FAQ’s for COI, COC, and Disclosures

Conflicts of Commitment

1. What is a conflict of commitment?

A Conflict of Commitment is a situation in which the time or effort of a Faculty Member’s Outside Activities (e.g., consulting, public service, or pro-bono efforts) interfere or appear to interfere with the quality and performance of their Institutional Responsibilities. Institutional responsibilities is the professional responsibilities of a Faculty Member on behalf of the University. Institutional Responsibilities include, for example, teaching, preparing coursework, counseling students, service on departmental and University-wide committees, research, publishing scholarly work, and other work done for or on behalf of the University relevant to their academic field of endeavor, professional practice, and consultation. See Rice Policy 217.

2. What are examples of Outside Activities included in Conflicts of Commitment and what type of activities are excluded?

Examples of Outside Activities included but not limited to: employment, consulting, self-employment, participation in a business partnership, professional appointments, research activities and participation with professional, community, and charitable outside entities. An Outside Activity may be either compensated or uncompensated. In general, any service on any board (for-profit, non-profit, advisory, honorary, or otherwise) will constitute an Outside Activity. Additionally, any academic appointment paid or unpaid, (e.g. honorary, visiting professor, adjunct, and emeritus) will be considered an Outside Activity.

Examples of Outside Activities not included personal service to religious or political organizations that is unrelated to Rice duties. Personal activities unrelated to teaching, preparing coursework, counseling students, service on departmental and University-wide committees, research, publishing scholarly work, and other work relevant to the individuals institutional responsibilities, academic field of endeavor, professional practice, or consultation. This term does not include the normal academic exchange of ideas (such as an invited public seminar) that are not covered by a contract, do not involve any IP exchange, and that are not subject to federal, state or local restrictions.

3. How is the allotted 20% or one day per week on average) of the Faculty Members’ total professional effort calculated?

20% of the Faculty Members’ total professional effort (or one day per week on average) is the equivalent 39 days annually (for 9 month appointments) or 52 days annually (for 12 month appointments). University holidays and weekends are included. One day is defined as 8 hours based on the academic mission and furthering Rice’s teaching and research objectives; and not derived from accounting principals or effort reporting.

IMPORTANT Faculty Members with 9 month appointments who receive summer salary under a sponsored agreement must avoid exceeding 20% of total professional effort dedicated to Outside Activities.

Faculty Members who are also Scholars must accurately record their time commitments for Outside Activities and ensure that those time commitments are consistent with certifications of effort made for grants and to award sponsors. A Faculty Member’s time commitment to Outside Activities over the summer must be accurately recorded and consistent with certifications of effort to award sponsors. If questions arise about what is permitted by a particular grant or contract, clarification may be obtained by consulting SPARC.

4. Do the Conflict of Commitment requirements apply during my vacation and/or sabbatical?

The policy requires scholars to disclose to Rice their Outside Activities they plan to take at any point during the year, including vacations and sabbaticals. Disclosure and review of outside activities planned during vacations and sabbaticals would be especially relevant if, for example, a scholar receives sponsored research funding and plans on consulting during the vacation or sabbatical. SPARC would be able to assist in ensuring that the terms of the scholar’s consulting agreement (especially with regard to time commitment and effort and intellectual property) do not conflict with the terms of the sponsored research agreement. Furthermore, outside activities undertaken during vacations and sabbatical may be required to be disclosed to sponsoring agencies.

5. Do the Conflict of Commitment requirements (COC) apply to activities conducted over the weekend? Does the 20% rule count over the weekend?

Consider weekend (Saturday and Sunday) activities the same as activities conducted during a regular workweek (Monday through Friday). Disclose professional outside activities conducted during the weekends, and your dean’s office and SPARC can help determine whether your commitments are consistent with Rice COC requirements.

6. Why do I have to disclose what I do on my personal time? My effort as a faculty member is only 40 hours a week. What I do after that is my own time, so why do I have to tell the university?

For those on federally sponsored awards, agencies’ reporting requirements do not distinguish between activities conducted during one’s personal time, during the summer, or outside of the traditional 40 hour work week. As such, disclosure of these activities to Rice would allow us to assist you in determining whether these activities therefore need to be reported to those agencies.

Further, the university would like to be aware of certain activities conducted during a faculty member’s personal time because those activities may effect activities relevant to a faculty member’s responsibilities to the University. For example:

  • During the summer, a faculty member writes and publishes a textbook, the royalties of which generates a significant amount of income for the faculty member. The faculty member requires students in her classes to purchase this textbook.
  • A faculty member operates a startup outside of regular business hours. The faculty member advises a graduate student whom the faculty member hires as an intern for the startup on the weekends. During the regular work hours at Rice, they do not conduct any business regarding the startup. However, the graduate student’s involvement in the startup creates a business relationship between the faculty member and the student, which could affect the academic relationship between the faculty member and the student.
  • A faculty member consults for Company A during the weekend. There is overlap in the scope of work under the consulting agreement with Company A and the scope of work for a federally-sponsored research project which funds the faculty member’s Rice lab. Two issues that may arise are as follows:
    • The intellectual property (IP) terms of the consulting agreement permit the company to broadly retain all of the faculty member’s IP, which could conflict with the university’s right to retain IP under the federally- sponsored research project as mandated under the Bayh–Dole Act.
    • The faculty member finds that a result from the sponsored research project could negatively affect the business prospects of Company A, and she would really like to continue consulting for Company A. Faculty member does not report that result in journal submissions and presentations regarding that sponsored research project.
7. Do the Conflict of Commitment (COC) requirements apply to all individuals or just faculty?

This COC time restrictions (20% total professional effort / 1 day a week for Outside Activities) apply just to individuals with faculty appointments. The COC time restrictions do not apply to Rice staff members.

Staff must adhere to Rice Policy 404 for dual employment which states that work for dual employment must be performed on the individual’s own time or on days covered by benefit time. Staff members who work for outside organizations doing business with Rice University are required to report any potential conflict of interest to their department chair or director with a copy of the report sent to the director of Human Resources.

Regardless, all individuals (faculty and non-faculty) are required to disclose their activities as outlined in the policy. The reviewers of these disclosures can then provide guidance as to whether any time commitments (e.g., as required under a sponsored research award) apply.

Disclosures

Why do I have to provide a copy of my consulting agreements?

In certain cases involving conflict of interest (COI) and conflict of commitment (COC) risks, agreements may be requested for the Office of General Counsel to review such as:

  • IP terms that may conflict with university policies and federal law, especially in cases where the scope of a consulting agreement may overlap with a scholar’s federally sponsored research project;
  • Publication restrictions that may infringe upon the faculty and/or students’ right to publish; and
  • Time commitments exceeding time allotted under the COC policy.

General

1. What are the major recent changes?
  • To provide greater clarity, Policy 216 Conflict of Interest and Commitment for Faculty (Including Faculty Fellows and Investigators was split in three individual policies
    1. Policy 216 Conflicts of Interest in Research and Scholarship
    2. Policy 217 Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Activities for Faculty
    3. Policy 218 Disclosure and Management of Outside Activities and Outside Interests
  • Expands who is required to disclose. The current policy requires all faculty members, faculty fellows holding research positions, and investigators. The draft policy additionally applies to research staff and individuals in research support positions, and students working directly on sponsored projects.
  • Expands what is required to be disclosed to align to federal requirements, including but not limited to:
    • Appointments and employments outside the university
    • Research activity and resources outside the university and any associated agreements
    • Service on outside boards
    • Income from IP outside the university and agreements with assignment of IP
    • Gift payments related to institutional responsibilities
    • In-kind resources for research
    • Talent Recruitment Program
  • Request prior notification of outside activities and outside interest.
  • Outlines an appeal process if Scholar disagrees with the assessment of the SPARC, Dean’s Office, or Faculty Conflicts Committee.
2. Who needs to complete a disclosure?

Faculty Members, including all members of the University faculty with tenure and tenure-track appointments, as well as benefits-eligible non-tenure track members of the University faculty under University Policy No. 201. This definition also includes Research Professors and Teaching Professors.

Research staff and individuals in research support positions including postdoctoral appointments, visiting scholars, research scientists, and research technicians under University Policy No. 438, working directly on Research or involved in the creation of intellectual property on behalf of Rice University.

Investigator: for purposes of this policy, any University employee who is a Principal Investigator or listed as a co-investigator on a Research project or grant. This broader term includes all employees (faculty or staff designation) engaging in Research, and any individual to whom Principal Investigator or co-principal investigator status has been provided. It shall also include other individuals, including significant contributors, collaborators, consultants and others regardless of position, title or compensation from an award, who are independently responsible for the development, design, conduct, or reporting of a sponsored Research project.

Students may also be required to submit a disclosure if they are working directly on sponsored project, have their time paid for by sponsored project, or who are involved in the creation of intellectual property on behalf of Rice University.

3. What is the deadline to submit my disclosure?

You will receive an e-mail notification from the Office of the Provost alerting you that it is time to complete your annual disclosure. Periodic reminders will be sent.

4. Which Outside Interest and Activities do not need to be disclosed to the University?

Outside Activities or Outside Interests that are purely personal, religious, a result of involvement with a religious organization, political, or a result of involvement with a political organization.

Salary, royalties, or other remuneration by Rice University if the Scholar or Family Member is currently employed or otherwise appointed by Rice University.

Income and activities related to domestic seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by a federal, state, or local government agency; U.S. institution of higher education, an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education. Please note income derived from a foreign entity or activities performed for a foreign entity or occurring in a foreign country must be disclosed.

Income and activities related to service on advisory committees or review panels for a federal, state, or local government agency; or income from service on advisory committees or review panels for a federal, state, or local government agency, or for a U.S. institution of higher education. Please note income derived from a foreign entity or activities performed for a foreign entity or occurring in a foreign country must be disclosed.

Investments in publicly traded mutual funds (such as those in the Rice retirement plan) or in pension plans (when the individual does not have control over individual investments).

Intellectual property rights assigned to Rice University and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights.

5. What Outside Interests need to be reported to the University?

All outside employment, whether compensated or uncompensated, and income (e.g., consulting fees);

This includes income, benefits, support or anything of value received from a foreign institution of higher education or the government of another country or any other foreign entity (which includes local, provincial, or equivalent governments of another country).

All non-Rice appointments (titled academic, professional, or institutional) to any entity (paid, unpaid, or honorary) both foreign and domestic.

This does not include positions at religious or political institutions that are unrelated to Rice duties;

All outside (on-site or distance) Research activity and resources, both foreign and domestic, other than the activities managed by Rice university regardless of whether or not such resources have monetary value;

Domestic travel or travel reimbursements that reasonably appear to be related to Institutional Responsibilities, received from domestic for-profit (e.g., industry) or nonprofit entities that aggregate value is greater than $5,000 from a single entity over a 12-month period

This does not include a federal, state, or local government agency, an a domestic Institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an Institution of higher education.

Foreign travel or reimbursement for travel expenses that reasonably appear to be related to Institutional Responsibilities, received from domestic or foreign for-profit (e.g., industry) or nonprofit entities that aggregate value is greater than $1,000 from a single entity over 12-month period.

Financial interests in a publically traded Outside Entity where the value of any remuneration received from the entity in the twelve months preceding the disclosure or the value of any equity interest in the entity as of the date of disclosure, when aggregated, exceeds $5,000.

Any financial interest in a non-publically traded Outside Entity, including startups, that exceed or may exceed $5,000 in value and/or 5% ownership. This includes those whose value cannot be readily determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value.

Outside Activities and financial interests of Family Members if they could reasonably appear to affect decisions or actions related to the employee’s university responsibilities

Income from intellectual property rights held and any agreements to share in royalties related to those rights, if income is received from any entity other than Rice university and reasonably appear to be related to Institutional Responsibilities;

All agreements of any value (including consulting agreements) with an Outside Entity that requires the Scholar or student to sign over all or some of their intellectual property rights and reasonably appear to be related to Institutional Responsibilities.

Agreements with an Outside Entity that have reporting requirements to the Outside Entity that are related to the employee’s Research, professional training, expertise, or Institutional Responsibilities.

Other support from foreign governments, foreign academic institutions, or other foreign entities, and/or engagement in foreign recruitment or ""talent"" programs

All gifts, that reasonably appear to be related to Institutional Responsibilities that exceed $1,000 from an Outside Entity in value to the individual or their Family Member;

Outside Activities and Outside Interests of Family Members that affect or have the potential to affect decisions or actions related to Institutional Responsibilities;

In-kind resources from an Outside Entity directly made available to a Scholar or student in support of and/or related to all of their Research or scholarly efforts, regardless of whether or not such resources have monetary value. In-kind includes office/laboratory space, equipment, supplies, employees, students and start-up packages, Research funding, and travel reimbursements;

Any other Outside Activity, regardless of compensation or whether or not remuneration is received that could reasonably appear to create a COI or a COC.

6. I do not have any sponsored research at Rice. Why do I have to disclose my Outside Activities and Outside Interests to Rice?

You’re an employee of the university. All full-time faculty carry out institutional responsibilities and owe your primary professional allegiance to Rice University. Anyone can have a perceived conflict of interest (COI). While one of the purposes of the policy is to comply with the terms of federally sponsored projects, mitigating a COI could also protect the ethical design and reporting of non-federally funded research, the academic rights of students, and Rice’s tax-exempt status through the proper use of university facilities and resources.

All faculty have commitment requirements to ensure that outside activities do not interfere with university responsibilities such as teaching.

7. When should I contact SPARC, my dean’s office, or my department?

You should seek guidance whenever you are asked to sign any an agreement with an Outside Entity (except for religious or political activities as exempted by the policy). These offices would be happy to provide guidance as to whether such activities have any reporting requirements to federal government agencies and whether these activities could constitute a COI or COC.

8. Who will see it within the university and what steps are being employed to ensure that this information does not get widely disseminated across the university?

Persons to whom COI disclosures are made, who participate in the review process, or who have access to information from the disclosures shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the confidentiality of the information in the disclosure is maintained. The information received shall be handled confidentially unless disclosure is part of the management plan, is required by law, University policy or procedure, or is warranted to address a violation of this or other University policies.

9. How will the information be protected from data breaches?

Information collected is stored in a secure COI management system and stored on secure networks similar to information collected for employee records or personally identifiable information.