Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Commitment Policy
The Brandeis University conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policy is intended to identify and address potential, apparent and actual conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment.
The premise of this policy is that each faculty and staff member has an obligation to act in the best interests of the university, and must not permit outside financial and/or personal interests to interfere with that obligation.
This policy is intended to increase the awareness of faculty, staff, and other Brandeis community members to the potential for conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, and to establish a process whereby such conflicts may be properly managed or avoided. Brandeis also maintains a Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research, which applies to employees engaged in sponsored research activities at the University. That policy can be found on the Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research page. Additionally, the University maintains conflict of interest disclosure requirements for members of the Board of Trustees and the Board’s committees, University officers, and investment employees.
Evaluating Possible Conflicts of Interest
A conflict of interest can arise when a Brandeis employee has the opportunity to influence the university's business, administrative, academic or other decisions in ways that can lead to personal, family or financial advantage of any kind for themselves. However, not all interests and financial relationships represent conflicts, and not all conflicts are necessarily forbidden.
In general, if a Brandeis employee or an immediate family member has a business relationship or a financial relationship with a third party, a potential, apparent or actual conflict of interest with the university may arise. For purposes of this policy, the following definitions apply:
- Business relationship: One in which a Brandeis employee or a member of their immediate family serves as an officer, director, employee, partner, trustee or controlling stockholder of an organization, for-profit or not-for-profit that does business with the university.
- Financial relationship: One in which a Brandeis employee or a member of their immediate family (1) is the actual or beneficial owner of more than 5% of an organization that does business with the university, or (2) has other direct or indirect dealings with an organization that does business with the university from which the employee or member of their immediate family may benefit directly or indirectly.
- Immediate family member: A spouse, domestic partner, parent, sibling, child, or any other relative living in the same household as the Brandeis employee.
Evaluating Possible Conflicts of Commitment
A potential conflict of commitment exists when a Brandeis employee’s external professional or personal activities have the possibility (either in actuality or in appearance) of:
- Conflicting with the employee’s work hours for the University;
- Interfering with that individual’s ability to perform, or effectiveness in performing, the full range of responsibilities associated with their position at Brandeis.
Disclosure of Conflicts
The responsibility for avoiding potential, apparent or actual conflicts of interest and commitment begins with the Brandeis employee. If a situation arises that could present a conflict of interest or commitment, the employee must make full disclosure of the relevant information as soon as possible to the direct supervisor and the appropriate senior officer.
The president shall review conflict issues with respect to those employees who report to the president. The provost and executive vice president for academic affairs shall review conflict issues with respect to deans, heads of centers, department chairs, faculty, research personnel and academic administration. The executive vice president for finance and administration shall review conflict issues with respect to financial, facilities and other nonacademic administration.
In addition to the self-reporting obligation described above, all full-time faculty, senior officers, heads of centers, department chairs, certain financial personnel and other employees, as designated and instructed by the president, are required to complete and forward a written disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest or commitment annually to the provost and executive vice president for academic affair, and the executive vice president for finance and administration.
All employees engaged in sponsored research are required annually to submit a disclosure of their significant financial interests (a term that is defined in the relevant federal regulations). The annual disclosures must be in writing, on forms approved by the university. Whenever an application for funding of a new research project is submitted, researchers will be required to certify that they have submitted a complete and accurate annual disclosure, and that the new research project does not present the potential for any actual or apparent conflicts of interest or commitment not already identified in the annual disclosure.
Whenever any business relationships, financial relationships, significant financial interests or external activities change materially, the disclosures described above are to be updated as soon as possible, in writing. Whenever possible, employees should disclose expected changes or newly anticipated potential, apparent or actual conflicts at least 30 days before they occur.
Management of Conflicts
If a disclosure by an employee reveals a potential, apparent or actual conflict, or if a potential, apparent or actual conflict otherwise comes to the attention of a responsible senior officer, the responsible senior officer (i.e. president, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, or executive vice president for finance and administration) shall review the facts and determine whether a conflict of interest or commitment exists. The senior officer shall work with the employee, consult with the general counsel and other individuals as deemed necessary, and determine the appropriate steps, to take. The senior officer shall then issue a decision to resolve or manage the conflict to the employee.
If the decision requires any adjustment or change in the employee’s employment status, the procedures within the relevant Brandeis employment policies may be invoked. Failure of an employee to disclose a known potential conflict of interest or conflict of commitment in a timely manner, or failure to abide by a required plan for avoiding or managing a conflict may result in discipline up to, and including, termination of employment.
Examples of Conflicts of Interest and Commitment
- A scientist uses their Brandeis laboratory to perform research, which is paid for by a company of which they are the founder and a 20% owner. This is a conflict of interest, which will not be permitted.
- An employee directs the purchase of supplies or services for the university toward a business in which they or their immediate family has a significant ownership interest, without an appropriate bidding process. This is a conflict of interest, which will not be permitted.
- A faculty member acts as dissertation adviser to a graduate student for a research project that is suggested by the faculty member and which the faculty member expects to substantially enhance the value of a company in which the faculty member has a significant ownership interest. This is a conflict of interest, which will not be permitted.
- A friend of a Brandeis employee asks the employee for a favor. They would like their child to attend Brandeis. If the Brandeis employee will assist in ensuring that the child is accepted, the friend will use their influence to obtain admission to Harvard for the Brandeis employee's child. This is a conflict of interest, which will not be permitted.
- A faculty member performs research that has attracted the interest of a for-profit company. This company wishes to employ the faculty member as a consultant, receive advance information about the faculty member’s research, and obtain "first refusal" rights to license any inventions arising from that research. This is an apparent conflict of interest, which may be permitted after the appropriate disclosures and business arrangements are made to protect the faculty member's and the university's business and intellectual property interests. A confidentiality agreement will be necessary, for intellectual property reasons, and also to emphasize that the purpose of a consulting agreement between a Brandeis researcher and a company is to provide the company with top-level scientific thinking, not simply with a pipeline to the results of Brandeis research. Employment as a consultant is also a potential conflict of commitment that must be disclosed.
- A faculty member who is a member of a company's advisory board conducts research sponsored by that company. This is an apparent conflict of interest, which may be permitted after the appropriate disclosures and approvals.
- A researcher consults in the area of their professional expertise for a company that also makes a gift to support research in the researcher’s department at Brandeis. This is an apparent conflict of interest, which may be permitted after the appropriate disclosures and approvals.
- An employee maintains a home-based business, working on weekends for non-Brandeis clients. The employee is asked to perform services as a consultant on a Brandeis project in a different office. This is an apparent conflict of interest, which may be permitted after the appropriate disclosures and approvals. The operation of the home-based business itself is also a potential conflict of commitment that should be disclosed.
- A full-time faculty member is asked to teach a course at another university or consult for a corporation. These are potential conflicts of commitment that must be managed in consultation with the department chair, Dean and Provost.
Updated: August 2022