Conflict of Interest Frequently Asked Questions
Below a number of frequently asked questions (FAQ) that may assist you in understanding Tufts Conflict of Interest (COI) Policies.
If you have any questions regarding any of these Conflict of Interest Policies or a conflict of interest which are not addressed here, please contact: FCOI@tufts.edu.
COI Frequently Asked Questions
A conflict of interest is any situation or relationship (personal, professional, commercial or financial) that may compromise or appear to compromise a covered individual’s professional judgment in carrying out their institutional activities because of an external relationship/interest of the employee or the immediate family members. A conflict of interest includes any external relations/interest that may have the possibility (either in actuality or in appearance) of:
- compromising an employee’s or an advisor’s judgment;
- biasing the nature or direction of scholarly research;
- influencing an employer’s or an advisor’s decision or behavior with respect to teaching and student affairs, appointments and promotions, uses of University resources, patient care, interactions with human subjects, or other matters of interest to the University; or
- resulting in a personal or immediate family member’s gain or advancement at the expense of the University.
A conflict of interest may arise because an external relationship/interest may have an appearance of conflict. Our goal is to have all employees and advisors act with honesty, integrity, and in the best interests of the University when performing their duties, and to abide by the highest ethical standards of research, educational, professional, and fiscal conduct.
Does our policy on Conflict of Interest only apply to Tufts employees? Does it also apply to unpaid advisors and mentors?
The policy applies to all schools and divisions and all employees at Tufts University, including, without limitation all faculty members, administrators and staff members. In addition, the sections titled Prohibition Against Using Position or Influence for Personal Gain or Advancement, Mingling of Outside Professional Relationship with University Professional Relationships and Use of University Resources also apply to all others who are University-engaged lecturers, advisors or mentors to Tufts students or advisory board members for Schools and Departments at Tufts, whether or not paid (“Advisors”).
For purposes of this Policy, “Immediate Family Members” include: (i) a spouse or domestic/common law partner of an employee or an Advisor, (ii) an employee or Advisor’s child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, aunt, nephew, or niece, or the spouse of any such person; (iii) a person having a step-relationship described in (ii) above; (iv) a parent-in-law or a brother- or sister-in-law of an employee or an Advisor;
or (v) any other relative currently living with an employee or an Advisor or whose assets such employee or an Advisor controls.
related to or overlap (or may have the appearance of doing so) with a covered individual’s institutional role(s) and activities at the University must be reported. This includes, without limitation, off campus, non-University commitments, such as company ownership, an additional business, or a board or management position or consulting activities for external entities. In addition, any personal relationships that overlap with a covered individual’s institutional role(s) (and activities) must be reported and this would include, without limitation, supervising an immediate family member who is an employee at the University or doing research in a covered individual’s laboratory or grading a family member who is enrolled in a covered individual’s academic course.
Some examples include:
- Interests that are similar to or takes advantage of your position, activities or expertise at the University
- You maintain a consulting practice in an area for which you are similarly responsible for developing and/or managing on behalf of the University (e.g., fundraising)
- Outside interests that take advantage of your access to University-owned information or intellectual property, resources or personnel
- If your outside activities licenses (or should license) or otherwise uses the University’s information or intellectual property, that will be deemed to be a related or overlap with a University activity
- Outside interests that uses the information or intellectual property that you acquired or use in connection with your institutional activities
- If you are a researcher in the field of virology, your outside activities in connection with a viral vaccine will be deemed to be related to or overlap with your institutional activities
If you are not sure whether an outside interest relates to or overlaps with your institutional activities, please reach out to FCOI@tufts.edu, since a mere appearance of a conflict will need to be disclosed.
The Annual Questionnaire is a means for covered individuals (employees and advisors) to disclose any external interest that may represent a potential conflict with their institutional duties/activities.
All faculty members, researchers, high-level administrators and other employees in key areas will be asked to fill out the Annual Questionnaire annually, starting in 2021. Eventually, all employees will be asked to fill out the Annual Questionnaire. Should you have a potential or actual conflict of interest during the year that needs to be reported, please contact FCOI@tufts.edu to disclose.
No, external interests are not automatically considered a conflict of interest. However, if you are not sure if an external interest should be disclosed, please reach out to FCOI@tufts.edu.
The policy does not specifically prohibit any external interests or activities. However, any such interests or activities that may compromise or appear to compromise a covered individual’s professional judgment in carrying out their institutional activities (either in actuality or in appearance) may be limited, managed or prohibited.
If you have reported disclosures, then your form will be reviewed to determine if a possible conflict of interest exists and whether it can be managed or needs to be eliminated. If it is determined that your conflict requires management, then you will be contacted if further information is required and a management plan will be developed. You will have to agree and sign off on the management plan and your supervisor and your department/division/school also need to sign off on the management plan.
If you have a potential or actual conflict of interest during the year that needs to be reported, regardless of when you become aware of it, please contact FCOI@tufts.edu to disclose.
The COI Advisors and the COI Review Committees will review any disclosed external interest to determine if it represents a conflict and whether it needs to be managed, reduced or eliminated. These external interests are reported through the Annual Questionnaire. Disclosures are reviewed on an individual basis and a management plan, as needed, is developed. Unique situations will be discussed by the applicable COI Review Committee for a determination on the management, reduction, or elimination of a conflict of interest. In situations where additional information is required, the COI Advisors or the applicable COI Review Committee will contact the individual making the disclosure with an information request.
There are two COI Review Committees: one for the financial/personal/institutional conflicts and the other one for the research conflicts. Both committees consist of administrative and faculty members.
The COI Advisors are appointed by the University’s senior officers to assist and advise the COI Review Committees in reviewing, managing and mitigating a conflict of interest. The COI Advisor for the COI Review Committee for Business and Personal Conflicts will be a member of the Office for University Counsel and the COI Advisor for the COI Review Committee for Research Conflicts will be a member of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.
The COI Advisors, their assistants and the COI Review Committees will keep the disclosures confidential unless limited disclosures are necessary within the University or with its outside legal, audit or expert advisors to manage the conflict or unless disclosures are required by a court order, a government investigation or by an applicable law. Your disclosed COI and the associated management plan will be disclosed by the COI Advisors and the COI Review Committees to your supervisor and to the senior manager/Dean of your department, division or school. Disclosures that relate to federal or other research funding will need to be disclosed to the extent required under federal law or under the grant agreements.
In many instances a conflict of interest can be resolved by simple disclosure, in other cases the conflict may be monitored by the COI Review Committee or by the School/Division, a research plan or a work/supervision arrangement might be modified, or, under certain circumstances, severance of a relationship that is creating the actual or potential conflict might be the only option.
Your immediate supervisor, with the assistance from the School, department and/or division, should be responsible for making sure that your COI management plan is properly implemented. The supervisor will periodically report on the status of the management action plan as requested by the COI Advisors or COI Review Committee.
I am a Department Chair/Supervisor and have been designated to sign and oversee another employee’s management plan. What is expected of me?
In the case of conflicts deemed to require formal management, the immediate supervisor of the conflicted party will be asked to be a signatory on the COI management plan document and to assume oversight of the conflict. This serves two purposes:
- To document that the conflicted party’s manager or department chair is aware of and comfortable with the conflict and the stated plan for mitigating the conflict.
- To create a local oversight mechanism for the conflict and ensure appropriate reporting to the COI team.
As signatory on a COI management plan, department chairs and managers are asked to submit an annual certification attesting that they have confirmed with the conflicted party that the conflict is still active and that the details of the conflict in question have not changed in the past year. While any changes should be reported in real time to the COI team, the annual certification creates a checkpoint for reporting any changes not otherwise reported that might impact the COI management plan. In addition, such reporting expedites the termination of management plans that are no longer required due to resolution of a real or perceived conflict, for example as a result of dissolution of a relationship between a faculty/staff member and an outside entity or the faculty/staff member in question’s departure from Tufts.
Submission of the annual certification is due annually on the date the COI management plan was executed. If you are expected to submit an annual certification for a management plan you are signatory on, you will receive a reminder email 30 days prior to the due date. The annual certification form can be found here and should be submitted to FCOI@tufts.edu by the due date.
I am a Department Chair/Supervisor and have been designated to sign and oversee another employee’s management plan. Am I held responsible for any violations of the plan which may take place?
The annual supervisor certification form requires only that you discuss and confirm the status of the conflict annually with the conflicted party. As a supervisor, you are not expected to take active measures to ensure compliance with the COI management plan and will not be held accountable for any violations of the plan which take place without your knowledge; however, if you are concerned about any non-compliance with a COI management plan, please contact FCOI@tufts.edu.
If you suspect a violation of the Tufts COI policy or any otherwise unethical or inappropriate activity, you may file a report (and if desired, anonymously) via Tufts’ EthicsPoint reporting tool at: https://secure.ethicspoint.com/domain/media/en/gui/7182/index.html
Conflict of Commitment and Outside Activities & Interests Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. The policies on Conflict of Commitment differ based on your role at the University. Please review the policy which applies to your situation below:
- Conflict of Commitment Policy for Faculty (these can be embedded links: https://access.tufts.edu/conflict-commitment-policy-faculty)
- Conflict of Commitment Policy for non-Faculty Employees (https://access.tufts.edu/conflict-commitment-policy-non-faculty-employees)
A conflict of commitment is an external activity that has the potential to interfere with a covered individual’s time commitment to the University terms of employment. This is an area that is monitored and addressed by an individual’s department chair and/or direct supervisor. Please see the Conflict of Commitment Policy with respect to how much time you may spend on outside activities [link].
Except as authorized by the Office of University Counsel, employees and Advisors may make only incidental use of University resources for purposes unrelated to the education, research, scholarship, patient care and public service missions of the University. In addition, all non-University activities should be conducted outside of the University. Without limiting the foregoing, the following Tufts’ resources may not be used for non-Tufts related activities or interests without specific University approval:
- facilities (For example: using your labs pace to conduct research for your outside company)
- personnel (For example: asking your administrator to do your personal errands)
- students (For example: asking your student to conduct research for your outside company)
- secure internet system (VPN)
- confidential information (including, without limitation, intellectual property
- Tufts’ email, telephone and address lists of University faculty, staff, students or alums (For example: Using Tufts or school directory to solicit business for your outside company)
- University address (For example: giving as a consulting or business address any University building or department name when participating in non-University commitments)
- University emails, telephone or fax for personal gain (For example: using University emails as business emails for non-Tufts related activities)
- University name/mark/logo (For example: using Tufts logos or stationary for personal or non-University business)
- Your University position or role to promote outside businesses or products
Members of the University community involved in business ventures as owner, or major investor must be alert to the possibility that a conflict of interest may arise. Students or staff may work for a faculty or employee-owned business, but not on University time or while they are being supervised by such faculty or employee (in lab, office or classroom). Students may work for a faculty owned business but may not be simultaneously enrolled in a course taught by that faculty member or may not be simultaneously working in a faculty member’s laboratory. Student/faculty/staff roles and relationships must be clearly defined.
Research COI Frequently Asked Questions
A conflict of interest arises when an individual’s financial, personal or outside interests may compromise or bias or be perceived to compromise or bias their professional judgement and objectivity in conducting or reporting research. Some examples of a relationship that may constitute a research conflict of interest are a financial and/or equity interest in an entity involved in your professional field, a fiduciary duty that you hold to an external entity, or a personal relationship with a collaborator.
Conflicts of interest are the result of situations which might create the perception of bias, rather than any specific actions by an individual. For this reason, perceived conflicts are considered conflicts of interest whether or not they have materially impacted an investigator’s actions. It is important to understand that the determination of a conflict of interest is an acknowledgement of such a situation, not an implication of any wrongdoing or impropriety.
Yes, all individuals covered by the policy are required to complete the Annual Questionnaire. If you are not currently conducting research or supervising research and have no plans to submit a proposal for funding in the coming year, you may indicate so in the questionnaire. This information provides context for the COI Review Committee’s determination of whether or not a significant financial, personal or outside interest requires management.
Yes, all individuals covered by the policy are required to complete the Annual Questionnaire. Your response to the questionnaire will serve as documentation that you do not have any significant financial interests. As noted below, even if you do not receive any cash funding from a non-U.S. government source, any in-kind contribution from a company or a foreign government (which may include a loaner equipment from a vendor or a visiting researcher who is paid by a foreign government) could be deemed to be a reportable financial interest.
I do not receive grant funding from an external entity, but receive other support in the form of space, equipment, supplies or personnel, etc. Does this need to be reported?
Yes, any other support received from an external entity that does not fall into one of the below categories should be disclosed via the Annual Questionnaire.
- United States Federal, State or Local government agency
- United States institution of higher education or United States research institution
- Academic teaching hospital or medical center affiliated with any of the above
The Federal regulations require financial interest disclosures from public health service (PHS) or other U.S. government funded researchers. I do not receive such funding. Does this mean I do not have to complete the training or submit the disclosure form?
No. The University policies on Conflict of Interest, including the Policy on Financial and Personal Conflict, the Policy on Institutional Conflict, and the Policy on Research Conflict are based on the federal regulations but apply to all University faculty and staff members.
All faculty and staff members must participate in training programs and comply with disclosure requirements.
No. Your salary or other remuneration paid to you by Tufts is not considered a significant financial interest.
A portion of my Tufts salary is funded by an external entity as part of a collaborative research grant. Is this considered a significant financial interest?
No. Salary paid by Tufts but derived from a grant from a collaborative institution or company is considered salary and should not be considered a significant financial interest for you to disclose in the Annual Questionnaire.
Yes, you must disclose all sponsored or reimbursed travel related to your institutional responsibilities UNLESS the sponsor is any of the following:
- United States Federal, State or Local government agency
- United States institution of higher education or United States research institution
- Academic teaching hospital or medical center affiliated with any of the above
Yes, all professional and financial relationships with foreign entities, private or otherwise, must be disclosed if the relationship is not limited to grant funding processed through the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. A section of the Annual Questionnaire has been developed for the disclosure of these relationships.
I have an interest in a small business with which I am engaged in an SBIR/STTR Award. How does the COI policy affect me?
Investigators are not barred by Tufts’ policy from collaborating with a company in which they have a founding or other interest on an SBIR/STTR award. Such relationships do, however, present an inherent Conflict of Interest and should be appropriately managed. Investigators engaging in such a collaboration must follow the steps below:
- You must disclose the relationship to Tufts and the sponsor during the proposal phase and to Tufts during the annual COI disclosure process.
- The conflict must be reviewed by the Research Conflict of Interest committee, who will recommend an appropriate Conflict of Interest management plan. Until a management plan is in place, Tufts will not be able to finalize the SBIR/STTR subcontract. The Department Chair must also approve and be willing to oversee the management plan.
Management plans will be conceived and drafted individually based on the facts of a conflict, but all management plans pertaining to an SBIR/STTR will disallow the following:
- Self-Reporting: The same person cannot be named Principal Investigator on both Tufts’ and the outside company’s proposal. If you intend to be Principal Investigator with respect to the work occurring at Tufts under the SBIR/STTR, the Principal Investigator named at the company should be a full-time employee of the Company, preferably one who does not report directly to you in the company hierarchy. If you prefer to be named Principal Investigator for the company, the Tufts PI should be a faculty member who does not report to you.
- Hiring of personnel: Employees of the company should not be given roles at Tufts or access to Tufts resources and facilities as a result of the collaboration, or otherwise be paid by Tufts for services rendered.
- Use of Tufts Resources: The company should not use Tufts address, facilities, or resources, including personnel, without prior notice and written approval from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR). Approved use of these resources may require periodic payments to Tufts.
I am the owner/founder of a start-up company that currently only exists on paper. Do I need to disclose?
Yes. If you have a financial or equity interest in any company that may reasonably appear to be related to your University responsibilities or your research at the University, this is considered a significant financial interest and must be disclosed.
My COI management plan requires that I disclose my financial relationship to laboratory members and in research presentations and publications. Why is this?
Objectivity in the conduct of research is critical to the values of research integrity and academic freedom. The policy asks that any significant financial interests be disclosed to the appropriate audience as a means of providing transparency around any real or perceived conflicts of interest.
COI Training Frequently Asked Questions
All Investigators receiving federal funds are required to maintain an up to date COI training certificate through CITI, which must be renewed every two years. Instructions to enroll in the CITI Conflict of Interest mini-course can be found at: https://tufts.app.box.com/s/0flqys1pbp2s2x803337j6w0reuezn1v
I cannot determine when I last completed the CITI Conflict of interest training; how can I find out if I am due?
Please contact FCOI@tufts.edu with any questions regarding CITI training certificates and expiration dates.
COI Annual Disclosure Frequently Asked Questions
Please contact FCOI@tufts.edu with any questions regarding your disclosure status.
I am having technical difficulties completing the Annual Questionnaire through Qualtrics. Who can I contact for support?
Please contact FCOI@tufts.edu with any questions regarding the Annual Questionnaire in Qualtrics.
Sample Conflict of Interest Questions
I intend to use outside printing services to develop the layout for a new student services brochure to be issued next semester. My wife runs a printing and design shop that can perform this type of work. Can I direct the business to her? The total job cost is below the University’s minimum bid requirements.
No. Whether or not the cost of the job is below the bid threshold, there exists a potential conflict of interest since by providing this job to your wife (or other family member or persons living in your household) you might personally benefit. Also, this situation could affect your unbiased judgment in selecting the most qualified print shop for the project. Therefore, you should not negotiate or approve a contract with the shop and you should report this potential conflict of interest.
I have an outside consulting practice that solicits business from several sponsoring agencies that provide funding awards to Tufts. Do I need to disclose this relationship?
Yes, this relationship must be disclosed in writing in the Annual Questionnaire to determine if any potential conflict exists between your outside business and Tufts. A University employee or faculty member may not perform work, either in a self-owned business or as an employee of an outside business, which (i) uses confidential information that the employee receives in the course of his or her employment, (ii) could be considered a "quid pro quo" for the contracting party to obtain University business or (iii) directly or indirectly places the University at a financial or competitive disadvantage.
I am the department FSP (Frontline Support Provider). Last week, my supervisor asked me if I could come over to his house that weekend and upgrade his personally owned computer with the extra memory he recently purchased. I found it hard to say no to his request since I perform the same function for the University. Is this a conflict of interest on his part?
Yes, this would constitute a conflict of interest. Supervisors may not make such requests. This situation can be compared to one in which a supervisor receives a gift from a vendor. Gifts are forbidden by our policies because they may cause the supervisor to feel beholden to the vendor or give the vendor power to coerce the supervisor. In the case of an employee, receipt of a “gift” of the employee’s time creates the same opportunity for a conflict of interest, where the obligation of loyalty to Tufts becomes secondary to other interests. This is true even if the work is, or appears to be, performed voluntarily; it need not be coerced to be wrong.
No, unless the value of the gift (on an annual aggregate basis) is less than $100. University policy prohibits employees from accepting gifts of any kind from vendors in excess of $100 (on an annual aggregate basis).
A consultant working with the University has offered to let me stay at his vacation home on Cape Cod for the weekend. Should I accept the invitation?
No. Acceptance of this gift (which is likely to have a value in excess of $100) would give the appearance of impropriety and therefore would be inappropriate for you to accept the invitation.
No, unless the value of the meals (on an annual aggregate basis) is less than $100. This invitation would be interpreted as the vendor trying to influence you. You can accept the invitation and pay for your own meal.
In attending a conference, a vendor offers to pay for a group dinner or some type of hospitality event. Is this acceptable for me to participate?
Yes. This is acceptable given that other prospective clients are attending and that it is part of a conference or meeting event.
If the value of the gift basket is likely to be in excess of $100, either return the gift or, if it is perishable, share it with your staff or donate it to charity. You should politely inform the vendor that such gifts are prohibited by University policy.