Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy

I. Scope

The following conflict of interest and commitment policy applies to all EHRA employees, both faculty and staff.

II. Purpose

At UNC Asheville, the professional responsibilities of faculty and many professional staff extend beyond time-specific assignments such as in-class teaching, designated office hours, etc. to include a broad range of professional activities necessary to accomplish our public liberal arts university mission.  In addition, professional expertise may lead to opportunities for faculty and professional staff to use their specialized competencies in secondary professional employment as paid consultants to public and private agencies, thereby contributing to the transfer and application of knowledge through external activities for pay.  While these activities are encouraged, because they are a form of public engagement, they may raise concerns about potential conflict of interest as well as commitment to the primary responsibilities of university employment.

As relationships between employees and private industry, federal and state governments, and nonprofit agencies have grown in number and scope, there has been a corresponding increase in concern about conflicts of interest and commitment. While employees of UNC Asheville are encouraged to engage in appropriate relationships with public and private agencies outside of the University, there is a need for commonly understood principles and corresponding procedures that will identify, address and manage potential conflicts that would detract from or interfere with their dedication of unbiased primary professional loyalty, time, and energy to teaching, research, service, and other professional responsibilities.

All members of the UNC Asheville community are expected to avoid conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment that have the potential to directly and significantly affect the University’s interests or compromise their objectivity in carrying out their professional responsibilities, including research, service and teaching activities and administrative duties, or otherwise compromise performance of these responsibilities, unless such conflicts are disclosed, reviewed and appropriately managed in accordance with the provisions of this Policy.

III. Definition of Terms

These definitions are based on those in the UNC Policy Manual, section 300.2.2:

A. Conflict of commitment relates to an individual’s distribution of effort between obligations to University employment and participation in other activities outside of University employment. The latter may include such generally encouraged extensions of professional expertise as professional consulting (i.e. External Professional Activities for Pay). Such activities promote professional development and enrich the individual’s contributions to the institution, to the profession, and to society. However, a conflict of commitment occurs when the pursuit of such outside activities involves an inordinate investment of time or is conducted at a time that interferes with the employee’s fulfillment of University employment responsibilities.

B. Conflict of interest relates to situations in which financial or other personal considerations, circumstances, or relationships may compromise, may involve the potential for compromising, or may have the appearance of compromising a Covered Employee’s objectivity in fulfilling their University duties or responsibilities, including research, service and teaching activities and administrative duties. The bias that such conflicts may impart can affect many University responsibilities, including decisions about personnel, the purchase of equipment and other supplies, the selection of instructional materials for classroom use, the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, the sharing of research results, the choice of research protocols, the use of statistical methods, and the mentoring and judgment of student work. A Covered Employee may have a conflict of interest when he or she, or any member of that person’s immediate family has a personal interest in an activity that may affect decision making with respect to his or her professional responsibilities.  While a Conflict of Interest may result from nonfinancial interests or considerations, the overwhelming majority of Conflicts of Interest result from a Financial Interest of a Covered Employee who is in a position to make a supervisory, academic, or administrative decision which may be compromised because of potential financial gain from a Financial Interest.

C. External Professional Activities for Pay is defined as any activity that 1) is not included within one’s University employment responsibilities; 2) is performed for any entity, public or private, other than the University employer; 3) is undertaken for compensation; and 4) is based upon the professional knowledge, experience and abilities of the employee.

D.  Covered Employee is defined as any faculty or EHRA non-faculty person employed by the University of North Carolina Asheville.

E. Financial Interest is defined as:

1) Payment for services to the Covered Employee not otherwise defined as institutional salary (e.g. consulting fees, honoraria, paid authorship);

2) Equity or other ownership interest in a publicly or non-publicly traded entities (e.g. stock, stock options, or other ownership interest); or,

3) Intellectual property rights and interests upon receipt of income related to such rights and interests held by the Covered Employee or members of his/her immediate family.

Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds or retirement accounts, in which the Covered Employee or member of his/her immediate family do not directly control the investment decisions and intellectual property rights assigned to the Institution and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights are excluded from the definition of Financial Interest.

F. Immediate family:  For the purpose of this policy, “immediate family” is defined as:

  • Spouse,
  • Parent,
  • Brother or sister,
  • Son or daughter,
  • Others living within the same household or otherwise so closely identified with each other so as to suggest conflict of interest.

G. Scholarship and Research:  For this policy, “scholarship” and “research” are broadly defined to include creative activity associated with University duties and responsibilities.

IV. Policy

A) Policy on Conflict of Commitment

Members of the UNC Asheville faculty and professional staff are expected to devote their primary professional loyalty, time, and energy to their teaching, scholarship, and service responsibilities.  Accordingly, all outside activities and financial interests must be arranged so as not to interfere with the primacy of these commitments.

External professional activities for pay, even when they do not result in a financial conflict of interest, may constitute a conflict of commitment if they involve an inordinate investment of time or are conducted at times which interfere with the fulfillment of teaching, scholarship, and service responsibilities of faculty or the primary professional activities of staff.  These activities must be reported in advance for administrative review as described below.

B) Policy on Conflict of Interest

All members of the faculty and professional staff must arrange their professional activities and financial interests to avoid circumstances that compromise, may involve the potential for compromising, or may have the appearance of compromising their objectivity in fulfilling their professional responsibilities, whether due to financial or personal conflict of interest.  In addition, there are specific University policies on conflict of interest for federally sponsored projects, Policy 1403 for projects sponsored by the Public Health Service and Policy 1404 for all other federally sponsored projects.

1) Financial Conflict of Interest

As described in the UNC Policy Manual, Section 300.2.2[G]:

“Activities that may involve financial conflicts of interest may be categorized under four general headings: first, those that are allowable and are disclosed; second, those that are allowable with administrative approval and are disclosed; third, those that generally are not allowable and require an approved conflict of interest management plan; and fourth, those that are not allowable under any circumstances. The following examples are merely illustrative and do not purport to include all possible situations within the four categories:

i. Activities that are allowable and are disclosed

The examples cited below involve activities external to University employment, and thus may present the appearance of a financial conflict of interest, but have little or no potential for affecting the objectivity of the Covered Employee’s performance of Institutional Employment Responsibilities; at most, some such situations could prompt questions about conflicts of commitment.

a. A Covered Employee receiving royalties from the publication of books or for the licensure of patented inventions subject to the UNC Patent and Copyright Policies.

b. A Covered Employee receiving compensation in the form of honoraria or expense reimbursement, in connection with service to professional associations, service on review panels, presentation of scholarly works and participation in accreditation reviews.

ii. Activities requiring disclosure for further administrative review and analysis

The examples cited below suggest a possibility of conflicting interests that can impair objectivity, but disclosure and resulting analysis of relationships may render the activity permissible and may result in the establishment of an approved management plan.

a. A Covered Employee requiring students to purchase the textbook or related instructional materials of the employee or members of his or her immediate family, which produces compensation for the employee or family member.

b. A Covered Employee receiving compensation or gratuities from any individual or entity doing business with the University. Note that no University employee may seek or receive any gift, reward, or promise of reward for recommending, influencing, or attempting to influence the award of a contract by his or her employer (See G.S. 14-234 and G.S 138A).

c. A Covered Employee serving on the board of directors or scientific advisory board of an enterprise that provides financial support for University research, when the employee or a member of his or her immediate family receives all or a portion of such financial support.

d. A Covered Employee or a member of his/her immediate family having an equity or ownership interest in a publicly or non-publicly-traded entity or enterprise which either competes with services provided by the University, conducts research or other activities in an area related to the employee’s University duties, or does business with the University.

e. Covered Employee accepting support for University research under conditions that require research results to be held confidential, unpublished, or inordinately delayed in publication. Research conducted by faculty or students under any form of sponsorship must maintain the University’s open teaching and research philosophy and must adhere to a policy that prohibits secrecy in research. Such conditions on publication must be in compliance with UNC Policy Manual, 500.1 and 500.2, and with campus Intellectual Property policies.

iii. Activities or relationships that are generally not allowable or permitted unless an approved Conflict of Interest Management Plan is in place

The examples cited below involve situations that are not generally permissible, because they involve potential financial conflicts of interest or they present obvious opportunities or inducements to favor personal interests over institutional interests. Before proceeding with such an endeavor, the Covered Employee would have to demonstrate that in fact his or her objectivity would not be affected and University interests otherwise would not be damaged and an approved Conflict of Interest Management Plan is in place.

a. A Covered Employee participating in University research involving a technology owned by or contractually obligated to (by license or an option to license, or otherwise) an enterprise or entity in which the individual or a member of his or her immediate family has a consulting relationship, has an equity or ownership interest, or holds an executive position.

b. A Covered Employee participating in University research which is funded by a grant or contract from an enterprise or entity in which the individual or a member of his or her immediate family has an equity or ownership interest.

c. A Covered Employee assigning students, post-doctoral fellows or other trainees to University research projects sponsored by an enterprise or entity in which the individual or a member of his or her immediate family has an equity or ownership interest.

iv. Activities that are not allowable under any circumstances

a. A Covered Employee making referrals of University business to an external enterprise in which the individual or a member of his or her immediate family has a financial interest.

b. A Covered Employee associating his or her own name with the University in such a way as to profit financially by trading on the reputation or goodwill of the University.

c. A Covered Employee making unauthorized use of privileged information acquired in connection with one’s University responsibilities.

d. A Covered Employee signing agreements that assign University patent and other intellectual property rights to third parties without prior University approval.

e. Any activity otherwise prohibited by law or University policy.”

2) Conflict of Interest in Personnel Management (Anti-nepotism Policy)

It is the policy of the State of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Asheville that persons considered for employment or promotion shall be evaluated on the basis of individual merit, including qualifications, experience and training, without reference to considerations of race, sex, color, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other factors not involving personal professional qualifications and performance. The University does not allow improper favoritism in employment based upon family or personal relationships within the University.

No member of the faculty or professional staff may participate in the direct supervision or evaluation of a related person, as defined in the UNC Policy Manual, section 300.4.2, and in UNC Asheville Policy 3123.  When two relatives are members of the same department/program, and one of them serves as Chair/Director, it creates the perception of possible favoritism or personal conflict of interest.  In this case, supervision and evaluation of the related person shall be transferred to the appropriate program area Dean or next-level supervisor.  Similarly, no member of the faculty may participate in department or University personnel decisions in the evaluation of a related person but should instead recuse themselves from these proceedings.

V. Procedure: Monitoring Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

The primary method of monitoring and evaluating Conflicts of Interest and Commitment is the completion and review of the Disclosure and Evaluation of Potential Conflicts of Interest and Commitment form.  In August of each year, this form will be distributed to all members of the faculty and staff, to be completed by all who engage in activities which either create potential financial or personal conflicts of interest or constitute external professional activities for pay. By the end of the second week of classes of each Fall Semester, this form is to be submitted to the immediate supervisor for evaluation and the development of a management plan as needed. After review, these records will be submitted to the appropriate division (Academic Affairs, Financial Affairs, Student Affairs, Athletics, or the Chancellor’s Office) for recordkeeping. For those who receive external grant funding, copies will be submitted to the Office of Sponsored Scholarship and Programs for tracking purposes.

If a Conflict of Interest Management Plan is necessary, it should be developed by the immediate supervisor in consultation with the affected member of the faculty or professional staff, attached to the disclosure form, and approved by the appropriate program area Dean or next-level supervisor.

Faculty members and professional staff are responsible for revising this information as their plans for external activities change in order to keep it current. Revisions may be made as necessary at any time during the academic year and must be made in advance of the initiation of a new external professional activity for pay or which may appear to involve a financial or personal conflict of interest or conflict of commitment.

Conflict of commitment is also monitored through annual performance evaluation.  Furthermore, complaints from students, colleagues, or supervisors about possible failure to meet assigned responsibilities may arise and require investigation and further action.  If presented with evidence that a member of the faculty is not meeting full-time responsibilities to the University, The Code prescribes that “neglect of duty” constitutes grounds for potential disciplinary action, including the possibility of discharge.

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