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FAQs

  1. While the determination of whether activities are related to an employee's Virginia Tech duties can be complicated and must be done on a case by case basis, the following general considerations can help to understand the areas where the Virginia Tech duties of an individual may intersect with the activities or interests of the external entity:
    • Entity is a sponsor, subcontractor, or supplier or lessor of goods, materials, proprietary information, services, or facilities for your Virginia Tech duties.
    • Entity makes use of your Virginia Tech research or scholarly work either directly or indirectly. Making use of your Virginia Tech research indirectly, for example, may be when you are paid to provide expert testimony, to act as a witness or provide an opinion, which is derived from your Virginia Tech duties.
    • Entity is a member of an industry, trade, or advocacy group that directly funds your research or funds a sponsor of your Virginia Tech research.
    • Entity manufactures, commercializes, or is developing a product that is being used, evaluated, or further developed by your Virginia Tech research.
    • Entity will receive materials, data, or other information from your Virginia Tech research and/or other Virginia Tech duties.
    • Entity refers human participants for your Virginia Tech research.
    • Entity has some other relationship not described above that could be related to or could be affected by your Virginia Tech duties.
  2. Stock ownership and/or dividend income from an outside company is subject to state disclosure requirements if you own 3% or more of the company’s stock or if your earnings are $5,000/year or more.  If you exceed either threshold, you will need to disclose your stock ownership and/or equity income even if it is unrelated to your institutional responsibilities.  While there may be no conflict for the individual employee who owns this stock, the company may sponsor another employee’s research or seek to contract with Virginia Tech in some other capacity.  These potential circumstances require your disclosure to remain in compliance with Virginia state law.

  3. Editorial responsibilities for a scholarly journal, book series, or similar publication are usually considered part of a faculty member’s “professional service” activities, not consulting.  However, editorial responsibilities can be very time consuming, compromising the faculty member’s fulfillment of his or her primary responsibilities at the university, and possibly constituting a conflict of commitment.  In addition, some professional societies provide a more substantive payment for lead-editor positions.  As a result of these concerns, the university recommends submitting a disclosure through the COISystem to disclose a significant editorial assignment, especially when the payment for such services meets or exceeds the $5,000/year threshold.  This allows the department head to review and approve involvement in significant external editorial work in relation to the faculty member’s Virginia Tech duties and obligations.

  4. Virginia Tech expects its faculty to be involved with scholarly publications including the writing of texts or journal articles.  The use of university time and other resources for this purpose does not need to be disclosed.  However, it always appropriate to balance the commitment of time and effort across all of the different tasks that are part of a faculty member’s responsibilities.  If the textbook involved is not something that would normally be characterized as a pedagogical, scholarly or artistic work, then you may wish to discuss this with your department head whether it is appropriate work to be done at Virginia Tech.

  5. Certain university officers (deans, vice presidents, and others) are required to disclose annually a wide range of investments, property ownership, and other financial interests in accordance with the Virginia State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act.  This is to assure that public officials and employees act in the public interest at all times.  For those required to report their financial holdings on the Virginia Statement of Economic Interests form, rental income would need to be reported.  In exceptional circumstances requiring special approvals, the University may lease specialized real estate/property owned by an employee or an employee’s family.  Full disclosure of such ownership would precede formal leasing arrangements.

    In general, however, university employees do not need to report rental income unless such income were in some way related to their institutional responsibilities or the university intended to lease the property from the individual.  

  6. If your spouse’s business is unrelated to your institutional responsibilities and there is no intent for that business to contract with Virginia Tech, then you do not need to disclose that business ownership.  However, if you actually work for this business then you will need to report this as “outside employment”; please see the “outside employment” policy in the Consulting section of the Faculty Handbook.

  7. Royalty payments from non-university sources that meet or exceed the $5,000/year threshold should be disclosed.  It is in the best interest of the faculty member and the institution to be as transparent as possible with outside sources of income.  Royalty income, even from a scholarly book or textbook, warrants disclosure if it meets or exceeds the de minimus threshold of $5,000/year.   

  8. A:  No, he does not need to report YOUR consulting.  He would need to complete the form for HIS own consulting.

  9. Full disclosure is always preferable as a protection to you and to the institution.  Discuss any individual questions or circumstances with your college dean for research or the designated COI officer in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

  10. Here are some considerations relevant to this example:  

    • Are you referring business to a private (or other) entity outside the university when the university itself offers such a service?
    • If the university does not offer the requested service, a referral to an external entity is not a violation of the policy since there is no “detriment” to the university.
    • A second consideration in this example is whether the editing services will be paid for by university funds (e.g. sponsored or departmental funds).  If so, it is a violation of state law for the university to contract with, or purchase goods and services from an entity owned by an employee, or a spouse or immediate dependent of a university employee.  The concern is the appearance (or fact) that one’s university employment has been used to personal advantage.  The primary exception in the law are contracts for “research and development” such as those managed through sponsored programs.  In the case of research and development, the university may contract with an employee-owned firm (or a firm owned by a spouse) when approved by the president; such contract exceptions are reported quarterly to the Board of Visitors.   Editing of manuscripts would not be considered “research and development” for the purposes of an exception to the conflicts of interest act.
    • To summarize for this particular example, you may refer a colleague or graduate student to editing services provided by your spouse without violating the policy if a) the university does not offer the service and b) the contract is between an individual and your spouse, not the university and your spouse, and no university funds are involved.
  11. The answer is a qualified “yes”.  Here are some cautionary considerations when hiring students to do personal work:

    • Personal work for a faculty member is NEVER an appropriate expectation for a student on a graduate assistantship or in any other type of university employment.  University funds may never be used for personal work (running personal errands, babysitting, housesitting, house painting, etc.), nor may students be assigned class projects that personally benefit an employee, their outside business, or a family member’s business.  Students should only be assigned appropriate university-related responsibilities as part of their assistantship or university employment. 
    • Caution should be exercised in hiring your students for additional pay to carry out personal tasks.  They may feel they cannot say no to their advisor or supervisor, or believe that they may experience retaliation if they do not agree to the additional work.  Coercion of any kind is unacceptable. 
    • You may feel that you are doing a good thing by hiring students to work at a special event, or to carry out personal chores/tasks, so that students can earn extra money or meet key future employers or departmental donors.  But those who are not invited to participate may perceive this as favoritism toward certain students.  Give careful thought to a fair and equitable way to recruit and select students for such outside opportunities. This is especially important when you are in a role of broad authority over students in your program or department; your actions carry additional weight and meaning for those affected. 
    • It is important to find an appropriate balance between a possible benefit to the student and the possible perception of favoritism, coercion, or other negative consequences of hiring students for personal work.  Talk it over with your department head before hiring the student if there are any questions about how such outside personal employment might be perceived by the student and others.
  12. These kinds of relationships can present real conflicts of interest, and they require review ahead of time.  One of the concerns to be guarded against is inappropriate access by a company to the results of work done at Virginia Tech.  For example, the fact that this company may wish to provide student support (assistantship, gifts, fellowship) will not convey to the company any rights to ownership of the property produced by the student.  A management plan should also address appropriate protections for the student.
  13. Yes, graduate students and postdoctoral associates are permitted to work on a faculty member’s consulting projects or with outside company activities.  However, such employment or involvement of students and trainees requires special protections.  Faculty members must disclose in advance the intended involvement of students and trainees in external activities through the COISystem and developing with their department head and/or dean’s office an approved management plan.  Students and trainees must be informed of the source of their funding, the nature of the faculty member’s personal financial interest, and the risks inherent in such involvement through discussion of the Research Agreement for Students and Postdoctoral Associates.  The discussion is conducted by neutral departmental and college administrators.  The student signs the form to indicate voluntary agreement.  The student’s academic progress should be closely monitored by the student’s advisory committee and graduate program director.  An uninvolved co-advisor must be appointed if the faculty member is serving as chair of the student’s thesis or dissertation committee.
  14. Each situation involving a financial conflict of interest will have its own unique considerations, such as the scope and type of the financial interest, risk to human participants, the expertise of the researcher, the possibility of a concern with data integrity, involvement of students or employees, etc. One management plan cannot fit all types of conflicts. However, in determining the scope of a management plan, the following issues will usually be considered:

    • Disclosure – To editors and conference organizers and/or in publications and presentations, in publicity, to human participants in the consenting process, students directly supervised by the faculty member, and collaborators on the research.
    • Conduct of research - Oversight / data monitoring by an unaffiliated third party or a non-conflicted collaborator may be required
    • A conflicted individual cannot be sole PI on a project funded by his or her company.
    • Use of Virginia Tech facilities, purchases and services - ensuring institutional resources are not used for personal gain
    • Progress and protection of students and supervised employees - no restrictions on right to publish, or progress towards a degree and no coercion to further faculty financial interests; independent co-chair for thesis or dissertation committee
    • Intellectual property, technology transfer - licensing and negotiation
    • Updates required if circumstances change
  15. Virginia Tech is obligated to follow applicable federal, state, and sponsor regulations in managing the contracts and grants received by the institution.  That includes assuring that any potential conflicts of interest have been disclosed and, if conflicts are identified, that an approved management plan is in place prior to execution of the award.  This requirement assures that Virginia Tech and its faculty have taken the necessary steps to establish and maintain the integrity of the research from the outset of the project.

  16. No. Before a letter of guarantee can be established, all named investigators on a PHS-funded project must have completed COI training and relevant disclosures, including travel paid or reimbursed by third parties.

  17. There are several triggers to consider in determining whether a student – undergraduate or graduate – needs to be trained in conflict of interest:

    • Is the student participating in a sponsored research project?
      • Participation in research managed through Sponsored Programs is one trigger, whether or not the student is being paid from the project. 
      • Students who are conducting research as an independent study or senior design project for credit, but not as part of a sponsored project, would not require training.
    • Does the student’s role in the research meet the definition of “investigator”?
      • “Investigators” are those “responsible for the design, conduct or reporting of research” regardless of title.
        • Participation in taking measurements, collecting data or samples, conducting tests or performing tasks under the supervision of another do not usually rise to the definition of investigator.  Investigators would typically add analysis or interpretation of the data, extrapolate from observations, build models, and so on, thereby making an original contribution to the research.
      • Many undergraduates, or even high school participants, are involved in research but often their work is not sufficiently independent to trigger the definition of “investigator.”  One exception may be students funded on a sponsored project REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) in which the REU application specifies that the student will have some independent responsibility for the research.  In such cases, students would be subject to the COI training requirement.
        • The National Council on Undergraduate Research offers this definition:  Undergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline
        • Note the intent in this definition to have students make an original contribution to the research.
      • Graduate students funded on a sponsored project and conducting research related to a thesis or dissertation would almost always meet the definition of “investigator” and hence should be trained in conflict of interest. 
      • Many other graduate students may be functioning independently in the design or conduct of a sponsored research project, or be involved in writing up and reporting the findings even if the research is not part of their dissertation or thesis.  COI training would be required in these cases as well.

    Additional considerations about student involvement in research:

    • University policy provides protections for students involved in research funded by a faculty member’s company or consulting.  Please see the relevant sections of policy 13010 and the related form, “Research Agreement for Students and Postdoctoral Associates.”  Faculty members are required to disclose student involvement with their private business or consulting so that appropriate steps can be taken to inform the student about the potential risks, avenues for redress if needed, and the scope of work/research and any restrictions on publication of the findings.
    • Caution should be exercised if a class project appears to serve the interests of a faculty member’s outside company or consulting.  Disclosure of a faculty member’s interest in the class project is important so that the risks and benefits can be assessed and the appearance of using student labor for personal gain can be mitigated.  When possible, such a project may be better handled as part of a university sponsored project with the student supervised by another uninvolved faculty member. 
  18. In general, the obligation to DISCLOSE extends to all.  However, TRAINING is only required for PHS-related subcontractors, consultants and collaborators.  See below for greater detail.

    COI DISCLOSURE requirement for subcontractors, consultants and collaborators:

    • Any subcontractor, consultant, or collaborator whose role in the sponsored research meets the definition of “investigator” is required to DISCLOSE any significant financial interest RELATED TO THE PROJECT regardless of funding source. 
      • Those subcontractors, consultants, or collaborators who are employed by institutions with compliant conflict of interest policies may disclose to their home institutions. 
      • The subcontracting entity (usually the home institution) completes a form (“Subrecipient Financial Conflict of Interest Certification”) at the time of proposal submission notifying Virginia Tech of any possible conflicts of interest related to the project.
      • As the prime contractor, Virginia Tech will develop a management plan and notify the sponsor.
      • Those subcontractors, consultants, or collaborators who are not part of an institutional structure with compliant conflict of interest policies would need to disclose any significant financial interest to Virginia Tech using Virginia Tech forms and procedures.

    COI TRAINING requirement for subcontractors, consultants and collaborators:
    For those involved in Public Health Service (PHS) sponsored projects:

    • Subcontractors, consultants, or collaborators whose role in the sponsored PHS research meets the definition of “investigator” must have training in conflict of interest.  The training may be completed at their home institution in accordance with compliant home institution policies and then certified to Virginia Tech as the prime contractor.
    • Those subcontractors, consultants, or collaborators on PHS projects who are not part of an institutional structure with compliant conflict of interest policies will need to complete the Virginia Tech training.  Asynchronous on-line training and certification is available for this purpose.

    For those involved in projects funded by sponsors other than PHS:

    • Participation by subcontractors, consultants, or collaborators in COI training, either at their home institution or through Virginia Tech, is strongly encouraged but not REQUIRED.
  19. The disclosure exemption for academic institutions and government entities applies ONLY to U.S. institutions of higher education and to U.S. or state/local government entities. You WILL need to report payments from non-U.S. institutions or government entities.

    Please remember that even if such payments do not reach the $5,000 threshold, you need approval for involvement with external activities under university policy if you are consulting or if you are doing a longer term engagement with a foreign university, such as a guest/visiting appointment. It is always advisable to seek advance approval for engagements away from campus to document that the engagement is supported as a university-approved activity or absence. (A travel authorization documents approval for “professional service” activities when university funds support the activity/travel. Form 13010 can be used to document an external engagement that is funded by another entity, or could be considered external consulting, and/or is longer than a typical professional conference.)