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New consulting procedures adopted to comply with change in state law

by Karen A. Grava - October 9, 2007

A change in state law approved by the General Assembly last spring exempts consulting by faculty and members of a faculty bargaining unit from oversight by the Office of State Ethics when certain conditions are met.

The recently enacted legislation also requires the University to adopt policies and procedures to ensure that it provides stringent oversight, management, and transparency of faculty consulting.

The legislative change necessitates some modification of the consulting policy adopted earlier this year by the Board of Trustees to bring the policy into conformance with the new legislation.

The revised policy and new procedures were approved recently by the Board of Trustees.

Members of the AAUP bargaining unit and faculty members at the Health Center and the Law School must obtain permission before they perform consulting work.

Consulting is defined as any employment outside the University that is based on an individual’s professional expertise or prominence in his or her field.

The legislation specifies that failure to secure approval from the University in advance of any consulting activity will mean the individual can not qualify for exemption from oversight by the Office of State Ethics.

“The legislature’s willingness to transfer authority over consulting to the University is an indication of their understanding of the needs of our unique academic environment and its benefits to the state,” says Scott Wetstone, director of health affairs policy planning at the Health Center.

“It also demonstrates their willingness to trust the University in overseeing ethical behavior at a time when government has been extraordinarily sensitive to ensuring the highest level of conduct from state officials and employees.” 

While most state employees are discouraged from engaging with the private sector, faculty are encouraged to consult and collaborate on research projects with the private sector, government agencies, and non-profit  organizations.

Faculty then share their knowledge through publishing, teaching, and public speaking.

“The University’s paradigm is to be engaged with the private sector,” says Ilze Krisst, assistant vice provost for research and director of research compliance.

“Our faculty are much more valuable to our students and to the state because of their interactions with private, public, and non-profit organizations. They bring knowledge back to the classroom and share expertise that helps the state’s economy.”

The newly revised policies clarify oversight for consulting activities and require annual reporting, at both the Storrs-based programs and the Health Center.

Consulting is permitted based on expertise or prominence in the field, but cannot be conducted on “time due the University.”

The activities cannot create an unacceptable conflict of interest that affects an individual’s decision-making as a state employee or influences decision-making on state-related business.

If the potential for bias exists, then it needs to be disclosed and appropriately managed.

In most cases, consulting may not exceed more than one day during the work week on average, but during periods when a faculty member does not have teaching responsibilities, time due the University will not be a factor in the approval process.

The process will be overseen by the provost in Storrs and the executive vice president of the Health Center and by a new University Consulting Management Committee, which will include two designees of the provost, two of the executive vice president of the Health Center, and one designee of the president.

The University’s ethics officer, Rachel Rubin, will serve as an ex-officio, non-voting member.

A Health Center and Storrs committee worked during the summer to fine tune the policies and develop procedures and forms.

“There has been a concerted, collaborative effort on the part of the government relations staff and the Health Center and Storrs compliance and other administrative staffs to make all this happen,” says Krisst.

“Clearly, we will be under greater scrutiny than ever, but we view this as an opportunity to refine the process pertaining to the University’s consulting activities and are confident that it can be successfully and efficiently managed. We look forward to working with our faculty to ensure a smooth transition to the new process.”

In order to obtain permission to perform consulting activities, the individual must provide sufficient detail about the project so the University can determine whether or not the activities conflict with the person’s state responsibilities.

Faculty must also indicate the level of remuneration, number of days needed to complete the activities, and what material use of state resources will be necessary. Financial records provided on the forms will be confidential.

The activities must be approved first by the department head and dean, and then, in Storrs, by the provost or his designee, or at the Health Center, by the executive vice president for health affairs or his designee.

Coaches must obtain permission from the athletic director, in place of a dean. 

“The new law ensures the privilege of consulting for faculty members will continue,” says Wetstone.

“It is an important incentive in recruiting and retention of the highest quality faculty and in enhancing the University’s reputation as a research institution.”

At the end of each fiscal year, no later than Sept. 15, faculty must submit forms reconciling their activities with the plan submitted the previous semesters.

Those forms must include verification that the University has been appropriately reimbursed for material use of state resources.

The law requires two audits per year by the University’s Office of Audit, Compliance, and Ethics; annual reports to the Joint Audit and Compliance Committee; and review by an Oversight Committee comprising University and non-University members.

That committee will receive copies of the semi-annual audits and make recommendations for policy changes to the University’s Board of Trustees.

A copy of such recommendations will be sent to the General Assembly’s Education and Government Administration and Elections Committee.

Faculty who provide misleading or false information can be disciplined with a letter or reprimand, loss of consulting privileges, suspension from the University, or dismissal.

For more information, go to the University Policy eLibrary site.

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