Examples in Research and other Scholarly Activities

A "conflict of interest" in a university setting generally refers to situations in which the external interests of a university employee have the potential to influence their decisions in their university role. The influence is generally in ways that could lead to personal gain (financial or non-financial) for the individual or immediate family members.

A variety of kinds of conflicts of interest can occur when people conducting research or other scholarly activities as a part of their university positions have external interests related to those activities.

These examples are intended to give an idea of the range of situations that might occur. They are not inclusive of all possible situations that could be or could be perceived to be conflicts of interest.

Situation: An ISU investigator is conducting research involving the testing and comparison of commercially available products. The sole supplier of one of the products is an immediate family member of the investigator.

Why could this be perceived to be a conflict of interest? The investigator's family member stands to gain financially if the research finds that the family member's product is superior to others in the market. Thus, the inclusion of the family member's product in the testing protocol may raise questions about the integrity of the research. Inclusion could also result in accusations of the use of state funds (the investigator's salary and research support) for personal or family gain.

What should the employee do? The employee should disclose the conflict via IRBManager. The situation will be reviewed by the Office of the Vice President for Research to determine if there is a way to reduce or eliminate the conflict. If necessary, a system of oversight will be established to assure that the integrity of the research is not compromised by the conflict.

Situation: An ISU employee's business or business activities share space or equipment with or are in close proximity to the department or center facilities in which the employee conducts their university research or other scholarly activities.

Why could this be perceived to be a conflict of interest? Iowa code prohibits the use of state resources for personal gain. This includes the use of university space or equipment, including computers and phones. There is no prohibition against a business having close proximity to university facilities; in fact, it can be desirable because it facilitates interaction. However, close proximity can, unless one is careful, give the perception of the use of university space or equipment for private gain. The use of university space or equipment for the employee's business can also result in disputes over the ownership of any intellectual property resulting from the research or other scholarly activities.

What should the employee do? If possible, the employee should keep their business and business activities physically separate from the university. The ISU Research park and other incubator facilities at ISU are designed to help ISU entrepreneurs keep their businesses physically separate from but still close to the university. If moving off-campus or to an incubator facility is not feasible, with the permission of the relevant department and college, the employee may be able to rent the needed facilities and/or equipment from the university. They can contact the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance to establish the necessary rental agreements.