The University of Alabama

Institutional Conflict of Interest/Conflict of Commitment Policy

Unit:  Office of the President
Contact: Dr. Marcy Huey
Title:  Executive Director of Institutional Compliance
Effective Date: 1/11/2022
Revision Date: 01/11/2022


 
 

Purpose

The purpose of this Policy is to provide guidance on managing Conflicts of Interest (COI) and/or Conflicts of Commitment (COC) in compliance with Board Rule 106.2 and the State of Alabama Ethics Law, Ala. Code § 36-25-1, et. seq.
 

Policy

The University of Alabama System Board Rule 106.2 states that University community members are expected to:
 

Acknowledge and appropriately manage conflicts of interest.

University Community Members should be loyal to the University's missions and institutions, appropriately objective and impartial in exercising their duties and discretion and follow applicable ethical standards. University Community Members must not use public offices or resources for private or other improper gain, or otherwise act under an improper conflict of interest related to their duties.

The term “University Community Members” includes the members of the Board of Trustees, senior administrators, and other members of the University community, including faculty, staff, students, volunteers, contractors, agents, affiliates, and others providing services to or on the University's behalf. The standards set out in this Policy clarify specific requirements applicable to certain groups within the University community at UA.

The primary goals of this Policy are to (a) prevent the personal interests and activities of employees from adversely or inappropriately influencing UA operations; (b) provide a framework for recognizing and managing employee conflicts of interest; (c) provide education and guidance to help minimize even the appearance of conflicts of interest; and (d) standardize University-wide procedures for the disclosure, review, management, and approval of actual or possible conflicts of interest. This Policy does not displace or supplant any obligations of senior administrators under Board Rule 106 of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, or any obligations of UA employees under the Alabama Ethics Law, Ala. Code § 36-25-1, et. seq., federal law, or any other University reporting requirement.

Conflicts of Interest or Commitment

A Conflict of Interest refers to a situation in which an individual’s financial, professional, or other personal considerations may directly or indirectly affect, or have the appearance of affecting, an individual’s professional judgment in exercising any University duty or responsibility. Typically, a Conflict of Interest may arise when an individual has the opportunity or appears to have the opportunity to influence the University’s business, administrative, academic, patient care, research, or other decisions in ways that could lead to improper financial, professional, or personal benefit or advantage of any kind, whether or not the value is readily ascertainable.
A Conflict of Commitment refers to a situation where an individual engages in external activities, either paid or unpaid, that interfere with their primary obligation and commitment to the University. Individuals in the University community should evaluate and arrange their external interests in order to avoid compromising their ability to carry out their primary obligations to the University.

Most Conflicts of Interest or Commitment should generally be avoided or resolved through the exercise of personal judgment or discretion or through the creation and implementation of a Conflict Management Plan.
 

Employee Responsibilities

Employees, by accepting employment at UA, make a commitment to UA that includes the appropriate and responsible use of the University's information and resources, including facilities, personnel, equipment, systems access, patents, copyrights, technology, logos, and work product, as well as the University's more intangible reputation and prestige. Employees must ensure that their use of UA information and resources, their external and internal activities, and their financial interests do not interfere with, or appear to interfere with, their institutional responsibilities. 

Employees are prohibited from engaging in activities from which they, their families, or their businesses will improperly benefit, financially or personally, because of an employee's position at UA or the use of UA materials, resources, or information. It is the responsibility of any employee with a possible conflict of interest to inform their immediate supervisor of any potential or actual use of UA resources or information in the employee’s external activities or financial interests. If, through the course of the appropriate review, it is determined that such use exceeds threshold amounts allowed by law and policy, appropriate remedial action will be taken that may include, but not be limited to, disciplinary action, contracting requirements, or reimbursement to the University for the fair market value of the use of the resource or information. 

All UA employees are required to:
  • Use UA resources, including confidential and/or privileged information, only for UA purposes and only as allowed by applicable law and policy.
  • Obtain approval as outlined in the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures  prior to engaging in external or internal activities. 
  • Report any personal or financial interests that relate to their institutional responsibilities in accordance with this Policy, including any interests that might influence or appear to influence any decisions related to hiring or employment, grants, vendor selections, scholarships, or other benefit awards. 
  • Adhere to any Conflict of Interest or Conflict of Commitment Management Plan or Monitoring Plan prescribed by their leadership.
All Vice Presidents, Deans, Chairs, Department Heads, Executive Directors, Directors, as well as all other employees responsible for approving requests are required to:
  • Ensure adequate processes are developed and communicated to their employees to allow for the review and approval of external and internal activity requests submitted by employees in their units, so that those activities do not interfere with or appear to interfere with the institutional responsibilities of employees.
  • Review submitted requests for compatibility with the interests of UA as a public academic institution and compliance with state law or policy related to the use of UA resources or facilities.
  • Determine whether requested external activities are more properly conducted as official UA activities.
  • Provide direction and supervision for proper accounting of employees’ time for purposes of external or internal activities. 
  • Provide guidance on the use of UA information and resources and approval processes so that the use of facilities, personnel, equipment, patents, copyrights, technology, and work product in approved external activities is done in accordance with the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures and reimbursement is made to UA at fair market value for such use where the use exceeds threshold amounts allowed by law or policy.
  • Ensure there are written financial agreements for the payment of any portions of employees’ salaries attributable to appointments, assignments, or work projects performed for other UA divisions, units, or affiliated organizations.
  • Develop and monitor Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Management Plans in accordance with this Policy.
  • Adopt specific review and approval procedures for their units.
  • Adopt more restrictive standards for approval if necessary for a particular unit. 

Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

It is the responsibility of each employee to disclose annually to University officials any known or potential conflicts of interest and commitment, including, but not limited to, any significant financial incentives (SFIs), nepotism, business interests, internal or external activities, or any other potential conflicts (including sponsored or reimbursed travel), in accordance with the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures. These procedures provide a mechanism for identifying and disclosing any relationships or activities that might give rise to conflicts of interest, or the appearance thereof, with assigned duties, responsibilities, or obligations to the University, in accordance with University standards. Any employee considering the creation of a business should contact the Office of Compliance, Ethics and Regulatory Affairs (CERA) to disclose any known or potential conflicts before creating the entity.  CERA will assist with reviewing and routing any submitted information to other University departments or leadership as needed to ensure potential conflicts are appropriately addressed.

In addition, each employee must, within thirty (30) days of discovering or acquiring (e.g., through marriage, purchase, or inheritance) a new actual or potential conflict of interest or commitment, submit an updated disclosure in accordance with the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures. Disclosures must be current any time a grant application or research protocol is submitted and must remain current throughout the duration of the research project.
Disclosures in accordance with the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures must also be completed by all new employees within the first thirty days of employment and prior to participation in any funded research.

All employees will receive an annual email notice regarding this Policy and a link to the location of UA’s Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Program and Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures. This information will be available throughout the year for employees who need to disclose any changes in circumstances as they occur. The University has the right to address or review all potential conflicts of interest. 

Annual disclosures within UA must not be confused with the following: 

State Ethics Law and Economic Interest Report

All University employees are subject to the Alabama Ethics Law, Ala. Code § 36-25-1, et. seq., regardless of their job title, pay rate, or duties; however, under this law, some employees have additional reporting requirements in addition to, but separate from, this and other policies regarding Conflicts of Interest or Conflicts of Commitment. The State of Alabama requires all full-time public employees whose base pay is $81,000 or higher (as of January 2021) to file a Statement of Economic Interests (SEI) no later than April 30 of each year. Each person who meets the necessary criteria, regardless of whether they retired the previous year or the amount of time they served/worked in the public position (even a portion of one day) during the previous year, is required to file. The duty of an employee to comply with the Ethics Act, including the duty to file the SEI, rests with the employee, not UA. Employees who are required to file but fail to timely file a SEI may be fined by the State of Alabama $10/day (not to exceed $1,000) or be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for intentional failure to file. More information, including access to the SEI form, is available at the Statement of Economic Interests website
 

Conflicts of Interest in Education

UA must maintain an open academic culture, with decisions and actions related to education free of conflicts of interest related to any commercial interest. Commercial support of educational events, programs, or other activities sponsored by UA must not influence educational content, research, or other scholarly activities. Employees must follow applicable contracting policies and unit-based standards for industry relationships.
 

Gifts, Awards and Prizes

Solicitation or acceptance of personal gifts, food/beverages, services, gratuities, or other things of value by UA employees, their spouses, or their dependents is prohibited if such solicitation or acceptance influences, or has the appearance of influencing, education, research, purchasing, or other official UA business decisions. UA employees may accept gifts, awards, and/or prizes provided that acceptance of these does not influence education, research, purchasing, or other official business decisions. All faculty and staff should disclose gifts, awards, or prizes received as part of their UA duties. Gifts to University employees, their spouses, or their dependents are subject to further limitations defined within the Alabama Ethics Law, including de minimis value thresholds.

Research

In addition to any required approvals related to external and internal activities, some designated individuals are required to submit formal disclosures of financial interests. Individuals responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research, also known as Investigators, are not released from the requirements of any other policy and must disclose any external activities as described in the Disclosure of External Activity By Faculty and Other Research Grant and Contract Eligible Employees Policy and The University of Alabama Conflict of Interest/Financial Disclosure in Research and Other Sponsored Programs Policy. Vice Presidents, Chairs, Department Heads, Deans, Executive Directors, or Directors are responsible for ensuring that reasonable protections are in place for any student, fellow, or trainee involved in activities in which a supervisor has disclosed a conflict of interest or conflict of commitment situation.
 

Implementation

The Provost and the Vice President for Finance and Operations are responsible for the overall implementation of this Policy. Coordination of the requirements included in this Policy is the responsibility of the Office of Compliance, Ethics and Regulatory Affairs (CERA). The Vice President for Research and Economic Development is responsible for the development and enforcement of procedures to implement the portions of this Policy related to externally sponsored grants and contracts. Coordination between this Policy, the Disclosure of External Activity By Faculty and Other Research Grant and Contract Eligible Employees Policy, and The University of Alabama Conflict of Interest/Financial Disclosure in Research and Other Sponsored Programs Policy is the responsibility of the Office of Research and Economic Development (ORED).
 

Records Retention and Access

Subject to other applicable law or policies, all conflicts of interest or conflict of commitment disclosures, outside employment forms, and Management Plans will be retained by CERA and/or the Vice President for the Office of Research and Economic Development for a period of six (6) years from the date of the employee's separation from the University. In the case of federally funded research, all materials will be retained for a period of three (3) years after closeout.
 

Disciplinary Action

In coordination with CERA, Human Resources (HR), Office of Academic Affairs (OAA), and supervisors, employees with identified known or potential conflicts will develop and implement Conflict Management Plans as outlined in the Employee Conflict of Interest/Commitment Disclosure Procedures. Violations of this Policy or violations of approved Conflict Management Plans are grounds for progressive disciplinary action up to, and including, termination of employment at UA. While all conflicts must be disclosed, not all conflicts can be managed via a Conflict Management Plan. If a Conflict Management Plan cannot be implemented, the disclosed activity may not be approved or allowed to occur.
 

Scope

This Policy applies to all University faculty and staff, including graduate and undergraduate student employees. In addition, this Policy is subject to all applicable University policies and governing law. 
 

References 

 
 

Office of the President

Approved by Chad Tindol, Chief Administrative Officer, 01/11/2022