Frequently Asked Questions

Disclosure of Financial Interests

This page addresses possible questions about Stanford's requirement for annual and transactional reporting and certification related to outside professional activities and financial interests.

The answers on this page are intended to help in understanding how to respond to the questions on the annual and transactional reporting and certification form. These questions and answers are not a substitute for the policy. To understand what the policy requires in any particular situation, see the Policies page.

When in doubt about any particular set of circumstances, it is a good idea to submit a report. Answering "Yes" to a question, and explaining the circumstances, does NOT mean that you have done anything wrong - in fact, you may be reporting a positive event or relationship. Appropriate reporting can help to avoid serious conflicts for you and for Stanford.

Who will see my report?

Each school dean has authorized a senior administrator or administrators and/or associate dean to monitor this reporting and certification process and to review submissions within that school. In the School of Engineering, Department Chairs will review submissions from the faculty in their departments. Designated administrators in the Office of the Dean of Research may also review reports to ensure that this policy is implemented with reasonable consistency across the University and to tabulate data for University-level statistical reports. A very few other University offices have access to these reports for legal or auditing purposes, but will not normally review them.

To Top

Why does Stanford care about stock that I own?

Stanford cares about a faculty member's external financial holdings only to the degree that such interests could introduce (or appear to introduce) bias in the performance of the faculty member's research, interfere in faculty-student relationships, or otherwise conflict with one's institutional responsibilities. In order to protect against such real or apparent conflicts, Stanford requires that each faculty member report, for example, on equity ownership in companies that reasonably appear to be related to his/her research, educational activities, administrative responsibilities, or clinical care activities, provided gift or other support for the faculty member's institutional activities, or with whom the faculty member has a technology licensing agreement or has initiated certain types of procurements. If there is no association between the personal financial relationship and any of the faculty member's Stanford activities, or if the equity is managed by a third party - for example, if it is held in a mutual fund - then the faculty member need not report on it.

To Top

I am occasionally asked to serve as an expert witness in legal proceedings and am compensated for that service. Does this count as consulting?

Since service as an expert witness does take time away from your primary responsibilities as a Stanford faculty member, if that service is compensated, the time devoted should be considered and reported as outside consulting. If the service is not compensated, it may fall under the definition of pro bono public service and therefore not qualify as outside consulting. Questions should be addressed to your cognizant dean's office. See Contacts page.

To Top

I am writing a textbook. Should I disclose the use of University resources involved in this activity?

Stanford 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 is 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 "pedagogical, scholarly or artistic work," then you may wish to discuss with your department chair or dean whether it is appropriate work to be done at Stanford.

The reporting form also asks about situations in which you may be producing distance learning materials (such as web-based courses). Such situations pose conflicts when the materials might be marketed by third-parties, and need to be reported here.

To Top

I have a publishing contract. Is this an outside financial interest?

It may be a financial interest, but it doesn't need to be disclosed unless there is a connection between your publisher and your other Stanford responsibilities, e.g., if you are authorizing the purchase of texts for your department, or if your publisher is supporting your research or funding your students.

To Top

I've been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Is this against Stanford's policies?

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) may come up in the context of consulting work (and therefore fall generally outside of your Stanford responsibilities), or, less frequently, in the context of University research. Where the agreement concerns your Stanford research activity, Stanford may negotiate an NDA as part of a research agreement as long as it will not substantially limit the opportunity for others to be engaged in the intellectually significant portions of your research, and as long as it does not restrict the publications of your results (see Stanford's Openness in Research policy). The annual reporting and certification form asks you to disclose any such agreements that you have entered into on your own, without the involvement of appropriate University offices. Stanford requires that the document, Stanford University Requirements for Faculty Consulting Activities and Agreements be attached to individual NDAs, as well as consulting agreements.

To Top

I consult for a company and want to ask one of my students to do some of the work. Is this OK?

This could lead to potentially serious conflicts, and you should therefore exercise caution. If you would like to give your students the opportunity to earn extra money by doing work for a company for whom you consult (or have any other relationship), you should seek advice from the COI Administrator in your school dean's office who deals with conflict disclosures. It is important to discuss this beforehand, not retrospectively on your annual report.

In any case, it must be clear that the work is not part of the student's academic responsibilities. Whether the student does, or does not, do the consulting work, and whether they do it well or not, must not interfere with the relationship between the teacher/advisor and student, nor with the student's academic progress. There cannot be any link between the students consulting activities and your financial relationship with the company.

If the faculty member is a founder of the company the following best practices need to be followed:

If your students, postdocs, or other staff were involved with your consulting work, or with any other outside entities with whom you have a relationship, this reporting and certification form asks you to disclose it, and to identify those responsible individuals at Stanford with whom you discussed the arrangements.

To Top

Stanford has licensed my invention to a company, and that company now wants to sponsor my research related to that technology. Is this a problem? What if the company wants to give one of my students a fellowship?

These kinds of relationships can present serious conflicts of interest, and therefore require review and approval ahead of time. They should be disclosed whenever they arise, by means of a transactional or ad hoc disclosure on OPACS (do not wait to report them after-the-fact on your annual certification). One of the concerns to be guarded against is inappropriate access by a company to the results of work done at Stanford. For example, the fact that this company may wish to provide student support (fellowships or gifts) will not convey to the company any rights to ownership of property produced by the student. If the company is a faculty start up then sponsored research and gifts from that company is not permitted.

To Top

What is an 'transactional disclosure'? How does it differ from this annual OPACS report, and when should I be concerned about filing one?

Transactional disclosures are disclosures related to sponsored research, licensing activities, submission of protocols, material transfer or collaboration agreements, gifts, and certain procurements when there are changes in financial interests or relationships that occur outside of the annual disclosure process. In addition, should questions arise about other activities that may pose a conflict of interest these need to be discussed with the appropriate COI administrators in your school.

OPACS is our electronic system that allows you to fulfill the University's requirements for all faculty members to:

To Top

I do research in a particular field, and I also consult for Company X. They develop and manufacture products using the science that I study. I receive no funding for my Stanford research from Company X. Do I need to report this consulting income on my annual certification?

Yes. Even though Company X does not fund your research, if they have products or research interests that could reasonably appear to be related to your Stanford research, they could have an interest in the results of your research, and you therefore need to report this outside activity to Stanford in OPACS. In addition, after you file this certification, if Company X wants to sponsor your research, license a technology that you invented, or provide funding for one of your students, you would need to file a transactional or ad hoc disclosure through OPACS. This disclosure will be reviewed by your school dean's office to determine whether there is a conflict of interest, and whether it needs to be eliminated, mitigated or managed.

To Top

I have other questions about my particular circumstances. Whom should I contact?

Start by reviewing the text of Stanford's Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest. The policy is detailed and explanatory, and may address your questions. After that, you should contact the individual in your school dean's office who handles this process (see the Contacts page for those names). Further questions may be referred to the Conflict of Interest Program Director, Barbara Flynn.

To Top