Managing Conflicts of Interest
Conflicts of interest can have a chilling effect on the public's perception of an institution. USU has established policies for both individual and institutional conflicts of interest, along with the Office of Compliance Assistance, a unit within the Provost's Office. USU's approach to conflicts of interest rests on four pillars:
- Education of the University community concerning conflicts of interest
- Reporting of conflicts and potential conflicts by employees and the institution
- Management of identified conflicts
- Transparency of the conflict management process
Individual Conflicts of Interest
Both federal regulations and state statutes require USU to report and manage the conflicts of interest of its employees. USU's policy states that a conflict of interest exists whenever "a University employee owes a professional obligation to the University, which is or can be compromised by the pursuit of outside interests."
This definition draws an important distinction between the existence of a conflict of interest and a potential negative outcome. USU does not take the view that a conflict of interest is inherently bad for the University. In fact, employees who are appropriately engaged in outreach to the community, industry and their professions will often have a conflict arise.
The key to USU's Conflict of Interest Policy (USU Policy #307) is to avoid allowing bias caused by any secondary interest to influence the discharge of the employee's university-related duties. This is accomplished by providing for appropriate management of conflicts of interest as they arise. Institutional officials of the University have a duty to work with employees in their areas to provide oversight of conflicts of interest and to ensure that appropriate conflict management plans have been developed and submitted to the Conflict of Interest Committee of the University. USU's federal compliance manager in the Office of Compliance Assistance provides support to USU's administration and faculty as they eliminate or minimize the effects of individual conflicts of interest.
Institutional Conflicts of Interest
Institutional conflicts of interest arise whenever the financial or other interests of the University or of an institutional official acting within his or her authority on behalf of the University, may introduce bias into the decision-making processes of the institution. An example might be choosing a specific vendor for a purchase when the individual making the decision will be financially advantaged because of the transaction. Other institutional conflicts can exist when the University owns equity in start-up companies that are based on its inventions.
When conflicts exist, it is in the interest of both the individual and the institution to separate responsibilities for operations from responsibilities for finances. USU's Institutional Conflict of Interest Policy, No. 310, provides for this separation. Institutional officials are uniquely affected by this policy because of their fiduciary responsibilities at the University - representing the interests of students, employees and the public at large. As with individual conflicts of interest, the University provides for proper disclosure, management and reporting of institutional conflicts of interest. These activities are overseen by the Office of Compliance Assistance.