Managing Conflicts of Interest

Policies & Procedures Related to USU Policy 545


A conflict of Interest or conflict of commitment is simply a circumstance where the outside interests of an individual or entity have the potential to be in conflict with the university-related responsibilities of the individual or entity.  The relationships built by engaged individuals at USU are bound to create conflicts from time to time.  The duty of the university is to make sure that biases are not allowed to enter into the university's decision making process.  USU's Policy 545, individual Conflicts of Interest, is designed to allow the university to manage potential conflicts so that we maintain the public trust.

USU’s Policy 545, Individual Conflicts of Interest, is responsive to both federal and state regulations.  The following statues and regulations apply to USU employees:

  • The Utah Public Officers’ & Employees’ Ethics Act (UPOEEA) applies to all USU employees that have responsibilities for making decisions or allocating resources for the university.  It allows some activities that could create a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment if the individual has disclosed the outside interest and the university has taken any steps necessary to protect university decision-making.
  • Federal Objectivity in Research regulations (42 CFR 50, Part F), and related research security regulations impact USU’s research enterprise and its interactions with foreign and domestic entities.  These regulations impact sponsored research programs, and their oversight is assigned to the Office of Research.

What is New?

USU Policy 545, Individual Conflicts of Interest, is an update of former Policy 307.  Originally USU's conflict of interest policy was promulgated to respond to specific federal requirements under 42 CFR 50, Subpart F, Objectivity in Research. Since that time both federal and state requirements have changed and expanded. The new Policy 545 reflects the current regulatory environment and has been reformatted to meet USU’s current policy template.

One aspect of the new policy that will have particular impact at USU is the requirement for outside interest disclosure from a broader population of employees, including annual disclosure by all faculty and by benefited employees who have responsibilities for university program administration and/or transactions.  A detailed list of those who will be included in disclosure activities is provided in Procedure 545-PR1, "Disclosures" (see the link below).  Disclosures will be made in the existing Kuali system.  If you are required to disclose outside interests, you will receive a notification from the system letting you know your profile has been included in the system.

Another important aspect of the new policy is the inclusion of State-regulated prohibitions for certain activities.  These are outlined in more detail in 545-PR3, "Prohibitions of Certain Activities under the UPOEEA."  Prohibitions include the private use of University Data for non-university purposes and the solicitation or offering of gifts or incentives that would influence the outcome of USU transactions.

Conflict of Interest Policies & Procedures

Controls for the disclosure processes and for the identification and management of related conflicts of interest include USU Policy 545: Individual Conflicts of interest, as well as the following procedures, which are incorporated into Policy 545:

Conflict of Interest Training

COI training is required for all employees, volunteers and visiting scholars during onboarding.  Individuals identified as Researchers under Policy 545 fulfill their annual training obligations for COI and research security by completing this training.  Employees with responsibilities for financial transactions and allocation or resources for USU are required to complete annual training and provide annual disclosures through the Kuali system.

A brief training module is being made available in USU’s ILS system to provide guidance on the use of the Kuali system.

USU’s Approach to Identifying and Managing Conflicts of Interest

USU follows national norms in identifying outside interests held by covered individuals and taking institutional responsibility for determining when those interests give rise to actual or potential conflicts of interest.  Conflicts of interest can be based on financial interest but can also include conflicts of commitment or conflicts of allegiance. 

Under UPOEEA, state employees are obligated to provide statements disclosing certain outside interests when they:

  1. are being compensated for helping a third party negotiate a transaction with a state agency (including USU),
  2. or receive compensation,
  3. serve as directors, or
  4. have ownership of outside entities whose activities could be related to their employment duties.  

USU’s system creates the appropriate documentation to fulfill this requirement.  USU takes a risk-adjusted approach to employee-held COIs.  Employees that have broad responsibilities for USU programs and resources are included as covered individuals, while employees who have no responsibilities for university transactions or resources are only included if the supervisor and department head have identified circumstances that indicate outside interests of specific individuals require disclosure of outside interests.

Under federal regulations, including 42 CFR 56 Part 50, Subpart F, Promoting Objectivity in Research, and Chapter IX, Section A of the NSF PAPPG, Conflicts of Interest Policies, disclosures of Significant Financial Interests must be made annually to the institution by research investigators and key personnel.  The institution then has the responsibility to assess disclosed interests and determine if a conflict of interest exists.  If so, a management plan must be developed and implemented if it is the judgment of the institution that the conflict is manageable.  USU relies on its supervisors, working with covered employees, to develop COI management plans that are reviewed and approved by designated USU officials and the COI Committee.

In addition to individual conflicts of interest the institution itself - either through its senior officials or its own financial holdings, gifts, investments or third-party transactions – may have institutional conflicts of interest.  USU Policy 546, Institutional Conflicts of Interest (pending), provides controls for such conflicts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who must comply with the COI policy?

Policy 545 will impact all employees and some individuals who are categorized as researchers but may not be USU employees.  All employees will receive training about conflicts of interest and will be asked to self-disclose any outside interests that relate to their university responsibilities during onboarding.  Benefited employees who are identified in Procedure 545-PR1 (such as senior administrators and personnel involved in university transactions) and some classes of employees identified by their supervisors or department heads will be required to disclose outside interests annually.  All researchers will continue to disclose outside interests annually as well.

Whose outside interests must be disclosed?

When a covered individual is disclosing outside interests, except when specifically excluded, interests reported should include all members of the individual’s close family.  This would include spouses, partners, children and other members who could reasonably be expected to be advantaged by decisions made by the individual on behalf of the university.  

When providing information related to the receipt of compensation for assisting entities with negotiation of university transactions, or with direction of or employment by outside entities, disclosures are required only for the covered individual.  Information about ownership of more than 10% of an outside entity should be provided for the individual, the spouse or partner, and dependent children.

What must be disclosed?

Disclosers are encouraged to review the definition of Significant Financial Interests as provided in Procedure 545-PR1, "Disclosures."  There is also guidance in this procedure concerning what is not included in SFI.  Questions concerning what should be disclosed should be directed to the Research Integrity and Compliance Office (for researchers) or to the Office of University Ethics and Compliance.

How do I disclose my outside interests to USU?

Covered individuals can make disclosures using the” Conflict of Interest” module in Kuali.  The system can be accessed at Kuali Research for USU and clicking on the “Conflict of Interest” tile.  The system is easiest to use on a computer, table or pad, but can also be navigated using a smartphone.

When do I need to update my disclosure?

Covered employees are required to disclose at least annually, and should also update their disclosure within 60 days of acquiring a new outside interest, or when the discloser’s university duties have changed so that previously unreportable interests may now be related to the new duties.  A disclosure should also be updated when an employee is representing the university in a new transaction.  The procurement process will provide opportunities for individuals involved in transactions to disclose outside interests that could give rise to a conflict of interest.  Disclosures are accepted on a rolling basis, so once you have updated your disclosure you will have one year before you need to update it again (except if you have another change in your situation in the meantime).

What does the university do with my disclosure?

USU limits the collection of data to purposes that allow us to operate efficiently and comply with federal and state statutes.  We protect the data we collect in safeguarded systems, and personnel that use and transfer the data are properly trained in protecting it.  When we release data, we release the least amount required to meet the statutory requirements.  USU’s privacy practices are outlined in it Privacy Notice.

Who makes the determination that a disclosed interest is in conflict with a USU interest?

The Director of Research Integrity and Compliance is authorized to make determinations of conflicts of interest for research-related outside interests.  For administrative and academic interests, the Chief Compliance Officer is responsible for final determinations of conflicts.  In both cases the direct supervisors and department heads – who are closest to the situation and understand the context – are closely involved in both making the determination and designing and carrying out related management plans when they are necessary.

How are COI management plans developed?

Management plans are designed to minimize the possibility for bias to influence university programs and activities. Based on each individual case, supervisors, department heads and other stakeholders place conditions on activities that will effectively control potential biases.  For example, when purchasing specialized instrumentation from a company that is owned or controlled by a researcher, the department head will often act as the approving individual to ensure that USU’s procurement policies and procedures are followed, and that USU’s resources are protected.  All management plans must be approved by the authorized COI officer and presented to the COI Committee for ratification.

Who oversees the COI management plan?

Management plans may be overseen by a direct supervisor, or more commonly, by the responsible department head. An annual review of active COI management plans is carried out by the Office of Research Integrity & Compliance or the Office of University Ethics and Compliance, with a report submitted to the COI Committee.

Who can I contact regarding COI reporting?

  • For research-related outside interests: Director, Research Integrity & Compliance
  • For administrative and academic outside interests: Chief Compliance Officer, (435) 797-8305