A conflict of interest arises when an individual's private interests (such as outside professional or financial relationships) might interfere with his or her professional obligations to Stanford. Such situations do NOT imply wrong-doing or inappropriate activities. However, in a research university setting, they can compromise, or be perceived as compromising, important academic values, research integrity, or the university mission. At Stanford, it is essential for all faculty, academic staff, staff, and students to understand how these divergent interests can become a problem.
Conflicts of interest often arise at the intersection of two fundamental missions: to push the boundaries of knowledge and to transfer that knowledge to the private sector for the benefit of the public. There may be, for example, significant personal financial incentives related to patenting and licensing an invention, or to outside consulting or other interests. Considerations of personal financial gain however must not influence the decisions or actions of individuals in carrying out their University responsibilities. The perception that such incentives might harm research objectivity, or the protection of human subjects, students or others whose work depends on the direction of the individual is enough to mandate that such conflicts be identified, and then managed, mitigated or eliminated.
Stated another way, Stanford University must protect itself and its faculty, staff and students from any of the following allegations:
· exploitation of students for private gain
· undue personal gain from public funds
· compromise of university priorities due to financial considerations
· unfair access by a company to information or technology
· compromise of scientific objectivity in the conduct of research
· compromise of appropriate controls in the conduct of research such that research subjects could be harmed
· use of university resources for private gain
· adverse effect by those in leadership roles on the professional or academic advancement of colleagues, staff or students as a result of outside interests.
To protect against such dangers, all faculty members must certify annually to their school deans their compliance with Stanford's policies related to conflict of interest and commitment, and must disclose their outside professional activities and any financial interests in outside entities that they, and their immediate family members, have. In addition, faculty, staff, postdocs and students must disclose on an ad hoc basis any current or prospective situations which may raise questions of conflict of interest, such as those involving sponsored research, gifts, human subject protocols, licensing of intellectual property, procurement or other relationships with outside companies. Ad hoc disclosures are to be made as soon as such situations become known to the individual.
Potential conflicts of interest will be assessed against the concerns listed above. Where there is a risk that the outside interest may have, or be perceived to have, a harmful affect on academic values, Stanford will take steps to eliminate, mitigate or manage the conflict.
The rest of this page will introduce you to Stanford's policies, and to other resources including case discussions, related to this important topic.
Stanford policies related to conflict of interest include:
Presents and discusses circumstances which can create real or perceived conflicts of commitment and conflicts of interest for faculty. Establishes the requirement for annual certification and financial disclosure.
Addresses the requirements of these two federal agencies related to financial disclosures by faculty members submitting proposals and notifications to agencies in the event a potential conflict is identified.
Applies the principles of the Faculty Policy to members of the Academic Staff with two principal differences: consulting privileges are not normally extended to members of the Academic Staff, and Academic Staff are not normally required to complete an annual certification and disclosure.
Establishes specific prohibitions and defines a process for disclosures of potential conflict situations.
Discusses the application of University policy related to intellectual property, openness in research and conflict of commitment and interest to students working with outside companies.
Related forms and disclosure information:
Faculty may use this electronic application to submit their annual certifications and disclosures as required by the policy on this Stanford-access website. The site also contains information about the certification and disclosure process.
Must be attached to the proposal routing sheet for any proposal going to either agency.
Includes a template for disclosures whenever a current or prospective relationship creates the potential for conflicts of interest.
Federal Policies/Association Guidelines
Conflict of Interest Information Resources Available on the Web
Maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Discussion of Cases
Conflicts of interest are sometimes difficult to consider in the abstract. The following three hypothetical situations illustrate potential conflicts involving:
The analysis presented in these cases does not lead to simple answers. Rather, these cases are intended to point out the complexity involved in potential conflicts of interest, and to suggest questions to ask and possible approaches to consider.
Other Resources and Readings
· Stanford Report articles
· Research conflict-of-interest policies under scrutiny February 21, 2001
· On Being a Scientist A publication of the National Academy of Sciences
· Conflict of Interest - Moving Beyond Disclosure Science Magazine, Volume 291, Number 5506, Issue of 9 Feb 2001, p. 989. [Stanford access only]
· NIH Final Rule on Conflict of Interest, July 14, 1995
· NSF Investigator Financial Disclosure Policy, October 7, 1996
Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Objectivity in Research Regulations and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Investigator Financial Disclosure Policies.
To contact us:
Professor James Swartz - Project DIrector