Conflicts of Interest/Commitment

(MUPIM 3.12/OAC 3339-3-12)

Miami University Statement on Conflicts of Interest (MUPIM 3.12.A)

The close relationship Miami has with the community along with the growth of sponsored research, consulting contracts, staff involvement in the management of private businesses, and similar developments in recent years have increased the complexity of the relationships between the University, government, and industry. One of the consequences has been an increase in the potential for conflicts of interest between the University obligations a faculty or staff member has and the obligations he or she may assume in extramural activities involving sponsored research, private business ventures, consulting, etc.

It has long been recognized that the only truly effective safeguard against a conflict-of-interest situation is the integrity of the faculty and staff. A codification of the complex ethical questions involved, even if possible, would be unduly restrictive. At the same time, even the most alert and conscientious individual may at times be in doubt concerning the propriety of certain actions or relationships. Whenever such doubt arises, the University expects the individual involved to consult with the Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, the Associate Vice President for Finance and Business Services, or the Office of the General Counsel before making a decision.

Because of the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and other ethical problems, the following summary of pertinent statutes is being made available. The summary should not be relied upon as the basis for answering a specific ethics question or determining a course of conduct in a specific situation. The summary is intended only to give all employees a basic understanding of the circumstances under which ethical problems may arise. Once the employee becomes aware of an ethical issue, he or she should look into the matter in greater detail.

There are two portions of the Ohio Revised Code that are directly applicable to University employees. The first of these is Chapter 102 (Ethics); the second one is Section 2921.42 (Having an Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract) and Section 2921.43 (Soliciting or Receiving Improper Compensation), which are part of the criminal code. Any interpretation of these statutes also may require consulting with the Ohio Ethics Commission or the employee’s own attorney, in addition to appropriate individuals at the University. Such consultation should, of course, occur before, not after, the taking of any action that might raise ethical issues.

Ohio’s Ethics Law recognizes that faculty and staff may be in a position to make or influence decisions that directly affect their personal interests. The guiding principle of the Ohio’s Ethics Law is to prevent a public employee, including faculty and staff members, from participating in matters that involve the public employee’s own financial interest or those of his family or business associates.

The specific sections of the Ohio Revised Code that are likely to affect Miami University employees are:

  1. Misuse of Confidential Information – Section 102.03(B) prohibits public University employees from disclosing confidential information acquired during employment.
  2. Misuse of Official Position – Sections 102.03(D), (E), and (F) prohibit the giving, receiving, or soliciting of anything of value which would “manifest a substantial and improper influence” upon a public University employee with respect to his or her duties.
  3. Sale of Goods or Services – Section 102.04(B) prohibits public University employees from selling or agreeing to sell, except through competitive bidding, goods or services to the University, General Assembly, or any agency or institution of the state, excluding the courts. Again, there is a provision for exemption from the prohibition in some circumstances if the public employee files a disclosure statement, copies of which may be obtained from the Ohio Ethics Commission.
  4. Soliciting or Receiving Improper Compensation – Section 2921.43 (A) prohibits employees from receiving or agreeing to receive compensation in addition to that paid by the institution for the performance of his or her duties.  Section 102.04 (C) prohibits employees from receiving or agreeing to receive, directly or indirectly,  compensation other than from the University for any “service rendered or to be rendered” in any “case, proceeding, application or other matter” that is before the General Assembly or any state institution or agency, excluding the courts. This provision may have an impact upon, among others, faculty members who receive compensation for certain types of consulting work, particularly giving testimony before state agencies. The law does provide mechanisms that may permit this type of activity in some circumstances, but it requires the filing of a disclosure statement, copies of which may be obtained from the Ohio Ethics Commission.
  5. Unlawful Interest in a Contract
    1. Sections 2921.42(A)(1) and (2) prohibit a public University employee from authorizing or employing the authority or influence of his or her employment to secure any public contract or public investment in which the employee, a member of the employee’s family, or any of the employee’s business associates, has an interest.
    2. Section 2921.42(A)(3) prohibits a public University employee from participating for profit in the prosecution of a public contract authorized by him or her as a public employee.
    3. Sections 2921.42(A)(4) and (5) prohibit public University employees from having any interest in a contract entered into by the University; or having an interest in any contract with any other state agency or institution which is not let by competitive bidding and which involves more than $150.00. There are exceptions to these prohibitions, which are quite detailed. For further assistance, the Ohio Ethics Commission should be contacted.

Areas of Potential Conflict of Interest/Commitment (MUPIM 3.12.B)

The areas of potential conflict may be divided into two broad categories. The first relates to conventional conflicts of interest – situations in which faculty and staff members may have the opportunity to influence the University’s business decisions in ways that could lead to personal gain or give improper advantage to their associates. The second is concerned with conflicts of commitment – situations- in which members’ external activities, often valuable in themselves, interfere or appear to interfere with their paramount obligations to students, colleagues, and the University. Teachers and scholars are given great freedom in scheduling their activities with the understanding that their external activities will enhance the quality of their direct contributions to the University. It has been, and continues to be, assumed that all faculty and staff members will be alert to the possible effects of outside activities on the objectivity of their decisions, their obligations to the University, and the University’s responsibilities to others.

Informal Resolution (MUPIM 3.12.C)

Whenever members have any doubts about whether an activity may involve a conflict of interest or conflict of commitment, they are expected to consult with the University General Counsel, who serves as the Chief Ethics Officer. Questions on matters involving sponsored research conflicts of interest, should be directed to the Associate Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School.

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