A conflict of interest is generally understood to be a circumstance or a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.
In university and college settings conflicts of interest can arise, but they must be dealt with without unnecessarily excluding members of academic staff from participation in collegial processes. In addition to the conflict-of-interest policies required by granting or accreditation agencies, universities and colleges should have clear guidelines to manage conflicts of interest fairly, appropriately, and consistently. Such guidelines should define clearly what a conflict of interest is, and the appropriately scaled remedy, while at all times protecting the rights of academic staff to participate fully in collegial processes. Such guidelines should explicitly recognize academic integrity and institutional autonomy as essential to individuals and institutions which serve the public good and must be seen to repay public trust in their independence and expertise. Such policies should be negotiated with the relevant bargaining units representing academic staff.
Conflicts of interest involving collegial processes (including but not limited to hiring, reappointments, promotions, textbook adoptions and curricular decisions) should include a disclosure of the conflict to the collegial body, an assessment by the applicable body of the nature of the risk, and a collegial decision for a remedy up to and including recusal of the member in question from the specific collegial decision-making process or decision.
Conflicts of interest involving personal material gain for an individual or for those with whom they have close ties should be managed by disclosure of the conflict and appropriate divestment or sequestering of such material interests according to the regulations established by the applicable administrative bodies.
Conflicts of interest involving the material or commercial interests of funding or sponsoring agencies should be similarly managed by disclosure of such interests and compliance with appropriate regulations to ensure academic integrity. Academic staff should always disclose fully before presenting or disseminating any research findings the sources and conditions of the funding that helped in whole or in part to make that research possible.
Conflict of interest is distinct from an apprehension of bias, in which a secondary interest may be reasonably perceived to potentially unduly or inappropriately influence an academic staff member’s assessment or judicial decision. Insofar as academic staff have administrative decision-making authority, institutions should have clear and distinct policies to manage situations in which apprehension of bias might reasonably be inferred while protecting the academic freedom of academic staff in decision-making roles.
Academic staff participation in collegial governance, including service on governing boards, is a regular part of academic work and in no way constitutes a conflict of interest.
Approved by the CAUT Council, January 1988; revised, May 1988.
Revision approved by the CAUT Council, November 2016.