(5) Researcher Responsibilities
(5A) SPONSORED PROJECTS
(5B) INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY POLICY
(5C) OPEN ACCESS POLICY
(5D) USE OF HUMAN SUBJECTS IN RESEARCH
(5E) ANIMAL CARE
(5F) SCIENTIFIC MISCONDUCT
(5G) CONSULTING POLICY
(5H) UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH PARTICIPANTS
(Also known as the Policy for Dealing with Scientific Misconduct. Adopted April 6, 1990)
For a summary of recent changes to this chapter, see Chapter 9A: Summary of Recent Revisions to this Handbook.
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Trinity University strongly supports the principles of ethical integrity in scientific research and education. The University commits itself to these principles by promoting ethical conduct among its staff and in assuring that any allegations of scientific misconduct reported to any officer, faculty member, or departmental head by a complainant will be studied promptly and thoroughly, while maintaining, as much as possible, the confidentiality of the complainant and respondent, affording both the right to due process.
Procedures (Principles and Guidelines for Ethical Scientific Conduct; Initiation of Inquiries; Inquiry; Investigation; Appeal and Final Review; Disposition)
“Misconduct” or “misconduct in science” means fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, deception, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. This definition includes material failure to comply with Federal, State of Texas, or University requirements for protection of researchers, human subjects, or the public or for ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals. It includes failure to meet other material legal requirements governing research. It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data.
A. Principles and Guidelines for Ethical Scientific Conduct
Ethical principles for conduct of scientific research have been outlined in three publications: Framework for Institutional Policies and Procedures to Deal with Misconduct in Research, published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 1989; and Framework for Institutional Policies and Procedures to Deal with Fraud in Research, published by the Association of American Universities, 1989. Any research project involving human subjects and also involving the use of Federal grant funds is subject to policies described primarily in the Code of Federal Regulations, 45 CFR 46, Protection of Human Subjects. The University will have these documents available in the Office of the Vice President for Faculty and Student Affairs.
B. Initiation of Inquiries
The University will immediately consider allegations of misconduct in research and will address any questions regarding the integrity of research performed under its sponsorship. Inquiries and, where warranted, investigations will not be limited to responses to specific allegations, but may also be initiated in the absence of a specific complaint should a legitimate suspicion arise. The University will study allegations of misconduct even if the subject of the allegation is no longer affiliated with the University. The University will cooperate with other organizations making inquiries or investigations involving current or former University employees.
The Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Budget and Research shall be the person to whom allegations should be reported, referred to hereafter as the Misconduct Policy Officer (MPO). The MPO will:
provide education about scientific misconduct,
interpret University misconduct policy,
counsel staff, and
disseminate the policy.
The MPO will pursue all allegations to resolution. In case the conduct of the Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Budget and Research is in question, the case will be referred to the Vice President for Faculty and Student Affairs. Conflicts of interest, perceived or real, will also disqualify anyone identified as the MPO.
Initially, the MPO will discuss allegations of misconduct in a confidential manner with the person making the allegation. If the MPO determines that the concern falls outside the scope of misconduct, the individual making the allegation will be counseled about alternative avenues for resolving the concern. If the allegation falls within the scope of misconduct, the individual making the allegation will be advised of the procedures for inquiry and investigation and offered the opportunity to make a formal allegation. Should the individual decline to make a formal allegation and the MPO nevertheless determines there is sufficient cause to warrant an inquiry, the matter may be pursued without a complainant.
Whenever an allegation or complaint involving the possibility of scientific misconduct is made, the designated MPO will initiate an inquiry—the first step of the review process. Recognizing the vulnerability of all parties involved, the University will insist that strict confidentiality be maintained. In the inquiry stage, factual information is gathered and expeditiously reviewed to determine whether an investigation of the charge is warranted. An inquiry is not a formal hearing; it is designed to separate allegations deserving of further investigation from frivolous, unjustified, malicious, or clearly mistaken allegations.
The inquiry process may be handled with or without a formal committee. The MPO will make every effort to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a fair and just manner. The inquiry phase is critical; the MPO will consider whether more than one person should be involved in conducting the inquiry. If a committee is necessary, the committee will be appointed by the MPO and will act under the guidelines presented in Section II.D: Investigation. Individuals chosen to assist in the inquiry process must have no real or apparent conflicts of interest bearing on the case in question. They will be unbiased and have appropriate backgrounds for judging the issues being raised. The University may consult its legal counsel to minimize the risk of liability for actions taken in the conduct of the inquiry and investigation.
Upon initiation of an inquiry, the MPO is responsible for notifying the respondent within a reasonable time of the charges and the process that will follow. If the committee method is to be used, the committee members will be appointed and convened.
Confidentiality of the information gained during the inquiry will be maintained to the maximum extent possible in order to protect the rights of all parties involved (complainant, respondent, and any others).
Whether a case can be reviewed effectively without the involvement of the complainant depends upon the nature of the allegation and the evidence available. Cases that depend specifically upon the observations or statements of the complainant cannot proceed without the open involvement of that individual; other cases that can rely on documentary evidence may permit the complainant to remain anonymous. While it may be desirable to keep the identity of the complainant confidential during the inquiry phase, local laws which provide for open access to certain records may make such confidentiality impossible.
The MPO will assume responsibility for disseminating the facts of the case to the appropriate individuals. Normally, notification will be made in writing and copies filed in the office of the MPO. The safety, security, and confidentiality of all documents will be assured.
When the inquiry is initiated, the respondent will be reminded of the obligation to cooperate by providing material necessary to conduct the inquiry.
Due to the sensitive nature of allegations of scientific misconduct, the University will resolve cases expeditiously. Deadlines will be established to facilitate the process. The inquiry phase will be completed within 60 days or less of the initial notification of the respondent, consistent with Public Health Service (PHS), National Science Foundation (NSF) and other granting agency regulations. If the MPO or the delegated committee making inquiry into the allegation anticipates that the established deadline cannot be met, a report citing the reasons for the delay and progress to date will be submitted for the record; the respondent and appropriately involved individuals will be informed. All records of the inquiry will be retained for three years and will be available upon request to authorized Federal agencies. If at any point during an inquiry or investigation reasonable evidence of criminal activity is discovered, the cognizant Federal agency will be informed within 24 hours. Except in the case of reasonable evidence of criminal activity or a finding that formal investigation is needed, the report of the inquiry shall be sealed for three years in a confidential and secure file.
The completion of an inquiry is marked by a determination of whether a formal investigation is warranted. There will be a written report to summarize the process and state the conclusion of the inquiry. This report should identify the evidence that was reviewed, summarize relevant interviews, and state the conclusion and recommendations. The respondent will be informed by the MPO whether there will be further investigation. If there is a complainant, he or she will likewise be informed. The respondent and the complainant will be provided the opportunity to prepare written comments on the report that will become part of the official record.
Allegations found to require investigation will be forwarded promptly to a specially designated investigative body. Federal regulation requires that the agency sponsoring the research will also be notified at this point; for research supported by PHS, the relevant office for such notification is the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI). For research supported by NSF, the relevant office for such notification is the Inspector General (IG).
If an allegation is found to be unsupported, no further formal action will be taken, other than informing all involved parties of the findings of the inquiry. The proceedings of an inquiry, including the identity of the respondent, will be held in strict confidence to protect the parties involved. If confidentiality is breached, the University will take reasonable steps to minimize the damage to reputations that may result from inaccurate reports. The University policy is that allegations that have not been brought in good faith may lead to disciplinary action. However, the University will seek to protect the complainant against retaliation, including protecting anonymity whenever possible. Individuals engaged in acts of retaliation will be disciplined in accordance with the appropriate institutional policies. The inquiry will be completed and the report written within 60 calendar days of receipt of the allegation and all documentation retained for at least three years. Such documentation may be turned over to authorized personnel upon request.
An investigation will be initiated within 30 days when an inquiry determines that it is warranted. The purpose of an investigation is to explore further the allegations and determine whether misconduct has occurred. In the course of an investigation, additional information may emerge that justifies broadening the scope of the investigation beyond the initial allegations. The respondent will be informed when significant new directions of an investigation are undertaken. The investigation will focus on accusations of misconduct and examine the factual materials of each case.
The investigative body will be an impartial, expert ad hoc committee to handle each specific case. Members of the investigative body may be chosen from within or outside of the University, as circumstances dictate, and may or may not include the MPO. The committee should have appropriate scientific or administrative expertise to assure a sound knowledge from which to work.
Regardless of the structure chosen, conflicts of interest must be examined scrupulously, and any relationship with parties to the matter must be fully disclosed and made visible to all those involved and having an interest in the investigation. Those investigating the allegations will be selected in full awareness of the closeness of their professional affiliation with the complainant or the respondent. Any member of a committee who has an irresolvable conflict of interest in a given case will not be permitted to be involved in any aspect of the committee’s handling of that case. Members of the committee will be appointed by the Vice President for Faculty and Student Affairs (VPFSA).
Upon receipt of inquiry findings that an investigation is warranted, the VPFSA will initiate investigation within 30 days, and the complainant and respondent will be notified of the investigation in writing; the University will notify appropriate agencies of federally funded projects that an investigation has been initiated. All involved parties are obligated to cooperate with the proceedings in providing information relating to the case. All necessary information will be provided to the respondent in a timely manner to facilitate the preparation of a response. The respondent will have the opportunity to address the charges and evidence in detail. Both the claimant and the respondent should be advised of their right to secure legal counsel at their own expense.
As previously noted, federal regulations require that the agency sponsoring a research project in which misconduct is suspected must be notified as soon as the decision has been made to undertake a formal investigation. This practice is extended to include notification of all sponsors of the research. The University will, in turn, seek assurances of the confidential treatment of this information. Significant developments during the investigation, as well as the final findings of the committee, will be reported to the sponsor(s). When the investigation is concluded, all entities initially notified of the investigation will be informed of its outcome.
The University will conduct each investigation as expeditiously as fairness and thoroughness permit. Every effort will be made to protect involved Federal funds during the interim. All investigations must be completed within 120 days; if an extension of the time limit is necessary, the University will submit a request to the cognizant agency for approval. This request will include an interim report on progress to date and an estimate of the time needed to complete the investigation. In any given investigation, the MPO may request interim reports.
During the investigation, the committee members will examine documentation, including, but not limited to, relevant research data and proposals, publications, reports, correspondence, telephone call notes and memoranda. Those making the allegations, those against whom the allegation is made, and others who may have information on key aspects of the investigation will be interviewed. Transcripts of interviews will be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included in the investigatory file.
The findings of the investigative committee must be submitted in writing to the VPFSA. The respondent will receive the full report of the investigation. When there is more than one respondent, each shall receive all those parts that are pertinent to his or her role. Each will have the opportunity to comment or respond. All federal agencies, sponsors, or other entities initially informed of the investigation also must be promptly notified of the findings. The University will retain the findings of the investigation for three years in a confidential and secure file.
Investigations into allegations of misconduct may result in various outcomes, including:
- A finding of misconduct;
- A finding that no culpable conduct was committed, but serious scientific errors were discovered;
A finding that no misconduct or serious scientific error was committed.
Thus, an investigation of misconduct may disclose evidence that requires further action even in those cases in which no misconduct is found.
If an investigation has been launched on the basis of a complaint, but no misconduct is found, no disciplinary measures will be taken against the complainant, and every effort will be made to prevent retaliatory action against the complainant if the allegations, however incorrect, are found to have been made in good faith. If the allegations are found to have been maliciously motivated, disciplinary actions may be taken against those responsible.
E. Appeal and Final Review
The University will provide respondents with an appeals process at this point through a written appeal of the investigative committee’s decision. Appeals will be restricted to the body of evidence already presented, and the grounds for appeal will be limited to failure to follow the procedures herein provided for the investigation, or evidence of arbitrary and capricious decision making. New evidence may warrant a new investigation. The appeal will be filed promptly after a finding has been made. The VPFSA will specify a senior official not involved in the decision of the investigative body to hear the appeal. The decision of such a review is final.
Recommendations for any disciplinary action will be included in the final report. The University will make the final determination for disciplinary action. Many actions are available and may be taken in a fashion consistent and commensurate with the nature of the proven acts of misconduct. Examples include:
The University will also consider giving formal notification to other concerned parties not previously notified as to the outcome of the case. These parties may include:
The possibility exists that during the course of the investigation, the individual involved may resign from employment. In this instance, the investigation will continue to its full conclusion. In the interest of prudence, the University will check thoroughly the references, licensing and accreditation status of all new professional staff. As for grantees, federal regulations are already in place to identify individuals who have been suspended from receiving federal grant or contract funds.
It is the purpose of the University Policy for Dealing with Scientific Misconduct to establish the intent to promote ethical scientific conduct among its faculty, staff, temporary employees, consultants, and scientific correspondents as well as to pledge strict compliance with the spirit and details of 42 CFR Part 50.101-50.105, Subpart A of Part 50, “Responsibility of PHS Awardee and Applicant Institutions for Dealing with and Reporting Possible Misconduct in Science,” published at 54 FR 32446 in the Federal Register, Vol. 54, No. 5 as a “Final Rule” dated Tuesday, August 8, 1989, Rules and Regulations. Notwithstanding the wording of the University Policies for Dealing with Misconduct, no part shall circumvent the details or procedures specified in the Final Rule.
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