Whether or not you're planning to start your own company, if you conduct research on campus there are new federal conflict of interest regulations you need to be aware of. In addition, the Office of the President has issued new guidelines for research grants awarded to UC employees.
As of Oct. 1 every researcher applying for a new NSF or NIH grant must submit a form with the campus's Sponsored Projects Office stating whether or not they or anyone else involved in the research--or the immediate family of any person involved--has a personal financial interest that might "directly or significantly" affect the proposed research. Such an interest might include ownership of a company or stock in a company that develops products in the same area, or a consulting agreement with such a company. The financial interest must be at least $10,000 or 5 percent ownership to be considered "significant," in which case the researcher also must file a detailed disclosure.
The campus is authorized by the government to manage these disclosure forms and deal with any problems, merely letting the federal agency know the final outcome. Questionable disclosures will be forwarded to a standing committee of the Academic Senate, the Committee for Review of Positive Financial Disclosures, which in the case of a serious conflict could invite the researcher to discuss the problem.
The change came about mostly because of problems involving drug trials, where researchers were conducting clinical studies of drugs made by companies in which they had a financial stake. Here at Berkeley, SPO Director Joyce Freedman doesn't expect to encounter many problematic conflicts. Nevertheless if one should arise--and in recent years there have been at most three or four problem cases--the faculty committee has the power to alter or cancel a grant, or ask a principal investigator to step down or divest.
Prior to these regulations, the only required disclosure was that mandated by the California Political Reform Act of 1974, which was judged to apply to all UC researchers.
"Before, you had to file a disclosure if you had an interest in a company that funds your research," Freedman said. "Now you must disclose if you have any sort of financial interest in the research or its outcome."
The Office of the President has made changes in regulations that affect how grants to UC faculty are administered. Because a few faculty funneled grants through outside "support groups," the university now requires that all grants to Berkeley employees be administered through SPO. This policy went into effect in February. Those who have not yet complied should contact SPO as soon as possible.
Further, a policy change that went into effect last month as an addition to the Academic Personnel Manual requires that all faculty engaged in outside consulting and other professional activities limit them to 39 days during the nine-month academic year.
Freedman says the point of these new regulations is not to discourage faculty from pursuing outside interests or from collaborating with industry.
Rather, the concern is to ensure the integrity of research at Berkeley, to protect students from exploitation, to prevent the use of university property for outside work and to make sure all researchers comply with regulations on pay and benefits and use of animal or human subjects.
To make compliance as painless as possible, Freedman and her SPO team have worked hard with top administrators to keep to a minimum the number of extra forms researchers need to fill out.
"We encourage people to go out and make contacts and get outside support," she says, but admits that "it's a difficult balancing act." Now you have to tell SPO and understand there's a potential conflict.
For further details contact Freedman at 642-8110.
Research, Consulting Are Subject
To Federal, University Regulations