What is a “Conflict of Commitment”?

A conflict of commitment refers to a situation in which outside relationships or activities interfere with, or have the appearance of interfering with, an employee’s commitment to his/her University duties or responsibilities.

(See APS 5012 Conflicts of Interest and Commitment in Research and Teaching.)

What is a "Conflict of Interest"?

A conflict of interest refers to a situation in which financial, professional, or other personal considerations may directly or indirectly affect, or have the appearance of affecting, an employee’s professional judgment in exercising any University duty or responsibility in administration, management, instruction, research or other professional activities. This can include interests that bias the nature or direction of scholarly research or influence decisions with respect to teaching and students, appointments or promotions, use of University resources, interactions with human subjects or other matters of interest to the University.

(See APS 5012.)

What is a “Significant Financial Interest”?

A significant financial interest (SFI) includes anything of monetary value received from an entity outside the University that meets or exceeds established thresholds. Examples include, but are not limited to, salary or other payments for services from a third party/financially-interested company, dividends, equity interest, intellectual property rights (and royalties from such rights), etc.

  1. Thresholds are set in accordance with current funding agency regulations:
    1. For Non-PHS/NIH-funded research personnel, who are NOT recipients of funding from Public Health Services (PHS) agencies, the threshold values are:
      1. $10,000 for the aggregated sum of income and equity interest, or
      2. 5% ownership interest in any single entity.
    2. For PHS/NIH-funded key personnel who are recipients of funding from PHS agencies, including, but not limited to NIH, the threshold values are:
      1. $5,000, alone, in income/payments for service,
      2. $5,000 for the aggregated sum of income and equity interest received and/or ownership of a publicly traded company, or
      3. Any equity interest received/ownership of a non-publicly traded company.
    3. For PHS/NIH-funded key personnel, travel reimbursement or sponsored travel related to institutional responsibilities in ANY amount must be report as SFI. The COIC Office/Committee will determine if a conflict exists based on current federal regulations. Exclusions from this requirement include travel that is reimbursed or sponsored by the University of Colorado; a federal, state or local government agency; another institution of higher education; and/or an academic teaching hospital, medical center or research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education.
  2. Note: While SFI literally denotes a financial interest, personal/family gain other than strictly financial is also considered in reviewing potential conflicts of interest.
  3. SFI does NOT include:
    1. Salary or other payments for services from the University of Colorado.
    2. Income from seminars, lectures or teaching engagements sponsored by public or non-profit entities within the U.S.A.
    3. Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for federal, state or local government agencies, institutions of higher education as defined by 20 U.S.C. 1001(a), an academic teaching hospital, medical center or research institution of higher education within the U.S.A.
    4. Equity interests that, when aggregated for the investigator and the investigator’s spouse and dependent children, do not exceed, or are not expected to exceed, the previously stated thresholds, during a 12-month period.
    5. Salary, royalties or other payments from a single entity, that, when aggregated for the investigator and the investigator’s spouse and dependent children, do not exceed, or are not expected to exceed, the previously stated thresholds, during a 12-month period.
    6. Income from/ownership in mutual funds and/or pension/retirement funds, as long as the discloser does not directly control the investment decisions made in these entities.
    7. Any ownership interests in a business entity by an investigator on a Phase I SBIR grant or application with that business entity.
    8. (In regard to the requirement for PHS/NIH-funded key personnel) travel: Travel that is reimbursed or sponsored by the University of Colorado; a federal, state or local government agency; another institution of higher education; and/or an academic teaching hospital, medical center or research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education within the U.S.A.

(See Policy & Standards.)

What is a "Financial Conflict of Interest"?

A financial conflict of interest occurs when a University employee or fiscal affiliate:

  1. Has a significant financial interest (SFI) in an outside organization that benefits from the financial transaction, and
  2. Uses their University position for personal gain and/or improper advantage for anyone.

APS 4013 Disclosure of Interests requires the reporting of outside financial interest amounts in excess of $5,000.

What is a "Foreign Component"?

A foreign component entails the existence of any “significant scientific element or segment of a project” outside of the U.S.A., including:

  1. The performance of work by a researcher and/or recipient in a foreign location – regardless of whether NIH grant funds are expended; and
  2. The performance of work by a researcher in a foreign location that is employed and/or paid for by a foreign organization – regardless of whether NIH grant funds are expended.

(See NIH Grants Policy Statement.) 

What is a "Foreign Institution"?

A foreign institution includes any organization that is located in a country other the U.S.A. and that is subject to the laws of that country – regardless of the citizenship of the proposed Principal Investigator.

(See NIH Grants & Funding FAQs.)

Who is a "Principal Investigator"?

A Principal Investigator (PI) is any individual who has the ability to make independent decisions related to the design, conduct, or reporting of research performed as an employee of this University.

What is included in the term "Family"?

Family, for the purposes of this policy, means any family member with whom you have a close relationship that could cloud your judgement. Family members include, but are not limited to: spouse, parents (yours or spouse’s), child, sibling, son/daughter-in-law, step relatives, domestic partner and/or relatives of domestic partner in any relationship stated above.

(See Policy & Standards.)

What is a "Management Plan"?

A management plan informs disclosers of general notices and responsibilities, policies, procedures, etc., including those related to non-COIC Office departments (i.e., Office of Contracts & Grants, Campus Controller’s Office, Venture Partners (formerly TTO), Procurement Service Center, etc.).

Management plan action items are rooted in federal regulations regarding researcher conflicts:

  1. Research integrity/bias control,
  2. Controlling for student bias/coercion, and
  3. Protection of human subjects.
What are some examples of possible conflicts?

The following three (3) categories are examples of activities and situations related to actual or potential conflicts of interest and/or commitment:

  1. Activities that are permissible include, but are not limited to:
    1. Participation in professional association activities, participation in scientific or professional activities associated with government entities (federal, state or local), or editorial responsibilities;
    2. Professional activities that occur in University departments other than the one(s) for which the employee is primarily hired;
    3. Authorship of educational materials where the materials are not required to be purchased by students of the author. If self-authored materials are expected to be purchased by students of the author, departmental review and approval is required (see Use of Self-Authored Instructional Material Approval Form);
    4. Department-approved consulting/teaching for outside institutions of higher education and/or service on boards or committees of outside institutions of higher education;
    5. Department-approved consulting or service to an outside public entity for which compensation does not exceed University policy thresholds; and/or
    6. Consulting or service to an outside entity where there is clearly no overlap of activities/responsibilities between the outside entity and the University and which is limited to the timeframe specified within the One-Sixth Rule.
  2. Activities that present, or may appear to present, potential conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to:
    1. University responsibilities that provide an employee/student with the opportunity to direct/divert University business to a business entity in which he/she has a significant financial or other interest;
    2. Conducting University research, the results of which could affect the finances of a business entity in which the employee/student has a significant financial interest;
    3. University receipt of funding for an employee’s/student’s University research from a business entity in which the employee/student has a significant financial interest;
    4. Assignment of students or graduate assistants to duties that benefit a business entity in which the person in charge of assignment of those duties has a significant financial interest;
    5. Use of University facilities, supplies or personnel for the benefit of a business entity in which the employee/student has a significant financial interest; and/or
    6. Providing exclusive access of University research to a business entity in which the employee/student has a significant financial interest, unless the business entity is the sponsor of the research.
  3. Activities that clearly present such serious problems as to be incompatible with University policies include, but are not limited to:
    1. Assumption of responsibilities for an outside organization that divert a University employee from his/her attention to University duties, or create other conflicts of loyalty;
    2. Use for personal profit of unpublished information emanating from University research or other confidential University sources, assisting an outside organization by giving it unreasonably exclusive access to such information, or consulting under arrangements that impose obligations that conflict with University patent policy or with the University’s obligations to research sponsors; and/or
    3. Conduct of research that could and ordinarily would be carried on within the University elsewhere to the disadvantage of the University and its legitimate interests.

(See Policy & Standards.)

Who needs to submit a disclosure?

All faculty, any other employee (regardless of job title/position), or student with responsibility for the design, conduct, or reporting of research are considered critical to the research process and must disclose any significant financial interest (SFI) and external professional activity that could compromise the individual’s University decision-making or duties.  

  1. Proposals and protocols submitted to the Office of Contracts & Grants (OCG) or to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) cannot receive approval until an annual Disclosure of External Professional Activities (DEPA) is submitted, vetted for potential conflicts and managed through set procedures.
    1. It is not for each individual researcher to decide if he/she must report based on a belief that no conflicts exist. All personnel listed in the groups below must report, as stipulated, in order for the University to be in compliance with federal regulations.

The following CU Boulder personnel required to submit an annual DEPA:

  1. Tenure Track Faculty (all levels);
  2. Adjunct, Visiting, and Research Faculty (all levels) – this includes Retired Faculty if still actively engaged in projects at CU;
  3. PRAs, Research Associates, and Research Assistants (all levels);
  4. Instructors (all levels);
  5. Professional Exempt Staff;
  6. Librarians, Museum Associates and Fellows;
  7. Non-employee Graduate Students if currently involved in the design, conduct and reporting of any research OR if involved in a CU employee-affiliated company/entity; 
  8. Undergraduate Students, Volunteers and Consultants if responsible for the design, conduct and reporting of research OR if involved in a CU employee-affiliated company/entity;
  9. Research Committee Members (i.e. IRB members, IACUC members and/or other research review committees); and
  10. Staff who negotiate or execute research agreements on behalf of CU Boulder Area/Program Administrators, Office of Contracts and Grants staff members, and Venture Partners at CU Boulder (formerly the Technology Transfer Office) staff members. 

TAs, Lecturers, and Adjoint Faculty typically do NOT need to report.

(See Getting Started.)

Why do I need to disclose an actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?

Examples of why disclosure is necessary include, but are not limited to:

  1. CU Boulder encourages its employees to interact with business and industry, public and private organizations, and government agencies in ways that support the University’s mission. University teaching, research, outreach and other activities shall not be compromised – or be perceived as being compromised – by financial and/or personal benefit.
  2. Full disclosure of relevant information is in the best interest of the University and its faculty, staff and students. The disclosure is customary and benefits both the individual and the University.
  3. Research integrity matters – without integrity, research is meaningless. Maintenance of public trust in the research that we produce is critical to the mission and reputation of the University.
  4. For proposal submissions/awards, DEPA status must be in good standing.

(See APS 5012.)

What if I am unsure about whether a particular situation amounts to an actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?

The discloser does not decide whether a conflict exists.

  1. It is the responsibility of the discloser to fully, accurately and timely report.
  2. It is the responsibility of the academic institution to ensure that reporting occurs, that disclosures are evaluated and that conflicts are managed (if necessary).
Is it “bad” to have an actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?

A disclosure of an actual, potential and/or perceived conflict in and of itself does not imply impropriety, nor is it an inherent violation of regulation or policy per se. Disclosure shall not, in and of itself, restrict or preclude any activities.

(See APS 5012.)

Am I allowed to have outside employment?

Employees have the right to pursue outside interests of a professional or economic nature that do not conflict with their commitments and professional or ethical responsibilities to the University.

Employees shall disclose any potential conflict according to campus policies, and should a conflict management plan be developed, an employee shall abide by the terms of said plan.

Note: This applies to all faculty, any employee, any student, consultants, sub-recipients and sub-contractors involved in the design, conduct, or reporting of research, and to all persons or organizations engaged in the delivery, development or assessment of educational materials.

(See APS 5012.)

Why are consulting activities desirable?

Consultation work has long been recognized by the Regents as a desirable and legitimate function that serves to keep the faculty in contact with the contemporary problems of their professions and, in consequence, should be encouraged. Such activities inform faculty teaching, and often provide training and employment opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty members, nonetheless, have their primary responsibility to the University and they may not engage in any endeavors, paid or free, that adversely affect the performance of their University duties.

(See Clarification of Outside Consulting, Remunerated Scholarship, and the One-Sixth Rule.) 

How much consultation is allowed?

Faculty members are approved to devote “not more than one-sixth of their time and energy” (or 19.5 days per semester) to consulting for which they receive additional remuneration. When these activities are of a regular periodic nature, faculty members are expected to obtain approval in advance from the chairman and/or dean. A new form for seeking that approval (Application for Approval of Regular and Periodic Consulting Activities) is available from dean’s offices and the Office of Faculty Affairs. Faculty members who engage in professional activities for additional remuneration that are not predictable or anticipated are expected to inform their chairman and/or dean, in writing, about such activities as soon as possible.

How can I avoid a conflict of interest?

In order to avoid conflicts of interest, University personnel shall:

  1. Discharge their duties in the best interests of the University and in such a manner that professional judgment in administration, management, instruction, research and other professional activities are not affected by any outside financial and/or personal interests;
  2. Accord the University their primary professional loyalty; and
  3. Conduct their affairs so as not to derive private gain from their association with the University, except as provided by policy, including but not limited to:
    1. Not assisting any person and/or organization for any fee or other compensation in obtaining any contract, license or other economic benefit from the University,
    2. Not receiving material compensation from others for performance of University duties, and
    3. Not using University property and/or resources for personal gain except as authorized by University policy.

Should you encounter any potential activity(ies) for which expectations and responsibilities are unclear or that involve foreign affiliations, ask the Conflicts of Interest & Commitment Office and/or your supervisory authority.

Note: Some conflicts cannot be avoided, but must be mitigated/reduced using a management plan that will be individually developed based on the disclosure.

(See APS 4016 Fiscal Code of Ethics – Employee's Fiscal Code of Ethics.)

When do I disclose an actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?
  • Annually: January 15—March 31 at CU Boulder.
  • Within 30 days of a change in status, including new foreign affiliations.  This includes PHS/NIH-funded travel and new foreign affiliations.
How do I disclose an actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?

Conflicts of interest and/or commitment are reported electronically via the Disclosure of External Professional Activities (DEPA) form.

  1. To prepare for DEPA questions, you may view a sample DEPA form available via the COIC website.

Steps for Employees and Persons of Interest (POIs)

  1. Login to MyCUInfo at at http://mycuinfo.colorado.edu/.
  2. Under CU Resources, select the Faculty Reporting & DEPA tile.
  3. Click on: Log into DEPA. (Be sure not to click on the FRPA reporting option.)
  4. Once access is allowed, follow the instructions on the DEPA reporting page.

Steps for Students (Employees and Non-Employees)

  1. Login to MyCUInfo at at http://mycuinfo.colorado.edu/.
  2. In the Buff Portal, open the search function by clicking the menu icon in the top left corner of the page.
  3. Search "DEPA" and select the link, then click Log into DEPA.
  4. Follow the instructions on the DEPA reporting page.

All DEPA disclosure forms must be submitted electronically for tracking and auditing purposes.

What do I need to report?

CU Boulder researchers shall disclose any external activities and engagement, including, but not limited to: consulting activities, interest in external entities and foreign affiliations. Foreign affiliations include research and/or teaching appointments at foreign universities.

CU Boulder researchers shall provide information about the sources of funds that support their research.

(See APS 5012.)

What happens after I disclose my actual or perceived conflict of interest and/or commitment?

Once a disclosure is submitted, it is initially reviewed by the DEPA reporting system, and then additional steps, as needed, are taken.

Designations indicating an approved DEPA status include:

  1. NO Conflict Reported.
  2. Reviewed, NO Conflict. Indicates: One (1) or more of the DEPA questions answered had triggered a review; the review was completed and then deemed NO conflict.
  3. Reviewed, NO Management Necessary. Indicates: One (1) or more of the DEPA questions answered had triggered a review; the review was completed and NO management plan was deemed necessary – documentation will support this designation.
  4. Reviewed, Conflict Managed. Indicates: A (perceived) conflict does exist, and a currently approved management plan is in place.
  5. Reviewed, Conflict Managed – WITH Monitoring Report. Indicates: Additional information is collected annually from the discloser.

Designations indicating a not yet approved DEPA status include:

  1. Pending Review. Indicates: One (1) or more of the DEPA questions answered triggered a review; the review has not yet been started.  There will be a number of these designations during January-April as the COIC Office experiences a backlog in keeping up with submissions. If you are in urgent need of an approval, please email the COIC Office to that effect.
  2. Under Review – Compliance Director. Indicates: A multitude of reasons may trigger this designation.
What happens if a conflict of interest and/or commitment is identified?

The COIC Office will work with the discloser and department chair/institute director to develop a management plan. Management strategies will vary depending on the nature of the potential or actual conflict. Signatures of agreement are obtained from the discloser, department chair/institute director, and dean/vice chancellor.

Are there ramifications if I fail to comply?

Yes, there are ramifications for failure to comply.  Conflict of interest and/or commitment violations may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Failure to disclose conflicts;
  2. False or inadequate disclosure of conflicts;
  3. Failure to adhere to a prescribed conflict management plan; and/or
  4. Failure to adhere to educational and reporting timeline requirements.

For violations of this policy, the Conflicts of Interest & Commitment Committee may recommend one or more of the following:

  1. Disciplinary actions include, but are not limited to:
    1. Confidential and/or public reprimand of the discloser,
    2. Reassignment, temporarily or permanently, of the discloser’s courses or other duties,
    3. Temporary or continuing reduction in salary or privileges of the employee,
    4. Suspension of the employee for a period stated or until stated conditions are met, and/or
    5. Termination of employment or dismissal of the employee.
  2. Administrative actions include, but are not limited to:
    1. Suspending the review or processing of research project proposals/protocols by the Office of Contracts & Grants and/or regulatory committees,
    2. Freezing of research funds, and/or
    3. Recovery of the amount of financial benefit received by an employee as a result of his/her violation of this policy.