Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

Conflicts of interest and commitment, or perceptions of conflicts of interest and commitment, can occur in a variety of forms. This web site is devoted to the management of situations that can arise when university employees have any external activity, significant financial interest, or management role that has the potential to:

  • negatively impact objectivity in the execution of university duties (a “conflict of interest”), or
  • reduce the time and attention an employee can devote to his/her university responsibilities, and thus negatively impact his/her performance or assigned university duties (a “conflict of commitment”)

These conflicts are a normal part of an active and vibrant university. With the increasing emphasis of universities on outreach and economic development, more university personnel are becoming involved with external entities or starting their own companies. The university strongly encourages these activities. However, they bring with them conflicts of interest and commitment or perceptions of conflicts of interest and commitment that need management to avoid harm to the persons or entities involved.

The negative impacts of unmanaged or inadequately managed conflicts of interest and commitment or perceived conflicts of interest and commitment can include:

  1. The use or perception of use of state resources for personal benefit or the benefit of immediate family members.
  2. The use or perception of use of the employee's university position to influence university business in a way that benefits one's self or immediate family members.
  3. Confusion in the ownership of intellectual property.
  4. Questions about the integrity of one's university research or scholarly activity.
  5. Harm to vulnerable populations, such as graduate students and research subjects.

Perceived conflicts of interest and commitment can be as harmful as real conflicts of interest and commitment. Universities manage both by the disclosure of the conflict (or perceived conflict) followed by the creation of a Conflict of Interest Management Plan that specifies how the individual will keep his or her non-university activities from causing harm.

Disclosure and management are needed whether the non-university relationship is with a for-profit entity, a not-for-profit entity, or a charitable foundation. For example, it is a conflict of interest for a researcher to accept a grant from a non-profit foundation in which he or she has a management role. It is also a conflict of interest to accept grant funds from an external entity for which one consults.

All university employees are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest and commitment whether they think they have a conflict or not. The disclosures must be made prior to initiating the activity, annually, and whenever the employee’s situation changes. The appropriate method of disclosure varies with the type of activity as described in the Procedures, Applications, and Guidance document.

Answers to the questions will be forwarded to the individual's department chair/unit director, and then to representatives of the Senior Vice President and Provost to evaluate the situation. If a conflict of interest is possible, they will contact the individual to arrange further discussions and, if needed, develop an appropriate Conflict of Interest Management Plan.

Contact for More Information

  • ISU Conflicts of Interest and Commitment Policy: Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost, Phone: (515) 294-8236, E-mail: coi@iastate.edu
  • Conflicts of Interest and Commitment in Research or Sponsored Funding: Office of the Vice President for Research, Phone: (515) 294-8700, E-mail: coi@iastate.edu
  • Conflicts of Interest in Procurement: Director of Purchasing, Phone: (515) 294-8757, E-mail: coi@iastate.edu