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Jan. 18, 2012 Volume 33, No. 16

New website simplifies conflict of interest reporting


One form satisfies two reporting requirements

A new web-based application, eCompliance, streamlines the Conflict of Interest reporting process for MU faculty and staff. All employees must regularly disclose activities that could pose actual or perceived conflict of interest. In addition, certain categories of employees are required to annually report whether or not they have performed consulting duties in the past year, regardless of whether the work poses a conflict of interest.

Prior to the introduction of eCompliance, faculty and staff had to complete different forms to satisfy both reporting requirements. Now, the Outside Interest Disclosure form handles both.

“In this day and age, the way we are promoting entrepreneurial activity, tech transfer and university engagement in the community, it would be difficult to do anything without having a conflict of interest,” said Mike Middleton, deputy chancellor and chair of MU’s Conflict of Interest Committee.

Reported activities vary widely, but common areas include overlapping business interests and outside employment. For example, owning stock in a company that supports research could present a conflict of interest. Conflict of interest in the form of time commitment could also arise for faculty or staff who perform similar duties for outside companies or on a freelance basis.

“The end goal is always transparency,” said Alicia Becker, compliance officer in the Office of Research. Reports are reviewed by the Conflict of Interest Committee and forwarded to deans or department heads for management at unit level. The committee may determine there is no conflict, or that the conflict is managed by the employee’s disclosure and certain conditions. In some cases, the activity may be so complicated, the committee will recommend the campus’ oversight committee monitor on an ongoing basis.

It is rare for the Conflict of Interest office to withhold approval for an activity. “It is in [faculty and staff’s] interest and in the university’s interest to get these things on the record and get them managed so that we are aware of what is going on,” Middleton said. “In disclosing what you are doing, you are protecting yourself and the university from adverse consequences in the future.”

Becker acknowledged conflict of interest reporting is a confusing topic. In an effort to improve understanding and increase participation, Conflict of Interest office representatives have been giving presentations across campus.

“We met with deans over the summer and went over this new process with them,” Middleton said. “Now we have staff going to each of the colleges, meeting with department chairs and interested faculty and staff to familiarize everyone with the requirements and how the process works. We also presented to the directors of administrative divisions, such as Student Affairs and Business Services, and are conducting departmental presentations upon request.”

With questions, call the Conflict of Interest office at 884-3317.