matter and assignments to students, trainees, and student assistants (referred to collectively throughout the remainder of this annotation as “students”) may overlap with the subject matter of the faculty member’s outside consulting or related activities. Faculty members should exercise special care to avoid exploiting student work or subordinating the prerogatives and interests of their students to such outside activities. Faculty members should be transparent with students about their activities with and obligations to outside entities that could benefit from the work or ideas of their students. Students should have ready access to information about faculty members’ sources of funds that support the students’ research or scholarly work. Faculty should not assign students to research/scholarly projects in which a faculty member has a financial interest or gain. This does not include research/scholarly projects in which the faculty member’s financial interest is entirely speculative. For example, at the point of disclosing a new technology to the University where the commercial value of the invention is largely unknown, involving students in further investigations of the technology that serve their training objectives would generally not be problematic.

If the inventor realizes financial interest in the commercial development of a licensed technology, the dean’s or supervisor’s approval prior to assigning students to follow-on research is required. The point of financial interest will vary among different technologies, disciplines, and responsibility.

Employees should not be employed by or enter into a commercial relationship with a student or an entity substantially controlled by the student. A commercial relationship for these purposes includes, but is not limited to, the ownership of stock, stock options, or other equity.

Employees may not use University resources, including confidential information or—other than in a purely incidental way—facilities (offices), personnel, or equipment to support outside consulting activities or for any other purposes that are unrelated to the education, research, scholarship, and public service mission of the University.

Use of the McNeese name, logo, or trademarks must comply with regulations set forth in University policies, University of Louisiana System rules, or other appropriate regulatory agencies.

Use for personal profit of unpublished information emanating from University research or other confidential University sources, or assisting an outside organization by giving it exclusive access to such information, is prohibited.

Inappropriate use of University resources includes the following:

  1. More than incidental use of University staff on an employee’s outside consulting or business activities without prior approval by the dean/immediate supervisor;
  2. Granting outside entities access to McNeese resources or services for purposes unrelated to sanctioned University activities;
  3. Unilaterally appropriating patentable inventions or protectable software rather than disclosing such products for its determination of ownership in accordance with University policy (see Intellectual Property and Shared Royalties Policy);
  4. Using for personal gain, or granting others unauthorized access to, confidential information acquired through conduct of University business or research activity, including, for example:  medical, personnel, or security records of individuals; proprietary knowledge about the corporate affairs or business dealings of the University; and information from public agencies concerning contract awards or regulatory decisions in advance of their public release date; and
  5. Providing preferential access to research results, materials, or products generated from University teaching or research activities to an outside entity for personal financial gain. (This would not preclude appropriate licensing arrangements for inventions, or consulting on the basis of sponsored project results where there is significant additional work or expertise involved.)

Conflict of Interest/Commitment Reporting Requirements

Employees must, in advance of transactions such as gifts, sponsored projects, technology licensing arrangements, and certain procurements, or as soon as becoming aware, disclose any financial interests they or members of their immediate family have with an outside entity involved in the transaction. According to University policy and the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, employees may not accept anything of value from individuals or companies that are in financial relationships or would like to be in financial relationships with the University. Specifically, employees must report financial relationships with any outside entity that is known by the employee to:

  1. Fund University-sponsored research in which the employee participates or proposes to participate;
  2. Own or have a contractual right to develop or exploit intellectual property or a product or technology that is the subject of research in which the employee participates or proposes to participate;
  3. Compete commercially with an entity that owns or has a contractual right to develop or exploit intellectual property or a product or technology that is the subject of research in which the employee participates or proposes to participate;
  4. Make or propose to make a gift to the University that would support the employee’s teaching or research activities;
  5. Furnish products or services to the University through a contractual process in which the employee participates in any way;
  6. Propose to enter a licensing agreement with the University with respect to technology invented by the employee;
  7. Act as a legal or de facto agent for any outside entity engaged in any of the above activities. In such cases, approval by the Conflict of Interest Committee will be required before the transaction may commence or continue. The committee’s approval may be withheld or conditioned on measures to reduce, manage, or eliminate any financial conflict of interest; and
  8. No employee, officer, or agent shall participate in the selection, award, or administration of a contract supported by federal funds if a real or apparent conflict of interest or conflict of commitment would be involved. Such a conflict would arise when the employee, officer, or agent, any member of their immediate family, their partner, or an organization which employs or is about to employ any of the parties indicated herein, has a financial or other interest in the firm selected for an award [Federal regulations – 24CFR84.42]. The Office of Purchasing and Property Control, in accordance with the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics, will not purchase any merchandise or service for a department from any establishment in which a McNeese employee or their immediate family has an interest in excess of 25%. Therefore, an employee is required to disclose information that will assist purchasing in complying with this requirement.

Definitions

Conflict of Interest: A conflict of interest may take various forms, but arises when a McNeese employee is or may be in a position to influence the University business, research, or other decisions in ways that could lead to any form of personal gain for the employee or the employee’s family, or give improper advantage to others.

Conflicts of interest can arise naturally from an individual’s engagement with the world outside the University, and the mere existence of a conflict of interest does not necessarily imply wrongdoing on anyone’s part. When conflicts of interest do arise, however, they must be recognized, disclosed, and managed, reduced, or eliminated. Even when no conflict actually exists, the appearance of a conflict of interest may be present. Such apparent conflicts can do as much damage as actual ones, undermining the credibility of research, scholarship, or University financial decisions and must be avoided.

Conflicts of interest may exist with respect to University financial decisions in which the individual is involved, for example, regarding investments, loans, purchases, or sales of goods or services, and financial accounting decisions. They may also exist with respect to non-financial University matters, including in particular the conduct of research, the care of patients, the protection of human research subjects, and the treatment of students and colleagues. Conflicts may also exist with respect to matters with both financial and non-financial implications, such as decisions about the use of University equipment and facilities and the negotiation of research agreements and license agreements.

Faculty and Staff: All individuals employed by McNeese State University.

Immediate Family: As the term relates to a public servant means their children, spouses of children, brothers, sisters, spouses of their brothers and sisters, parents, spouse, and the parents of their spouse (L.R.S. 42:1102).

Financial Interest: Any relationship, including but not limited to consulting, employment, managerial, and fiduciary relationships, entered into by the employee or their family, other than employment by the University, which could result in financial gain for the employee or their family.

Significant Financial Interest: Relates to anything of monetary value, including but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria); equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options, or other ownership interest); intellectual property rights (e.g., patents, copyrights, and royalties from such rights). The term does not include:

  • Salary, royalties, or other remuneration from the University;
  • Any ownership interests in the University, if the institution is an applicant under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program;
  • Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by public or nonprofit entities; or
  • Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for public or nonprofit entities.

Conflict of Commitment: A conflict of commitment occurs when an employee’s commitment to external activities adversely affects their capacity to meet University responsibilities. This form of conflict is easily defined and recognized since it involves a perceptible reduction of the individual’s time and energy devoted to University activities. Obligations to the University are not discharged solely by teaching classes; individuals must be available to their students outside the classroom, participate on committees and in other University activities, supervise undergraduate and graduate students, and participate in research and scholarly pursuits and service to the University. Any relationship with an outside organization that requires frequent or prolonged absence from McNeese represents a conflict of commitment that must be avoided. It is a violation of state and University policy for employees to make use of University property or other resources, including time, to advance personal interests or activities during the course of their employment at the University. See University of Louisiana System policy on Outside Employment of College and University Employees.

Research Involving the Use of Human Subjects: The University has special responsibilities as mandated by 1991 Federal Policies for the Protection of Human Subjects (called the “common rule”) adopted by the federal government and set forth in 45 CFR 46 (rev. March 1983) and as revised August 1991 to participants in human subject research and must ensure that its financial relationships do not compromise its primary obligations to them. It is paramount that humans who volunteer as participants in clinical studies are assured that no financial bias, positive or negative, is influencing the recruitment, trials, gathering, and interpreting of data, or the impartiality of the reporting of the outcome of the clinical study. If financial conflicts of interest exist, obviously they must be addressed in the most conservative manner to ensure human research participants that the studies are adhering to the highest ethical standards.

Further, the public safety consequences of research in some nonclinical research areas should also be recognized when outside financial interests could influence research design, conduct, or reporting. For example, engineering research leading to development, testing, and commercialization of new materials can involve human research volunteers and put them at risk. There are also research projects in social and behavioral studies where financial conflicts may be sensitive. Investigators whose human participant research is considered less than minimal risk (i.e., the prospect of harm to the individual person in the course of participating in the research is low) may not be subjected to the same “zero tolerance” standard that high-risk clinical studies have warranted.

Procurement of Goods/Services from Corporations in which the University has a Financial Interest

Employees who make decisions about purchasing or contracting for goods or services received by the University should not have relationships with, or financial interests in, outside vendors or suppliers that conflict with, or appear to conflict with, their duty to act in the University’s best interests when purchasing or contracting on behalf of the University. Purchasing goods and services from companies that sponsor research at the University, or who are licensees of University technology, can raise issues similar to those raised by large gifts from commercial sponsors.

Guidelines for Identifying Conflicts of Interest/Commitment Requiring a Management Plan

Following is a partial list of activities or actions that merit case-by-case examination to determine whether they create a conflict of interest or conflict of commitment that should either be managed appropriately or eliminated.

  • Consulting activities;
  • The purchase of goods or services from businesses in which the employee, or immediate family, has a financial interest or, as a result of such purchase, may directly benefit;
  • Receipt of gifts, gratuities, loans, or special favors (including trips or speaker’s fees) from research sponsors or vendors;
  • Receipt of significant compensation for a position in a company or for consulting with a company, or holding significant equity in a company, that supports the research or teaching activities of the employee;
  • Receipt of significant compensation for a position in a company or for consulting with a company, or holding significant equity in a company if that company operates in the field of research of the employee;
  • Holding of an ownership interest by the employee, or the employee’s family, in any real or personal property leased or purchased by the University;
  • Holding of a significant equity, royalty, or debt instrument interest by the employee, or the employee’s family, in any entity providing to the University financial support, including research or other support or services, when such support will benefit the employee or persons supervised, directly or indirectly, by the employee;
  • Receipt, directly to the employee from non-University sources, of cash, services, or equipment provided in support of the employee’s University activities;
  • Memberships on boards of directors, committees, advisory groups (or similar bodies) of governmental non-profit or for-profit entities;
  • Limiting the rights to publish the results of research and scholarly activity;
  • Creating the impression that the University has sanctioned the outside activity;
  • Undermining the faculty member’s responsibility to students (e.g., limitations on the student’s right to publish results in a thesis);
  • Overextending ownership and intellectual property rights;
  • Use of information received as a University employee for personal purposes; and
  • Performing activities that interfere with institutional/state policies or job expectations as a McNeese employee:
    • An individual should not receive remuneration for the conduct of their research and scholarly activities at McNeese or other McNeese activity except through University channels;
    • An individual should not conduct research at McNeese or carry out other McNeese business under circumstances in which a reasonable person would infer that the McNeese activity could have been distorted by the desire for or expectation of direct or indirect external economic advantage;
    • McNeese researchers, including students, must not be precluded from publishing their work by agreements with external sponsors or on account of the interest of an external organization in which a faculty/staff mentor or supervisor has an economic interest;
    • Undergraduate and graduate students must not be held to non-disclosure of any aspect of their work in their meetings with individuals at McNeese;
    • McNeese facilities, equipment, and personnel should be used only for McNeese activities and purposes, except when other uses are specifically authorized by the University; and
    • An individual should not participate directly in the negotiation of research agreements, license agreements, equipment purchases, contracts, or other arrangements between the University and an organization in which the individual has a financial interest. Such agreements or activities must be coordinated with the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Required Disclosure

All McNeese employees must complete on an annual basis an Outside Employment/Income, Conflict of Interest, and Conflict of Commitment Disclosure Form and must update this form if there are any significant changes in outside interests or commitments or McNeese position during the year. All employees have a responsibility to report on an annual and ad hoc basis when professional activities, financial interests, and relationships could have, or could be perceived to have, an impact on their University responsibilities.

Faculty and staff must submit completed disclosure forms to their immediate supervisor. Immediate supervisors must review and sign every disclosure form received from each employee before submitting to the dean/administrative supervisor responsible for their unit. Deans (in consultation with their department heads where appropriate) and administrative supervisors will review and forward to the vice president/president responsible for their units the following items:

  1. The completed disclosure form;
  2. A disclosure review and management plan concerning the management of any disclosed conflicts; and
  3. A list of the names of individuals who fail to provide a disclosure form.

The vice president/president will review disclosures and management plans and forward all forms with apparent conflicts of interest to the Conflict of Interest Committee for evaluation.

Newly hired or affiliated employees must submit an Outside Employment/Income, Conflict of Interest, and Conflict of Commitment Disclosure Form within the first three months of employment or affiliation, and must thereafter comply with the annual filing deadline each year. Employees should contact the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for more information about disclosure requirements related to external funding.

Conflict of Interest (COI) Committee Recommendations Regarding a Management Plan

If an initial determination is made that there may be a potential for conflict of interest covered by this policy, then the disclosure packet will be referred to the COI Committee. Committee members are appointed as needed by the provost from a cross section of academic disciplines with knowledge regarding the specific issues. Additionally, the committee will include the vice president for business affairs, and the internal auditor will be a resource member. Primary responsibilities of the COI Committee are evaluation of the disclosure and approval of the management plan or conditional approval with amendments, as well as monitoring management plans for the purposes of overseeing compliance with this policy. The responsibilities of monitoring may include:

  • Reviewing publications and presentations for accurate disclosure and/or data integrity;
  • Meeting with the principal investigator of the research project and the scientific collaborators, and the responsible department head/dean on an as-needed basis;
  • Reporting to the appropriate vice president/president at least annually with respect to the management of the conflicts; and
  • Reporting any significant concerns it identifies to the appropriate vice president/president immediately.

A recordkeeping system should be maintained for all disclosures.

The committee shall recommend what conditions or restrictions, if any, should be imposed by the institution to manage actual or potential conflicts of interest arising from disclosed significant financial interests. Each vice president/president, in consultation with the COI Committee, will give final approval of the plan and is responsible for overseeing their area for implementation of this policy and assuring ongoing compliance with its terms.

Special Consideration Regarding Grants and Conflicts of Interest/Commitment

At the time a grant application is submitted, any individual who has a responsibility for the design, conduct, or reporting of activities proposed for external funding must comply with conflict of interest and conflict of commitment reporting. The principal investigator (PI) and all co-PIs must make a reasonable search and disclose to the University all current financial interests and interests that existed in the past three years in specified categories that would or might reasonably appear to be affected by the activities or to impact their work on the project or duties at the University.

Higher reporting standards exist for those proposing or participating in a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) or Public Health Service (PHS). Further, special conditions pertain to projects funded with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. The general rule is that no persons (employee, agent, consultant, officer, elected official, or appointed official of the recipient, or of any designated public agencies, or of sub-recipients that are receiving funds) who exercise or have exercised any functions or responsibilities with respect to CDBG activities or who are in a position to participate in a decision-making process or gain inside information with regard to such activities  may obtain a financial interest or benefit from a CDBG-assisted activity, or have a financial interest in any contract, subcontract, or agreement with respect to a CDBG-assisted activity, or with respect to the proceeds of the CDBG-assisted activity, either for themselves or those with whom they have business or immediate family ties, during their tenure or for one year thereafter. 

Other criteria may apply for determining conflict of interest or commitment and the appropriate actions applicable to a reasonable management plan.          

Audit and Sanctions for Non-Compliance

Employees are expected to comply with this policy. At the request of a vice president/president of the University, an employee may be audited for the purpose of verifying whether the individual accurately disclosed their leadership roles, secondary commitments, and financial interests in the annual Outside Employment/Income, Conflict of Interest, and Conflict of Commitment Disclosure Form (and in any updates thereto), and for the purpose of verifying whether the individual is complying with the actions, if any, that were specified in the written report of the COI Committee. An employee who fails to file a completed Outside Employment/Income, Conflict of Interest, and Conflict of Commitment Disclosure Form with the COI Committee or applicable vice president/president by the annual deadline, or who fails to comply with any other action specified by the COI Committee or applicable vice president/president, will be subject to potential sanctions in accordance with applicable University policy and procedures. These sanctions may include formal admonition or censure; restrictions on the individual’s external professional relationships; restrictions on the individual’s supervision of other faculty, staff, students, and/or trainees; restrictions on the individual’s research activities; elimination of the individual’s research activities; removal of the individual from University administrative positions; suspension; non-renewal of appointment; and/or dismissal.

Communication

This policy is distributed via the University Policies webpage.

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