Conflicts of Interest
The University requires that investigators disclose any significant financial interest of the investigator (including those of the spouse and dependent children) that would reasonably appear to be affected by the research or educational activities.
This policy promotes objectivity in research and programmatic activities by establishing standards to ensure that the design, conduct, and reporting of research or educational activities will not be biased by any conflicting financial interests of an investigator. This policy is compliant with specific requirements of the National Science Foundation and the Public Health Service regarding investigator financial conflict of interest and objectivity in research.
Please note that financial conflicts of interest do not prohibit research or funding, as long as they are properly disclosed and managed.
What is a Significant Financial Interest (SFI)?
- General threshold of $5,000 (combined payments for services, equity interests)
- Travel paid by others (reimbursed or sponsored) related to institutional responsibilities (does not include travel sponsored by government agencies or institutions of higher education/affiliated labs and medical centers)
- Intellectual property rights and interests of any amount
Which SFIs need to be disclosed?
- All SFI related to the investigator's institutional responsibilities; the institution determines if the FCOI is related to the proposal or grant
- Includes SFIs of the investigator's spouse and children
What is excluded from the disclosure requirement?
- Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements for a government agency or institution of higher education (and affiliated labs and medical centers)
- Service on advisory or review panels for a government agency or institution of higher education (and affiliated labs and medical centers)
- Salary from the institution
- Income from authorship of academic works
- Income from mutual funds and retirement accounts
Who qualifies as an investigator?
- Anyone invovled in the design, conduct, and reporting of research
- May include collaborators and consultants
Investigators must certify by signature on the Routing for Proposal Approval & Submission (RPAS) Form that s/he has read and understands the University’s policy on Conflict of Interest in Sponsored Programs and that all required financial disclosures have been made as part of the proposal preparation and submission process.
Prior to submission of a proposal for sponsored research or programmatic activities, each investigator must disclose to the OGCA Director any significant financial interest that would reasonably appear to be affected by the activities funded or proposed for funding. Investigators shall use the Significant Financial Interests Disclosure Form to make the disclosure. During the period of an award, investigators must update financial disclosures as new reportable financial interests are obtained. This is separate and distinct from the "Ethics Disclosure Form" required to be completed annually under AS 39.52.170, which by statute must be reviewed by the General Counsel.
All Investigators engaged in research related to any PHS-funded grant or contract must complete COI training prior to engaging in research and at least every four years. Training is available from UAF's Office of Research Integrity.
Designation of Official to Review Disclosures and Resolve Problems
The Office of Research Integrity is designated to review financial disclosures, determine whether a conflict of interest exists, and determine what conditions or restrictions, if any, should be imposed by the University to manage, reduce or eliminate such conflict of interest.
A conflict of interest exists when the reviewer determines that a significant financial interest could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of the research or educational activity.
Possible conditions or restrictions that might be imposed to manage, reduce, or eliminate conflicts of interest include but are not limited to:
- Public disclosure of significant financial interests;
- Monitoring of research by independent reviewers;
- Modification of the research plan;
- Disqualification from participation in the portion of research that would be affected by significant financial interests;
- Divestiture of significant financial interests; and
- Severance of relationships that create conflicts.
The approved conditions or restrictions imposed upon the investigator in the conduct of the project shall be incorporated into a management plan between the University and the investigator.
All identified conflicts of interest will have been satisfactorily managed, reduced, or eliminated prior to expenditure of any funds under the award.
If the reviewer determines that imposing conditions or restrictions would be either ineffective or inequitable, and that the potential negative impacts that may arise from a significant financial interest are outweighed by interests of scientific progress, technology transfer, or the public health and welfare, then the reviewer may allow the research to go forward without imposing such conditions or restrictions.
For a summary of these definitions, please see the table above.
The term "investigator" means the project director or principal investigator, co-investigators, and any person regardless of title or position who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of the proposed or funded research or educational activity , which may include for example, collaborators or consultants.
The term "financial interest" means anything of monetary value, whether or not the value is readily ascertainable, including, but not limited to:
- Salary or other payment for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria , paid authorship for other than scholarly works );
- Equity interests (e.g., stocks, stock options or other ownership interests); and
- Intellectual property rights and interests (e.g., patents, trademarks, service marks and copyrights ) upon receipt of royalties or other income related to such intellectual property rights and interests ).
The term does not include:
- Salary, royalties or other remuneration from the institution;
- Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by and service on advisory or review panels for a federal, state or local government agency, an Institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an aca demic teaching hospital, medical center or research institute that is affiliated with an Institution of higher education ;
- Income from authorship of academic or scholarly works;
- An equity interest that, when aggregated for the investigator and investigator’s spouse and dependent children, meets both of the following tests: does not exceed $5,000 in value as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value, and does not represent more than a 5% ownership interest in any single entity; or
- Salary, royalties or other payments that when aggregated for the investigator and the investigator’s spouse and dependent children, are not expected to exceed $5,000 during the next twelve month period
- Equity interests or income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and retirement accounts, so long as the Investigator does not directly control the investment decisions made in these vehicles.
A “significant financial interest” means a financial interest that reasonably appears to be related to the Investigator ’s institutional responsibilities, and:
- if with a publicly traded entity, the aggregate value of any salary or other payments for services received during the 12 month period preceding the disclosure, and the value of any equity interest during the 12 month period preceding or as of the date of disclosure, exceeds $5,000; or
- if with a non-publicly traded entity, the aggregate value of any salary or other payments for services received during the 12 month period preceding the disclosure exceeds $5,000; or
- if with a non-publicly-traded company, is an equity interest of any value during the 12 month period preceding or as of the date of disclosure; or
- is income related to intellectual property rights and interests not reimbursed through the Institution.
A “financial conflict of interest” means a Significant Financial Interest (or, where the Institutional official requires disclosure of other Financial Interests, a Financial Interest) that the Institution reasonably determines could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct or reporting of Institutional research.
Disclosure, Resolution, and MOU Forms
- Investigators must use the University of Alaska Fairbanks Significant Financial Interest Disclosure Form to disclose significant financial interests.
- Investigators must also complete the Resolution Plan Questionnaire.
- Investigators must also complete the Memorandum of Understanding.
Investigators must provide all required financial disclosures by the time of proposal submission. Disclosures must be updated during the period of the award as new significant financial interests are obtained.
Disclosure to NSF and PHS
For National Science Foundation proposals, prior to expenditure of any funds under the award, the University reviewer (Vice Chancellor for Research) will report to the NSF Office of General Counsel any conflicts of interest that cannot be satisfactorily managed, reduced or eliminated, but not the nature of the conflicting interest or other details.
For Public Health Service proposals, prior to expenditure of any funds under the award, the University reviewer will report the existence of a conflicting interest to the PHS awarding component, but not the nature of the interest or other details and assure that the interest has been managed reduced or eliminated.
When an investigator violates this policy or the terms of the management plan the Vice Chancellor shall recommend sanctions that shall be consistent with the applicable personnel policies.
The University shall retain records of all financial disclosures and of all actions taken to resolve conflicts of interest for at least three years beyond the termination or completion of the grant to which they relate, or until resolution of any sponsor action involving those records, whichever is longer.
Proposers to the National Science Foundation are often required to provide a Conflict of Interest Matrix. This matrix is not limited to financial conflicts of interest, but rather addresses potential conflicts of interest with reviewers who might be biased through their relationship with the investigator. All PIs will have reviewer conflicts of interest to disclose per the NSF guidelines:
"Proposals must include a conflicts of interest table, in the single copy documents section of FastLane, as a list in a single alphabetized table, with the full names and institutional affiliations of all people with conflicts of interest for all senior personnel (PI and co-PIs) and any named personnel whose salary is requested in the project budget. Conflicts to be identified are (1) Ph.D. thesis advisors or advisees, (2) collaborators or co-authors, including postdoctoral researchers, for the past 48 months, and (3) any other individuals with whom or institutions with which the senior personnel (PI, co-PIs, and any named personnel) have financial ties, including advisory committees (please specify type). (This list generally replicates information that should be provided in the biographical sketches, but it is collated into one alphabetized table to facilitate the identification of individuals who would have conflicts of interest in the review of the proposal.)" (Program Solicitation NSF 11-551).
The program solicitation to which you are applying will specify whether or not a Conflict of Interest Matrix is required. If it is required and you do not include it, or include a blank document, your proposal may be returned without review.
UAF employees should also be aware of the other conflicts of interest managed by their Human Resources Department:
Immediate Family Disclosure
"The Alaska Ethics Act (AS 39.52.010 through 960) prohibits all public employees, including University employees, from taking or withholding official action in order to affect a matter in which that employee has a personal or financial interest. Among other things, this prohibits an employee from taking or withholding action on employment contracts involving members of their immediate family. Effective January 1, 1999, “immediate family member” is defined by statute to include a spouse, child, including stepchild or adopted child, a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt, or uncle of the employee, a parent or sibling of the employee’s spouse. It also includes “another person cohabiting with the [employee] in a conjugal relationship that is not a legal marriage." Employees who are involved in a situation that may be in violation of these statutory prohibitions are requested to complete this form."
Outside Activities Disclosure
Employees also must disclose any work they perform outside of their University employment. Examples of outside activities that must be disclosed are: self-employment, independent contracting, or consulting. In addition, any volunteer or uncompensated work performed outside of the University must be disclosed if there is any possibility that the work might involve the same issues or people as your University duties. If you have no outside activities, you are not required to submit a form. All employee and employee family member interests in contracts with the University must be disclosed and pre-approved using the Interest in Contracts form, not the Outside Employment form. Note that employment of your “Immediate Family Members” by the University is an interest in a contract with the University. It must be disclosed using the Nepotism or Interest in Contracts forms. In case of doubt, be on the safe side and disclose.