Conflicts of interest—especially those of a financial nature—have the potential to threaten the integrity of a university’s research, scholarship, instruction, evaluation, and administrative functions. To ensure that its reputation and research programs are not compromised by even an appearance of inattention to this matter, the University of Pittsburgh has put in place policies—consistent with federal guidelines—that require the reporting and management of the potential conflicts of interest of its faculty, investigators, administrators, and staff.
There are risks if conflicts are not appropriately managed; for example, protection of human subjects may be compromised; integrity of research may be at risk; the public may lose trust in the University and its research; the investigator/faculty member may lose the respect of the academic community; there may be a negative impact on students’ ability to pursue their research interests; research results may not be published, or may be excessively delayed; the University may lose intellectual property; inferior or more costly goods and services may be purchased; and university resources may be improperly used.
A potential COI may exist if an individual’s outside interests (especially financial) may be affected, or perceived to be affected, by his/her research, teaching, or administrative activities at the University. Examples of COIs include: giving remunerated lectures on behalf of companies whose economic interests are affected or perceived to be affected by an investigator’s scholarly work; a paid consultancy with a company that has an interest in the investigator’s University work; equity holding in a company by an inventor who is evaluating technology licensed to that company; holding an office in a company whose interests would reasonably appear to be affected by the faculty member’s research.
Disclosure by University employees of financial, personal, or professional relationships that raise a potential COI or its perception is at the heart of the University of Pittsburgh’s COI policies and is a prerequisite for determining whether a conflict, once recognized, can be managed or reduced or, in some cases, eliminated. Moreover, COI policies assure confidentiality in order to encourage full disclosure of potential conflicts without unduly intruding on the privacy of University personnel or their families.
The COIC and the COI Office’s primary function is to provide COI oversight and management ; in order to promote awareness and understanding of COI issues and their importance to the University’s mission and research integrity, they also fulfill an educational function, providing COI resources and training for the University community, through:
- this COI Web site http://www.coi.pitt.edu, which makes available COI-related policies and procedures, compliance forms, resource and training materials, etc.;
- presentations to academic units (subsequently uplinked to this Web site);
- providing supervisors with management tools (e.g., step-by-step guides for completing the Management Reporting form);
- workshops provided by Human Resources’ Faculty and Staff Development Program;
- the Internet-based Studies in Education and Research COI training module.