Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research

Conflicts of Interest


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a grant to Aristotle University to fund Professor Jones' proposal. His project involves research on using carbon nanotubes in water filtration systems. Professor Jones has several personal consulting agreements with companies involved in nanotechnology. He also sits on the Scientific Board of Advisors of Clean Water, Inc. and owns $20,000 in stock. The company has recently begun investigating new methods of filtering water in residential homes with the intent of competing with commercial water filters on the market. The results of Professor Jones' NSF project, if positive, could have a significant impact on product development within the Clean Water, Inc.

The situation above reveals issues related to conflicts of interests that are frequently confronted by universities and other institutions. While administrators are not directly involved in research projects, they may discover problems related to conflicts of interest or conflicts of commitment. They then need to know how to address them.


Administrative staff need to be able to identify real and potential
conflicts of interest Conflicts of Interest
A situation in which an individual has one or more significant financial interest that have the potential for tainting or have the potential to taint the conduct or reporting of the work conducted under a sponsored project.
. They are entrusted by the institution to administer sponsored projectsSponsored Projects
Sponsored projects are research, training, or instructional projects involving funds, materials, other forms of compensation, or exchanges of in-kind efforts from sources external to the institution under awards or agreements which contain any one of four criteria. See Glossary for full definition.
and to ensure that the institution is providing appropriate stewardship of sponsored project funding. This does not mean that each administrator must "police" awards or financial relationships. Rather, it means that administrators must be able to identify situations in which a conflict of interest has arisen, or as well as instances in which there is a potential for a conflict arising, or a good possibility that others will perceive the existence of a conflict of interest. It also means that administrators must be familiar with the institution's and sponsor's policies that are used to resolve or mitigate an actual or potential conflict.

Administrators can find themselves in difficult situations with regard to conflicts of interest involving faculty. In particular, departmental administrators can find themselves having long-term working relationships with faculty members, while reporting to department chairs, and being ultimately responsible to the institution. Sometimes, the interests of the individual faculty members can be very different from those of their departments, and/or the institution. At times, because of personal loyalty to a faculty member, administrators may be asked to perform functions that are in conflict with their responsibilities to the institution. This will raise ethical decisions for administrators. It is important for administrators to know what to do and how to do it when they sense that something "just isn't right."

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