Conflict of Interest:
Frequently Asked Questions 

1. Who is covered by the URI Conflict of Interest Policy?
All University employees. The State of RI Code of Ethics prohibits public officials and employees…….from using their public position for private gain or advantage..

2. What defines a “conflict of interest”?
A conflict of interest situation exists when an employee is using his public office for personal gain or to the detriment of the University.

3. What are the financial thresholds that define conflicts of interest?
“Significant Financial Interest” is defined by federal and state statutes as: 1) anything of monetary value, including but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g. consulting fees or honoraria) that exceed $5,000, 2) equity interest (e.g. stock options, stocks, or other ownership interests) of > 5%, and 3) intellectual property rights, (patents, copyrights, etc.).

4. Does that mean that if I am paid more that $5,000 in consulting fees that I have a conflict of interest?
Not necessarily. If you get >$5,000 in consulting fees from a for profit company and if that company is also funding your research at the University there is a potential for conflict.

3. What problems do conflicts of interest create in research?
Situations might arise creating conflicting roles which could potentially bias a researcher’s judgment or result in unfair competitive advantages. Research must always remain impartial, technically sound, and objective. The possibility that such a conflict may exist requires management by URI

4. When and to whom are disclosures made?
1) Conflict of interest issues must be disclosed to the appropriate administrator (department chair, division supervisor, dean, or vice provost).
2)Consultation activities should be disclosed before they occur and updated as needed. The Consultation Disclosure Form is submitted to the appropriate department chair and dean. If there is a potential for conflict of interest in research this must also be reported to the Division of Research and Economic Development..

5. How can conflicts of interest be avoided?
Conflict may be avoided if employees are aware of what constitutes a conflict, by disclosure of the potential conflict and by management of the conflict.

6. How can conflicts of interest be managed?
In many instances a conflict of interest can be resolved by simple disclosure, in other cases the conflict may be monitored by independent reviewers, a research plan might be modified, or severance of a relationship that is creating the actual or potential conflict might be necessary.

7. Can faculty owned businesses conduct activities involving students or staff?
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 faculty owned business, but not on University time. Students may work for a faculty owned business but may not be simultaneously enrolled in a course taught by that faculty member. Student/faculty roles and relationships must be clearly defined.

8. To whom does the Intellectual Property Policy apply?
The IP Policy applies to all University personnel (faculty, staff, students and people working on grants or contracts).

9. What is the Public/Private Partnership Act?
The purpose of the Act is to allow the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of Rhode Island to enter into public/private partnerships in education that involve faculty and staff members from those institutions and encourage the marketing of inventions developed by faculty and staff for the benefit of both the inventor and the public, while continuing to ensure that Rhode Island’s public employees adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, as embodied in the R.I. Code of Ethics.

The Public/Private Partnership Act authorizes the RIBGHE to approve relationships between institutional employees and private entities in which there is an actual or perceived conflict of interest or conflict of commitment between the employee’s interests and the interests of the institution by whom he or she is employed. The Act therefore also obligates the RIBGHE to impose such restrictions as are necessary to manage, reduce, or eliminate any actual or potential conflict. Under the terms of the Act, the presidents and vice-presidents at any public institution of higher education in Rhode Island are not eligible for an exemption.

10. What is the Public/Private Partnership Policy?
All employees who are or may be engaged in any activity requiring disclosure and/or an exemption pursuant to the Public/Private Partnership Act shall be required to comply with the procedures set forth by the Public/Private Partnership Policy as APPENDIX A.