Misconduct in Science and Other Scholarly Activities

Handbook of Operating Procedures 7-1230

Misconduct in Science and Other Scholarly Activities

The University of Texas at Austin
Executive Sponsor: VP for Research
December 1, 2001

 


 

Section 1. General Policy Guidelines

 

  1. Policy Statement

The University of Texas at Austin is committed to promoting a research community whose members faithfully adhere to high ethical standards of honesty and integrity. The University seeks to do this without inhibiting the productivity and creativity of that community. The University expects faculty and other research personnel to avoid misconduct in science and other scholarly research. Misconduct violates not only the relationship between a researcher and The University but also damages the reputations of those involved and of the entire research and scholarly community. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every research investigator to avoid misconduct and to assure integrity in the collection of data, storage of records and proper assignment of credit in publication. It is also the responsibility of all researchers and scholars to report instances of misconduct, as well as instances of retaliation against those who, in good faith, bring charges of misconduct in science or other scholarly research.

 

  1. Scope

This policy applies to all research conducted at the University including that supported by the Public Health Service, the National Science Foundation, and other governmental entities.

 

This policy applies to any person paid by, subject to the rules and policies of, or affiliated with The University of Texas at Austin including scientists, trainees, technicians and other staff members, students, fellows, visiting scientists or other collaborators at The University of Texas Austin.

 

  1. Application

This policy and its procedures will be followed when a University official receives an allegation of possible misconduct in scientific or other scholarly activity. Circumstances in individual cases may require variation from normal procedure to meet the best interest of the University or the research sponsor. Change from the normal procedures must ensure fair treatment of the subject of the allegation; and any significant variation should be approved in advance by the University's Research Integrity Officer.

 

All actions undertaken pursuant to this policy will proceed promptly and with due regard for the reputation and rights of all persons involved. However, because of the inherent unfairness and the difficulties presented by any attempt to assess stale evidence, allegations of misconduct based on events that occurred six or more years ago will not be subject to review under this policy unless clear and convincing mitigating circumstances are present.

 

  1. Definitions

Allegation means any written or oral statement or other indication of possible scientific misconduct made to a University official.

 

Complainant means a person who makes an allegation of scientific misconduct.

 

Conflict of Interest means the real or apparent interference of one person's interests with the interests of another person or entity, where the potential bias may occur due to prior or existing personal or professional relationships.

 

Deciding official means the University official who makes final determination on allegations of scientific misconduct and any responsive University actions.

 

Good Faith Allegation means an allegation made with the honest belief that scientific misconduct may have occurred. An allegation is not in good faith if made with reckless disregard for or willful ignorance of facts that would disprove the allegation.

 

Inquiry means gathering information and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of scientific misconduct warrants an investigation.

 

Investigation means the formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if misconduct has occurred, and, if so, to determine the responsible person and the seriousness of the misconduct.

 

ORI means the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). ORI is responsible for the scientific misconduct and research integrity activities of the U.S. Public Health Services (PHS).

 

Research Integrity Officer means the institutional official responsible for making an inquiry into allegations of scientific misconduct and determining when such allegations warrant an investigation. The Research Integrity Officer will be appointed by the Vice President for Research.

 

Research Record means any data, document, computer file, computer diskette, or any other written or non-written account or object that reasonably may be expected to provide evidence or information regarding the proposed, conducted, and/or reported research that constitutes the subject of an allegation of scientific misconduct. A research record includes, but is not limited to, grant or contract applications, whether funded or unfunded; grant or contract progress and other reports; laboratory notebooks; notes; correspondence; videos; photographs; x-ray film; slides; biological materials; computer files and printouts; manuscripts and publications; equipment use logs; laboratory procurement records; animal facility records; human and animal subject protocols; consent forms; medical charts; and patient research files.

 

Respondent means the persons against whom an allegation of scientific misconduct is directed or the person whose actions are the subject of the inquiry or investigation. There can be more than one respondent in any inquiry or investigation.

 

Retaliation means any action taken by the University that adversely affects the employment or other institutional status of a complainant, who, acting in good faith, has made an allegation of scientific misconduct. Adverse actions taken against any individual who has cooperated in good faith with an investigation of alleged misconduct also constitute retaliation.

 

Scientific Misconduct or Misconduct in Other Scholarly Research means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. In addition, other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research are unacceptable and in some cases may constitute scientific misconduct. Ordinary errors, good faith differences in interpretations or judgments of data, scholarly or political disagreements, good faith personal or professional opinions, or private moral or ethical behavior or views are not misconduct under this definition.

 

Section II. General Procedures

 

  1. Reporting Misconduct or Retaliation

All employees or individuals associated with the University are encouraged to report observed, suspected, or apparent misconduct in science or other scholarly research, or retaliation for having made such allegations, to the Research Integrity Officer, or to the accused person's immediate supervisor and/or an appropriate administrative official such as a department chair, research center director, dean or other administrator. An administrative official who receives such a report must immediately contact the Vice President for Research and/or the Research Integrity Officer.

 

Reports can be made on an informal (oral) or formal (written) basis. Formal allegations should be submitted in sufficient detail to permit a preliminary inquiry into whether an investigation is warranted. Reasonable efforts will be made to review and resolve informal reports of alleged misconduct; however, such reports will not be processed through the procedures set out below unless they are submitted in writing or confirmed separately through available evidence.

 

  1. Process Options - Formal Allegations of Misconduct
  1. The University's Research Integrity Officer will make an immediate inquiry into the allegations of misconduct and, in consultation with the Vice President for Research and the Vice President for Administration and Legal Affairs, make an initial determination whether:
  1. the allegations concern subject matter and individuals that fall within the scope of this policy; and
  1. the allegations are sufficiently specific to allow for their evaluation and the documentation of the conclusion(s) concerning the need for an investigation.
  1. If it is found that an investigation is warranted, the Research Integrity Officer, in consultation with the Vice President for Research will:
  1. appoint the investigation committee;
  1. ensure that necessary and appropriate expertise is secured to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence;
  1. attempt to ensure that confidentiality is maintained;
  1. assist the investigation committee and all University personnel in complying with the procedures and applicable standards imposed by the government or other external funding sources;
  1. maintain the confidentiality and security of all documents and evidence;
  1. take reasonable steps to assure that the persons involved in the evaluation of allegations or evidence are fair, competent, and impartial and without a conflict of interest;
  1. report to ORI as required by regulation; and
  1. keep ORI apprised of any developments during the course of an inquiry or investigation that may affect current or potential DHHS funding for the individual under investigation; or of any developments about which the PHS needs to know in order to ensure appropriate use of federal funds and otherwise protect the public interest.
  1. Protection of Complainant
  1. The Research Integrity Officer will monitor the treatment of those individuals who bring allegations of misconduct and of those who cooperate in inquiries and investigations to ensure that they are not retaliated against in the terms or conditions of their employment or other status at the University.
  1. The University, will, to the maximum extent possible, protect the privacy of those who make good faith reports of misconduct and will take diligent efforts to protect their positions and reputations.
  1. In the event of an investigation, the complainant will have the opportunity to testify before the investigation committee; review portions of the investigation report pertinent to his or her allegations or testimony; be informed of the results of the investigation; and be protected from retaliation. The complainant will be given pertinent portions of draft reports for comment if the Research Integrity Officer determines that he or she may be able to provide relevant information on those portions of the draft.
  1. The complainant is responsible for making allegations in good faith, maintaining confidentiality; and cooperating fully with any inquiry or investigation. Individuals who make frivolous allegations or bring them in bad faith shall be subject to disciplinary action.
  1. Protection of Respondent
  1. The respondent will be informed of the allegations when an inquiry is opened; notified in writing of the conclusion of the Research Integrity Officer; and informed of any actions that may result from that conclusion.
  1. The University will ensure fair treatment of the respondent and confidentiality to the extent possible without compromising public health and safety or the ability to thoroughly conduct an inquiry or investigation. No person involved in resolving an allegation of scientific or scholarly misconduct shall have real or apparent conflicts of interest in the matter.
  1. The respondent will have the opportunity to: be interviewed as a part of the initial inquiry; to present evidence to the investigation committee; and review the draft inquiry and investigation reports; and be informed of the results of the inquiry or investigation.
  1. The respondent may employ outside counsel at his or her expense at any stage of the proceedings described in this policy. Counsel may accompany the respondent in meetings but may not ask questions or offer testimony. The role of counsel is limited to that of advisor to the respondent unless a formal grievance hearing is held, pursuant to established University policies, as a result of an investigation.
  1. The respondent is responsible for maintaining confidentiality and cooperating with the inquiry or investigation.
  1. The respondent has the right to receive University assistance in restoring his or her reputation if found not to have engaged in misconduct in science or other scholarly research.
  1. Conducting the Inquiry
  1. Initiation and Purpose of the Inquiry
  1. The Research Integrity Officer will initiate an inquiry immediately upon receipt of allegations of misconduct and will advise the relevant dean, department chair and/or center director that an inquiry is being initiated. The Research Integrity Officer will clearly identify the original allegations and any related issues that should be evaluated during the inquiry process.
  1. The purposes of the inquiry are: to determine if the allegations fall within the scope of this policy; to determine if the allegations are sufficiently specific to allow follow-up; to make a preliminary evaluation of the available evidence and testimony of the respondent, complainant, and essential witnesses; and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of possible misconduct in science or other scholarly research to warrant an investigation.
  1. Sequestration of the Research Records

As a part of an inquiry, the Research Integrity Officer must ensure that all original research records and materials, and all documents relevant to the allegation are immediately secured.

 

  1. Advice

The Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs, and any legal counsel that may have been arranged through the UT System Office of General Counsel, will be available throughout the inquiry to advise the Research Integrity Officer and/or Vice President for Research as needed.

 

  1. Inquiry Process

The Research Integrity Officer will conduct the inquiry which will normally involve only interviews of the complainant and the respondent and an examination of key, relevant documents. If considered necessary, the Research Integrity Officer may also interview essential witnesses and other research records and materials. The Research Integrity Officer may enlist the assistance of a person or persons with relevant technical expertise, selected in accordance with procedures set out below for establishing an Investigative Committee, to examine relevant research records. The scope of the inquiry does not include exhaustive interviews or extensive analyses of research records. The inquiry should normally be completed within sixty (60) days after the submission of the allegations that are the subject of the inquiry. Any extension of this period will be based on good cause, as determined by the Vice President for Research, and will be recorded in the inquiry file.

 

The Research Integrity Officer will determine, after consultation with the Vice President for Research and the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs, whether the allegations are sufficient to warrant further investigation. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine only if an investigation is warranted. No conclusion or presumption that misconduct occurred is created if the Vice President for Research determines that there should be an investigation of the allegations.

 

  1. Inquiry Decision and Notification

The Research Integrity Officer shall prepare and transmit an inquiry report to the Executive Vice President and Provost, Vice President for Research, the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs, the complainant, and the respondent. This report shall state whether an investigation into the allegations is warranted.

 

  1. Conducting the Investigation
  1. Initiation and Purpose of the Investigation

The Research Integrity Officer will initiate the investigation immediately after notifying the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Vice President for Research that one is warranted. The purpose of the investigation is to: explore in detail the allegations; examine the evidence in depth; and, determine specifically whether misconduct has been committed, by whom, and to what extent. The investigation also will determine whether there are additional instances of possible misconduct that would justify broadening the scope beyond the initial allegations. The findings of the investigation will be set forth in an investigation report.

 

  1. Sequestration of Research Records

The Research Integrity Officer immediately will sequester any additional pertinent research records that were not sequestered previously. The sequestration should occur before or at the time the respondent is notified that an investigation has begun.

 

  1. Appointment of and Charge to the Investigation Committee
  1. The Research Integrity Officer, in consultation with the Vice President for Research, Vice President for Institutional and Legal Affairs, and the appropriate dean will appoint an investigation committee within fifteen (15) days of the notification to the respondent that an investigation is planned, or as soon thereafter as is practicable. Such committees will be composed of three (3) persons, including a committee chair. At least one (1) University of Texas faculty member shall be appointed to each such committee. No committee members shall have real or apparent conflicts of interest in the case. Committee members shall be unbiased and have the necessary expertise to effectively interview the principals and other witnesses and to evaluate the evidence and issues related to the allegations. Committee members may be scientists, subject matter experts, administrators, lawyers, or other qualified persons within or outside the University. Members of the investigation committee may also have assisted in the earlier inquiry concerning the allegations.
  1. The Research Integrity Officer will notify the respondent of the proposed committee membership. If the respondent submits a written objection to any appointed member of the inquiry committee based upon bias or conflict of interest within five (5) days, the Vice President for Research will determine whether to replace the challenged member with a qualified substitute.
  1. The Research Integrity Officer will prepare a charge for the investigation committee that describes the allegations and any related issues identified during the inquiry, defines scientific misconduct, and identifies the name of the respondent. The charge will state that the committee is to evaluate the evidence and testimony of the respondent, complainant, and witnesses to determine whether, based upon a preponderance of the evidence, scientific misconduct occurred and, if so, to what extent, who was responsible, and its seriousness.
  1. If during the investigation additional information becomes available that substantially changes the subject matter of the investigation or would suggest additional respondents, the committee will notify the Research Integrity Officer who will then determine whether it is necessary to notify the respondent of the new subject matter or to provide notice to additional respondents.
  1. The Research Integrity Officer, with the assistance of the Vice President for Administration and Legal Affairs, will convene the first meeting of the investigation committee to review the charge, the inquiry report, and the prescribed procedures and standards for the conduct of the investigation, including the necessity for confidentiality and for developing a specific investigation plan. The investigation committee will be provided with a copy of these instructions and, where PHS funding is involved, the PHS regulations.
  1. Investigation Process

The investigation committee will be appointed and the investigation process initiated within thirty (30) days of the completion of the inquiry. The investigation normally will involve examination of all documentation including, but not necessarily limited to, relevant research records, computer files, proposals, manuscripts, publications, correspondence, memoranda, and notes of telephone calls. The committee should, when possible, interview the complainant(s), the respondent(s), and other individuals who might have information regarding aspects of the allegations. Interviews of the respondent should be tape recorded or transcribed. All other interviews should be transcribed, tape recorded, or summarized. Summaries or transcripts of the interviews should be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included as part of the investigation file. An investigation normally should be completed within one hundred twenty (120) days of its initiation, with the initiation being defined as the first meeting of the investigation committee. This includes: conducting the investigation; preparing the report of findings; making the draft report available to the subject of the investigation for comment; and submitting the report to the Executive Vice President and Provost for final action.

 

  1. Investigation Report

The committee shall prepare a report of its investigation for submission to the Executive Vice President and Provost. The report shall describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, how and from whom information relevant to the investigation was obtained, the findings, and the basis for the findings. It shall also contain an accurate summary of the views of any person(s) found to have engaged in misconduct.

 

The Research Integrity Officer will provide the respondent with a copy of the report for comment and rebuttal; and will provide the complainant with those portions of the report that address the complainant's role and opinions. The complainant and respondent shall provide their comments, if any, to the committee within ten (10) days of receipt of the reports or portions of it. The Research Integrity Officer will inform the respondent and complainant, when providing them with the reports or portions of it, that the report is confidential, and may establish reasonable conditions to ensure that confidentiality. The respondent's comments will be attached to the final report and the findings of the final report should take into account the respondent's comments as well as all other evidence. The complainant's comments should be considered by the committee and the report modified as appropriate prior to its submission. The committee's report shall be submitted to the Vice President for Institutional Relations and Legal Affairs for a review of its legal sufficiency prior to its submission to the Executive Vice President and Provost.

 

  1. Investigation Decision and Notification

The Executive Vice President and Provost is the deciding official, and will make the final determination whether to accept the investigation report, its findings, and the recommended University actions. If this determination or recommendation varies from that of the investigation committee, the Executive Vice President and Provost will explain in written detail the basis for rendering a decision or recommendation different from that of the committee. The explanation of the Executive Vice President and Provost should be consistent with the definition of scientific misconduct, the University's policies and procedures, and the evidence reviewed and analyzed by the investigation committee. The Executive Vice President and Provost may also return the report to the investigation committee with a request for additional fact finding and analysis. The determination of the Executive Vice President and Provost, together with the report of the investigation committee, constitutes the final report and decision.

 

The Research Integrity Officer will notify the respondent and the complainant in writing of the final decision of the case. The Executive Vice President and Provost will determine whether law enforcement agencies, professional societies, professional licensing boards, editors of journals in which falsified reports may have been published, collaborators of the respondent in the work, or other relevant parties should be notified of the outcome of the case. The Research Integrity Officer is responsible for ensuring compliance with all notification requirements of funding or sponsoring agencies, including submissions of the final report to ORI or other appropriate agencies.

 

For assistance: Questions regarding this policy should be directed to the Vice President for Research, rio@austin.utexas.edu, 512-471-2877.

 

Source: Public Health Service regulations, "Responsibilities of Awardee and Applicant Institutions for Dealing with and Reporting Possible Misconduct in Science", @ 42 CFR Part 50, Subpart A, originally issued in 1989, amended in 2000 (Volume 65, Number 235).

 

 

Previously HOP 11.B.1