What is a "Conflict of Interest"?

As defined in APS 5012: “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 and promotions, use of university resources, interactions with human subjects or other matters of interest to the university.”

Conflicts of Interest also refers to situations where a Significant Interest, including a Significant Financial Interest, could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research or educational activities.

A Conflict of Interest includes any Financial Conflicts of Interest.

What is a “Conflict of Commitment”?

As defined in APS 5012: “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 their university duties or responsibilities.”

What do I need to report?

Disclosers are required to disclose any external activities, interests, and engagement constituting Significant Interests.

The Discloser must also describe on the DEPA Form how the Significant Interest may be related (or alternatively, how the Significant Interest is unrelated) to the Discloser’s Institutional Responsibilities. For more information, please see the following information pages discussing what Significant Interests should be reported on the DEPA: Consulting Activities, External Entities, and Foreign Affiliations.

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

What is a "Significant Interest"?

A Financial Interest or other personal interest received from or held in an entity outside of the university that reasonably appears to be related to the Discloser’s Institutional Responsibilities. Significant Interest includes Significant Financial Interest.

What is a “Significant Financial Interest”?

A Financial Interest received from or held in an entity outside of the university that reasonably appears to be related to the Discloser’s Institutional Responsibilities and that meets or exceeds the thresholds established in accordance with current funding agency regulations (including the PHS regulations reflected at 42 CFR Part 50, Subpart F):

  1. With regard to any publicly traded entity, value of any Remuneration received from the entity in the twelve (12) months preceding the Disclosure and the value of any Equity Interest in the entity as of the date of Disclosure, when aggregated, exceeding $5,000.
  2. With regard to any non-publicly traded entity, value of any Remuneration received from the entity in the twelve (12) months preceding the Disclosure exceeding $5,000, OR any Equity Interest.
  3. Intellectual Property rights and interests (e.g., patents, copyrights), upon receipt of income related to such rights and interests.
  4. Travel reimbursement or sponsored travel in ANY amount (except travel that is reimbursed or sponsored by the University of Colorado; a U.S. federal, state, or local government agency; another U.S. institution of higher education; a U.S. academic teaching hospital, medical center, or research institute that is affiliated with a U.S. institution of higher education)

The term “Significant Financial Interest” does NOT include:

  1. Salary, royalties, or other remuneration paid by the university to the Discloser if the Discloser is currently employed or otherwise appointed by the university, including intellectual property rights assigned to the university and agreements to share in royalties related to such rights.
  2. Income from investment vehicles, such as mutual funds and retirement accounts, as long as the Discloser does not directly control the investment decisions made in these vehicles.
  3. Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by a U.S. federal, state, or local government agency; a U.S. institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a); a U.S. academic teaching hospital, medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with a U.S. institution of higher education.
  4. Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for a U.S. federal, state, or local government agency; a U.S. institution of higher education as defined at 20 U.S.C. 1001(a); a U.S. academic teaching hospital, medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with a U.S. institution of higher education.
  5. Travel that is reimbursed or sponsored by the university; a U.S. federal, state, or local government agency; another U.S. institution of higher education; a U.S. academic teaching hospital, medical center, or research institute that is affiliated with a U.S. institution of higher education.
What is a "Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI)"?

A Significant (Financial) Interest that could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of PHS-funded research.

What is a "Financial Conflict of Interest (FCOI) Report"?

The university’s report of a Financial Conflict of Interest to a PHS Awarding Component.

What is a "Financial Interest"?

A domestic or foreign external interest held by a Research Personnel or any member of the Research Personnel’s Family in or from an entity other than the university. Examples include, but are not limited to, anything of value (whether or not the value is readily ascertainable), Remuneration, Equity Interest, Intellectual Property rights (and royalties from such rights), and obligations to any external entities, organizations, or institutions.

Who is an “Investigator/Principal Investigator/Principal Director”?

Traditionally limited to the Principal Investigator and Co-Principal Investigators; some federal regulations include this to mean any Research Personnel or other Key Personnel, regardless of title or position at a university, responsible for the design, conduct, and/or reporting of research, proposed research, or educational activities.

A Project Director or Principal Investigator of a PHS-funded research project; the PD/PI is included in the definitions of Senior/Key Personnel and Investigator.

The Project Director or Principal Investigator and any other person, regardless of title or position, who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research funded by the PHS, or proposed for such funding, which may include, for example, collaborators or consultants.

Who is a “Senior/Key Personnel”?

The PD/PI and any other person identified as Senior/Key Personnel by the institution in the grant application, progress report, or any other report submitted to the PHS by the university.

Key Personnel includes any individual involved in research and who is supported in salary, supplies, space, or other resources by grant funding.

Who is “Supervising Authority”?

Supervising Authority includes any immediate supervisor of the Discloser (e.g., department chair, institute director, or unit head), including faculty Supervising Administrators (as defined by the Professional Rights and Duties Faculty Affairs Policy).

What is included in the term "Family"?

For the purposes of this policy, 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 document developed by the COIC Office and approved by the applicable Supervising Authority to (1) obtain information and commitments regarding Significant Interests and prevent such Significant Interests from developing into Conflicts of Interest, and/or (2) Manage Conflict(s) of Interests for a particular Discloser.

  • The Management Plan may address the areas of university responsibilities implicated, including:
    1. Objectivity and scientific integrity, including Disclosure of a Discloser’s Conflict in publications and presentations;
    2. Objective treatment of students and/or subordinates;
    3. Objective treatment of, and scientific integrity with respect to, human subjects;
    4. Decisions regarding the development, Disclosure, and use of university Intellectual Property;
    5. Decisions regarding the decision to purchase products or services;
    6. Decisions regarding the use of the Discloser’s time as well as other resources of the university; and
    7. Decisions regarding the appropriate rate to charge an outside entity for services performed by university employees.
What are some examples of possible Conflicts?

Examples of activities and situations that present, or may appear to present, potential conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to:

  1. Situations 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 and promotions, use of university resources, interactions with human subjects, or other matters of interest to the university.
  2. Situations in which outside relationships or activities interfere with, or have the appearance of interfering with, an employee’s commitment to their university duties or responsibilities.
  3. An employee’s external personal entity utilizes, supports, or funds their sponsored research.
  4. An employee purchases via university or sponsored research funds any goods or services from their external personal entity.
  5. An employee’s external personal entity licenses intellectual property to, or otherwise profits from, sponsored research.
  6. An employee subcontracts any aspects of their sponsored research to their external personal entity.
  7. An employee’s Significant Interest in their external personal entity could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of their sponsored research or educational activities.
  8. Diversion of university business opportunities to an external entity.
  9. Assignment of students or graduate assistants to duties that benefit an external entity in which the person in charge of assignment of those duties has a Significant Interest.
  10. Use of university facilities, supplies, or personnel for the benefit of an external entity in which the Discloser has a Significant Interest.
  11. Assumption of responsibilities for an external organization that divert a university employee from his/her attention to university duties, or create other conflicts of loyalty.
  12. Use for personal profit of unpublished information emanating from university research or other confidential university sources, assisting an external organization by giving it 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.
  13. 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.
Who needs to submit a disclosure?

All faculty and any other employee 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 and external professional activity that could compromise university decision-making or duties.

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 institution to be in compliance with federal regulations and institutional policies:

  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 Boulder;
  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 Boulder 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 Boulder 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 (formerly the Technology Transfer Office) staff members.
    1. TAs, Lecturers, and Adjoint Faculty typically do NOT need to report. However, university personnel involved in the design, conduct, and reporting of research DO need to submit a DEPA, regardless of job type.

(See DEPA Form page.)

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 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. 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. To ensure compliance as required by federal regulations, sponsoring agencies, and university policy.
  5. Projects and protocols submitted to the Office of Grants and Contracts or to the Institutional Review Board cannot receive approval until an annual DEPA is submitted, reviewed, and approved.
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 evaluate Disclosures of Significant (Financial) Interests, determine if any Conflicts of Interest exist, and develop, if applicable, Management Plans for Significant Interests and/or Conflicts of Interest.
  3. While the COIC Office is responsible for drafting and collecting information relevant to a Management Plan, final authority for authorizing and approving the Management Plan rests with the applicable Supervising Authority.
Am I allowed to engage in work or activities outside of my university responsibilities?

 According to University Administrative Policy Statement 5012, Conflicts of Commitment relate to an individual university employee’s distribution of effort between employment obligations to the university and outside professional activities that are generally encouraged. A Conflict of Commitment arises when time dedicated to professional service, consultation, or research contracted outside the university or other outside activities (e.g., outside teaching or business) interfere with the employee’s paramount obligations to students, colleagues, and the primary missions of the university. Conflicts of Commitment primarily involve questions of time and effort but are often tied to financial remuneration or other obligations/inducements, and in such cases may also constitute Conflicts of Interest.

  1. Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty.
    The Board of Regents recognizes that full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members are expected to dedicate their professional time and effort to the university. However, as described in Regent Policy 5.C.4(D): “outside consultation, research, clinical, and other work can serve to keep faculty in contact with real problems in their profession and expand their expertise and thus, to the extent authorized by regent laws and policies, are desirable and legitimate functions.” Accordingly, subject to certain conditions (including a commitment to limit outside work to no more than one-sixth of time), the university may allow full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty (on both 9-month and 12-month appointments) to obtain approval for outside consultation, research, clinical, and other external professional activities that are related to their professional expertise in their university position. See Regent Policy 5.C.4(D), APS 1044, and the Consulting Approval Form.
  2. Other University Employees. 
    All university employees (including but not limited to research faculty) other than tenured or tenure‐track faculty are not permitted to use university time for personal benefit nor for the benefit of external entities, unless approved by the employee’s Supervising Authority. Supervising Authorities may not authorize such service unless the service advances the interest of the university and does not unduly conflict with the staff member’s university responsibilities. Moreover, any compensation received for consulting and service on external boards occurring during the staff member’s normal working hours must be remitted to the university unless the employee is working on authorized vacation or unpaid leave. See Regent Policy 8.B.
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 COIC Office and/or your Supervisory Authority.

Note: Some conflicts cannot be avoided, but must be removed or reduced via 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?

Disclosures must be submitted at least annually and updated within thirty (30) days of a Change in Status (any event or action affecting a previous Disclosure) through the web-based Disclosure of External Professional Activities (“DEPA”) Form. January 15th to March 31st of each year is the primary reporting period for Disclosure reporting at the university. Disclosers must include any information not previously disclosed in any other Disclosure period as well as updated information regarding any previous Disclosures.

Note that Disclosers planning to engage in PHS-funded research must complete the required Disclosures no later than the time of application for the PHS-funded research. If a Disclosure is made during the course of an ongoing research project (including Disclosures by Research Personnel who are new to participating in the research project, or Disclosures of new/previously un-reviewed Significant Interests by existing Research Personnel), review, analysis, and management (if applicable) of any Disclosures will be completed within sixty (60) days of the Disclosure.

How do I disclose Significant Interests?

Significant Interests are reported electronically via the DEPA Form.

The COIC Office has transitioned to a new InfoEd reporting system (effective January 2021), which included a revamp of the DEPA Form.

  1. To access the new 2021 DEPA Form, please follow the below steps:
    1. Go to https://era.cu.edu.
    2. Select Boulder from the campus drop-down menu.
    3. Enter your IdentiKey and Password. Click Log in.
    4. Click DEPA Form in the left-side menu on the Home page.
    5. Click Create/Update DEPA Form when the screen refreshes.
  2. To view your previous DEPA submissions, please follow the below steps:
    1. Log into MyCUInfo.
    2. Employees: Under CU Resources, select the Faculty Reporting & DEPA tile.
    3. Students: In the Buff Portal, open the search function by clicking the menu icon in the top left corner of the page, then search “DEPA” and select the link.
    4. Click Log into DEPA.
What happens after I disclose my actual or perceived Conflict of Interest and/or Commitment?

After a Discloser submits a DEPA Form, the COIC Office will review the Disclosure to determine if a Conflict of Interest exists. Disclosure of a Significant Interest(s) that reasonably appears to be related to the Discloser’s Institutional Responsibilities may prompt implementation of a Conflict of Interest and Commitment Management Plan.

The COIC Director will review the Disclosures to determine if any disclosed Significant Interests relate to sponsored research, including PHS-funded research and NSF-funded research. A Significant Interest relates to sponsored research when the Significant Interest could be affected by the sponsored research or is an entity whose financial interests could be affected by the research. Based on this information, the COIC Director determines whether the Significant Interest could compromise (or appear to compromise) the Discloser’s judgment in exercising any of the Discloser’s university responsibilities, or if the Significant Interest could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research.

  1. If the COIC Director reasonably determines that the Significant Interest could neither compromise the Discloser’s judgment in exercising the Discloser’s university responsibilities nor directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research, then no Conflict of Interest exists. If no Conflict exists, the Discloser may be required to execute a Management Plan reflecting a commitment by the Discloser to prevent the Significant Interest from ripening into a Conflict of Interest. The Discloser’s Supervising Authority must approve this Management Plan and the commitments by the Discloser. The COIC Office will provide approval notification to the Discloser and update the Discloser’s status in its records accordingly.
  2. If the COIC Director reasonably determines that the Significant Interest could either compromise the Discloser’s judgment in exercising the Discloser’s university responsibilities or directly and significantly affect the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research, then a Conflict of Interest exists. If a Conflict exists, the COIC Office will develop a Management Plan to Manage the Conflict of Interest.

(See Policy & Standards.)

What happens if a Conflict of Interest is identified?

If the COIC Director determines that a Conflict of Interest exists, the Conflict must either be removed or Managed. If the Conflict will be Managed, the Management Plan must include additional commitments from both the Discloser and the Discloser’s Supervising Authority to ensure that the Conflict is sufficiently Managed. Execution of a Management Plan occurs by obtaining (electronic) signatures from the Discloser, the Supervising Authority, and the responsible dean. While the COIC Director is responsible for drafting and collecting information relevant to the Management Plan, final authority for authorizing and approving the Management Plan rests with the applicable Supervising Authority.

  1. The Management Plan must be developed and approved prior to any expenditure of funds on any applicable research projects. Once the required signatures are obtained for a Discloser’s Management Plan, the Discloser’s Conflict(s) of Interest will be considered to be Managed and in compliance. Until that time, proposal submissions, funding awards distribution, and other types of campus approvals/processes that are dependent upon an approved compliance status can only be conferred/administered at the COIC Director’s discretion considering any applicable regulatory stipulations and university policies and procedures. 

(See Policy & Standards.)

Are there ramifications if I fail to comply?

Conflict of Interest or Commitment violations include, but are not limited to:

  1. Failure to disclose Conflicts of Interest and/or Commitment;
  2. False or inadequate Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest and/or Commitment;
  3. Failure to adhere to a prescribed Management Plan; and
  4. Failure to adhere to training or reporting requirements.

If the COIC Office determines that an alleged Conflict of Interest or Commitment violation(s) has occurred, the COIC Office will refer the matter to the Supervising Authority for investigation under applicable campus supervisory and/or conduct processes and for potential sanctions. The COIC Office will assist with the matter as requested. In addition, the matter may be referred to other applicable campus units, including, but not limited to: Office of Contracts and Grants, Campus Controller’s Office, Office of Export Controls, and the Campus Misconduct Advisory Group as necessary in order to protect the university as well as sponsors.

If the alleged violation, including failure of a Discloser to comply with the COIC Policy or a Conflict of Interest Management Plan, appears to have biased the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research, the university will comply with any notification and reporting requirements regarding such bias to the applicable sponsor. Specifically, for situations involving PHS-funded research, the university will promptly notify the PHS Awarding Component of the corrective action taken or to be taken.

Who do I contact if I have other questions?

For support in accessing the new DEPA Form through eRA/InfoEd or in viewing previous DEPA Form submissions on the old reporting system, please contact erahelp@colorado.edu.  

For questions or concerns regarding the content of the DEPA Form, please visit the COIC website and/or contact the COIC Office via email at coi@colorado.edu or by phone at (303) 492-3024.