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OU regents to consider conflicts of interest policy revisions after Faculty Senate vote

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Faculty Senate Meeting (copy)

Senate Chair Joshua Nelson deliberates with the Faculty Senate on priorities for the upcoming year on Sept. 9. 

A policy revision considered by the Faculty Senate at its October meeting caused concern among some senators before the OU Board of Regents considers the revisions. 

The new conflicts of interest policy will have multiple effects on the faculty, including a limitation for summer employment and the creation of a conflicts of interest committee for both the Norman campus and the Health Sciences Center. 

OU General Counsel Anil Gollahalli said a conflicts of interest committee had been established in 1996 and the last revision was made in 2012. 

“The group included representatives and senior administrators from the offices of the Vice Presidents for Research on each campus, as well as Purchasing, Human Resources, the Office of Technology Development, the Norman Campus Provost office and the Office of Legal Counsel,” Gollahalli said in a written statement. 

Gollahalli said the federal government has recently taken an interest in both the disclosure and management of conflicts of interest policies. 

“In light of that focus and in keeping with the university’s overall efforts to examine and revise its policies and protocols, the university is taking the opportunity to revise its conflicts policy to reflect recent changes in the state’s ethics rules and to comply with emerging best practices,” Gollahalli said in a written statement. 

The OU Board of Regents will vote on the policy at its Oct. 23 meeting. According to the agenda, the committee recognized other sources of conflict that need to be addressed outside the previous policy. The new policy, if approved, will apply to all OU campuses. 

According to the regents agenda item, “experience since (the last revision) indicates that additional policy changes could help educate the community, ensure disclosure of all conflicts, and promote consistent decision-making as well as ensure effective enforcement and adequate recordkeeping.”

Some members of the Faculty Senate did not support the policy revisions, though the revisions eventually passed.  

Faculty Sen. Patrick McCann was vocal in both faculty senate meetings discussing the policy, advocating for more clarification within the policy on intellectual property. 

“I think people should understand the impacts of some of the provisions that are being proposed,” McCann said. “This is going to go into the faculty handbook, so anything that gets changed in that affects us. If there is a policy change that affects us negatively, we should know about it.”

McCann said that there will be a “severe chilling effect” in getting technology out of OU labs and into the private sector.

The new policy “will severely” limit faculty from being hired for summer jobs with companies that have a license to use university intellectual property through an agreement with OU, according to a written statement from McCann.

“This new (conflict of interest) policy creates an incentive for faculty members NOT to disclose and assign their inventions to the (board) since the licensing of that IP can limit their opportunities for summer employment,” McCann said in a written statement. 

After senate deliberation, the body approved the revisions for regent consideration by a roughly two-thirds majority. There will be a vote on whether or not to implement the policy at the Board of Regents meeting Oct. 23.

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