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Consulting and Outside Employment

Differentiating External Consulting and Professional Service

The university recognizes that consulting work for external entities enhances the professional development of faculty members and provides channels for communication and outreach not otherwise available. Hence, reasonable participation in consulting is encouraged.

University policy differentiates between external consulting and professional service activities as follows:

External consulting is professional activity related to an individual’s area of expertise, where that individual generally receives compensation from a third party and is not acting as an agent of the university.  Consulting may take many forms, but the guiding principle is that, in consulting, a person agrees to use his or her professional capabilities to further the agenda of a third party in return for an immediate or prospective gain.  Even in cases without compensation, advance approval is required to document the proposed external activities and to ensure they do not constitute a conflict of commitment, or a conflict of interest where gifts of equipment or donations to the faculty member’s laboratory may substitute for direct compensation.  Provisions of the consulting policy also apply to external activities where the faculty member has a direct relationship to the external entity, such as personal or family ownership of the company.  Consulting does not involve becoming an employee of the external entity.  External consulting or business ownership are reported in accordance with policy 13010 and disclosed through the COISystem.

Professional service includes service on national commissions, on boards of governmental agencies, on granting agency peer review panels, on visiting committees or advisory groups to other universities, on professional associations, and on analogous bodies.  Professional service activities may involve a token honorarium and/or expense reimbursement.  Typically these activities are considered part of the faculty member’s institutional responsibilities for participation in the larger scholarly academic community.  Participation in external professional service activities may require supervisor approval depending on departmental practice and expectations of the position.  Annual leave is not required.   A disclosure does not need to be completed for participation in professional service activities; however, travel payments or reimbursements may need to be reported by Public Health Service (PHS)-funded researchers in accordance with PHS guidelines and policy 13010.

Consulting Policy Guidelines (see the Faculty Handbook, ch. 2, for complete policy)

Consulting arrangements may be entered into by faculty members during periods of university employment provided that:

  • such advice is not part of their normal responsibility to the university and is not normally provided through Virginia Cooperative Extension, outreach programs, or other components of the university;
  • the work undertaken contributes to their professional development;
  • the work can be accomplished without interference with their assigned duties and does not ordinarily involve more than one day per week and does not exceed five days in any five-week period;
  • university resources and facilities are not involved (except as described in the use of university facilities policy); and
  • written approval in advance is obtained from the faculty member’s department head or chair, and dean or senior manager.

Consulting If Salary Funded by Sponsored Projects

Faculty members whose appointments are funded in whole or in part by sponsored projects may participate in consulting when consistent with their responsibilities and in compliance with federal contract compliance and state regulations. Generally, university time available for consulting is in proportion to base salary funding from non-sponsored sources.  With supervisor approval, additional consulting days may be charged to annual leave.

Disclosing Consulting Clients

Separate disclosures are required for each consulting client so that potential conflicts of interest or commitment can be properly evaluated.  A single disclosure denoting ownership of a consulting company with multiple unidentified clients does not allow an adequate assessment and is considered insufficient and unacceptable.  A separate disclosure is required for each consulting client.

Consulting Activities Must Be Separate from Your University Responsibilities:

  • Virginia Tech is not party to consulting agreements between faculty and external organizations.  The university has no obligations or potential liability under the agreements, and its rights may not be impaired in any way by the agreement.  Virginia Tech does not provide indemnity insurance for these activities.
  • The Virginia Tech name, logo, and/or letterhead may not be used in any consulting activities.
  • Virginia Tech owns the title to all potentially patentable inventions conceived, or first reduced to practice, in whole or in part, by faculty in the course of their university responsibilities, and must assign such title to the university.  Faculty members do not have the authority to assign or otherwise transfer rights in any of the university’s inventions.  Review the University’s policy on intellectual property (13000) for further guidance.
  • If a faculty member is listed as an author on any publication resulting from performance of consulting services, a disclosure should be included stating that “Dr./Professor [NAME]’s contribution to this publication was as a paid consultant, and was not part of his/her Virginia Tech duties or responsibilities.”  Similarly, if hired as an expert witness, the faculty member must state that the activity is not part of his or her Virginia Tech responsibilities, but rather that the expertise is provided as a private consultant.
  • Faculty members should avoid participating in dedicated marketing and training programs designed solely or predominantly for sales or marketing purposes. This includes promotional marketing activities to academic colleagues, the media, the public, or as an exhibitor.

Tips for Consulting 

Technical Assistance Program (TAP):  Bringing Consulting into the University

Consulting agreements may be negotiated by the individual faculty member and the external organizations, not involving university participation in any way, or they may be negotiated as part of a technical assistance agreement through the university. The Technical Assistance Program was created as part of the university’s outreach mission to respond to requests from business and industry for the application of knowledge to a specific process-related or technical situation.

Proposals for technical assistance are small scale (generally less than $25,000), short-term, require a rapid response, and do not involve the generation of new knowledge or the development of intellectual property. (Projects involving the generation of knowledge and/or faculty buyouts must be handled as sponsored projects.) Contracts for technical assistance are negotiated and administered by the Division of Continuing and Professional Education (contact Scott Weimer, weimers@vt.edu). 

Outside Employment – Faculty

Outside employment, not meeting the definition or intent of the consulting policy, requires prior approval of the supervisor and relevant university officials. Approval is contingent on assurance that the primary commitment to Virginia Tech will be fulfilled and that the proposed employment does not constitute a conflict of interest. Release time from university work is not normally available for paid activities that are primarily personal in nature, do not enhance the faculty member’s professional skills, or that are not a potential benefit to the university. The faculty member must use pre-approved leave (or leave without pay) in cases where outside personal work creates a potential conflict with university responsibilities.

Additional/Outside Employment – Staff

Approval to work outside the normal work schedule within or outside the university may be granted by the department head in consultation with Human Resources.  Consultation with University Legal Counsel may also be needed to determine whether the proposed employment presents potential conflicts of interest. Staff members should complete the required form, Request for Additional/Outside Employment for Classified or University Staff, to request approval for outside or additional VT employment.  Additional or outside employment that adversely affects the employee’s performance in the university salaried position will not be approved.  Staff members are not eligible for consulting privileges.

For more information, please view Policy 4070:  Additional/Outside Employment and Policy 4071:  Policy for Staff Employed to Teach for-Credit Courses.