Research Policy Committee
The Research Policy Committee (RPC) set out to strengthen the ethical research core of the University community by developing and proposing a set of written standards and guidelines that emphasize ethical research while respecting differences across colleges, departments, units, and disciplines.
The RPC took on this task because it was felt that more emphasis needed to be placed on ethical research standards for faculty, administrators, staff, and students. As part of the process of developing and writing the ethical research standards, RPC members researched their departments and associations, discussed violations of ethical research reported in the news, and listened to presentations by Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez and past RPC chair and anthropology professor John Kappelman. After researching their departments and associations, many committee members learned there were no written department or association-level guidelines for conducting ethical research.
The April 24, 2009, meeting with Dr. Sanchez and Dr. Kappelman was extremely important to developing a set of written ethical research standards. To learn more about ethical research issues discussed at the meeting, minutes have been attached to Appendix C-11
of this report.
After meetings and discussions, the following document, RPC’s Recommended Standards of Ethical Research at The University of Texas at Austin was produced. Recognizing that producing a written document was only the first step, Paula Poindexter asked Dr. Juan Sanchez for suggestions on how to get the document incorporated into the research culture at the University. Dr. Sanchez recommended a presentation to the Deans’ Council and the Faculty Council. A presentation to the Deans’ Council is planned for August, and a request will be made to the incoming chair of the Faculty Council for a fall semester presentation.
Research Policy Committee’s Recommended Standards of Ethical Research at
The University of Texas at Austin1
Because integrity is the foundation of research excellence, faculty, staff, students, and administrators at The University of Texas at Austin are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards during every phase of the research process and in every research role, including researcher, reviewer, editor, evaluator, supervisor, collaborator, and research assistant. The University community is required to comply with research policies regarding approvals, safety, and training, and faculty, staff, students, and administrators are expected to follow ethical research guidelines adopted by their professional associations and departments. The following standards as proposed by the Research Policy Committee will serve as an ethical research core and underscore a fundamental principle: research excellence at The University of Texas at Austin can only be achieved when the foundation is built on integrity and transparency.
||Acknowledge the source of text, images, and ideas.
Using the wording, images, or ideas of others without crediting the source of the material is plagiarism, a violation of ethical research conduct. Plagiarism, according to The University of Texas at Austin, “occurs if you represent as your own work any material that was obtained from another source, regardless of how or where you acquired it.”2
||Avoid conflicts of interest in the design, execution, and reporting of research.
If any aspect of the research process is compromised or the research is influenced by financial, professional, or personal interests that may bias the outcome of the research, there is a conflict of interest. Be alert to potential or perceived conflicts of interest; ensure the integrity of the research process and the validity of the research results by complying with University policy on conflicts of interest.3
||Respect human research participants and their rights; comply with University policies on human subjects.
Ethical research stipulates that human participation is voluntary, confidentiality is safeguarded, human participants are not harmed, and consent is informed. Comply with University Institutional Review Board (IRB) policy on human subjects research.
||Comply with University policies on non-human research.
Non-human research includes vertebrate animals and biological materials and recombinant DNA. Comply with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) policy on vertebrate animal research.5 Research on “infectious agents, toxins, human cells/blood/tissue or recombinant DNA or other bio-hazardous agents” must be approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBD).6
||Gather, analyze, and report data honestly.
Manufacturing, falsifying, concealing, and skewing data to generate research or produce specific outcomes is unethical. Every aspect of data collection, analysis, and reporting must be handled with the utmost integrity. Data should be made available to the researcher’s community per community standards.4
||Assign author credit according to author contributions in the context of the discipline’s publishing standards and practices.
An author’s contribution should dictate authorship and authorship should accurately represent an author’s contribution. The order that authors are listed should have meaning in terms of author agreements, workload, and discipline practices.
||Submit original—not previously published—research for publication and adhere to discipline’s rules on simultaneous submissions.
It is unethical to represent previously published studies as original. Acknowledge previous research that a publication is based on. Failing to comply with the rules of one’s discipline regarding simultaneous submissions is a breach of research ethics.
||Teach, supervise, and mentor the research process with integrity and transparency.
As supervisors and mentors, faculty are responsible for ensuring that students and junior faculty design and conduct research with integrity and transparency. As supervisors and mentors, faculty have responsibility for making certain that students and junior faculty follow ethical research standards and comply with University research policies. Furthermore, as supervisors and mentors, faculty must be careful not to pressure students or junior faculty for unearned author credit or take advantage of them in any way.
||Annually read and acknowledge the policy document “Required Responsibilities for Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin” from the Office of the Vice President for Research.7
This document from the Vice President for Research emphasizes the responsibility of “fostering an environment that enables the highest level of academic inquiry while simultaneously complying rigorously with all Federal, State, and University regulations, requirements and policies related to the conduct of research.”
In 2008-09, the RPC, chaired by Paula Poindexter, School of Journalism, set out to strengthen the ethical research core of the University community by developing and proposing a set of guidelines that emphasize ethical research while respecting differences across colleges, departments, units, and disciplines. The RPC encourages incorporating these ethical research standards in department and unit activities. Members of the 2008-09 RPC are listed at http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2008-2009/standcom/C-11.html
. Special thanks is extended to the following individuals for sharing their ideas about ethical research standards for the University community: Juan Sanchez, vice president for research; John Kappelman, professor of anthropology and past chair of the RPC.
The Dean of Students’ definition of plagiarism is at http://deanofstudents.utexas.edu/sjs/scholdis_plagiarism.php
Guidelines for Conflict of Interest are at http://www.utexas.edu/research/resources/policies/coi/
The Human Subjects policy is at http://www.utexas.edu/research/rsc/humansubjects/
University of Texas at Austin Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) policy is at http://www.utexas.edu/research/rsc/iacuc/
The Institutional Biosafety Committee policy is at http://www.utexas.edu/research/rsc/ibc/
The Office of the Vice President’s “Required Responsibilities for Researchers” document can be found at https://utdirect.utexas.edu/cts/index.WBX
Report on Competitiveness in Graduate Student Recruiting
Submitted by Steve Keckler
The committee began a basic examination into the University’s ability to compete with peer institutions in attracting and recruiting top students into the graduate programs. As a part of this process, we examined the November 2007 report “Policy and Planning Advisory Council Study of the Characteristics of Great Universities,” (PPAC report) produced by the University’s Office of Information Management and Analysis. We also met with Graduate School Associate Deans Marvin Hackert and Darlene Grant to discuss graduate school fellowships and recruiting efforts. While our examination is admittedly superficial, we believe that there are a number of areas of concern that deserve further investigation and attention.
||Teaching Assistant (TA) and Research Assistant (RA) compensation: The PPAC report indicates that average RA and TA stipends at UT Austin are at or very near the bottom relative to the three private and two public peer institutions analyzed in the report (institution names were anonymized). At the outset, this fact does not bode well for competitiveness. Because stipends vary widely across the University, the average data reveals little about the competitiveness of compensation at the department or unit level. A comprehensive competitive analysis would require obtaining data at a finer granularity, which we recognize as a daunting task. Nonetheless, if the University seeks to understand this aspect of competitiveness to determine where and how to allocate financial resources, acquiring this type of data will be necessary.
The committee also expressed concern that the TA and RA compensation packages in some departments may be below minimum living standards and may be placing a significant financial burden on the affected graduate students. The consequence may be poor retention of graduate students in those programs. Determining whether this is a chronic problem affecting the competitiveness of the University will require further study.
||Assessment of Outcomes: Assessing the success of graduate recruiting can be difficult, as the ultimate measure of a recruiting class may not be known until its members graduate and take their first post-grad positions. The sole metrics currently available are average statistics about the test scores/GPAs of the incoming students and acceptance/yield rates of the incoming class. We recommend that each department/unit endeavor to make a blunt assessment of each year’s recruiting process from the perspective of competitiveness. Questions to address could include: Where did admitted students choose to go instead of UT Austin? Why did they elect to go elsewhere (financial, reputation, geography, etc.)? For the students who accepted admission, where else were they accepted? Further, the deans of the colleges should include these assessments as a part of their regular evaluations of the state of their departments. The Graduate School has begun to collect some of this information via surveys given to admitted students. Departments should be encouraged to take advantage of the data being collected on their behalf and to have input into the type of data that would help drive their decisions on recruiting efforts.
||Support to Departments: The Graduate School is in a willing and able position to assist departments and units in the strategic aspects of recruiting. We recommend that the Graduate School complete and publish a “best practices” document that includes both concepts and case studies of recruiting practices on campus and the types of assistance available to departments from the Graduate School. The Graduate School already has some materials in this vein that have been generated from Graduate School sponsored workshops. Topics of interest would include methods to increase the size of the qualified applicant pool, establishing pipelines from other institutions into UT Austin, making the most of Graduate School managed fellowships, packaging of multi-year financial aid offers (including TA support), on-site visits for top admitted students, and post-process assessment. Note that we are not recommending a uniform process to be applied by all departments, as competitive recruiting can vary across disciplines. Instead, a “best practices” document would serve as a resource for departments that includes ideas that may not have been considered in each department and encourages departments to think beyond traditional standard operating procedures.
||Communication: The principal connections between a department and the Graduate School are the graduate advisor, the graduate coordinator, and the minority liaison. However, successful graduate recruiting may involve commitment of resources (such as TA positions or departmental endowments) that are not directly controlled by any of these people. For example, department or even faculty resources can be used to augment fellowships managed by the Graduate School. TA positions can be combined with department or Graduate School resources to provide a multi-year financial package to prospective students. While the support ultimately provided to a student may be no different than today, attractive packaging of the financial offer can make its appearance to a prospective student better match its reality. While these aspects may be embodied in a best practices document, we also recommend outreach from the Graduate School to department chairs to advise departments on how to coordinate such resources.
||Further examination: The reputation of a university depends on the accomplishments of its graduates, which in turn is influenced by the quality of the students it can attract to the program. Attracting excellent students is among the most critical activities of the UT Austin and its constituent departments and units. The competition for top talent is increasing both domestically and internationally, with the rise of quality research institutions in many countries. We recommend further examination by the University, the colleges, and the departments into means of improving graduate recruiting efforts and to focus limited financial resources in areas that provide the greatest return. Graduate recruiting and competitive graduate student financial support should be a part of the University’s strategic investment in any department or unit. Finally, we recommend that next year’s RPC investigate graduate recruiting competitiveness more deeply, perhaps by performing case studies of the recruiting processes and outcomes of two or three departments.
Paula Poindexter, chair
Meeting Minutes: April 24, 2009
Attending: Paula Poindexter, Stan Zimic, Renita Coleman, Peter Riley, Mary Velasquez, and Steve Keckler.
Guests: Juan Sanchez and John Kappelman
Dr. Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, at UT, spoke on responsibilities for researchers. He said there are national guidelines to follow should allegations of plagiarism or research misconduct be made. There also is a deadline for following up on it. The process is, first, an inquiry to see if there is a basis for the allegation. 90 percent of the cases turn out to be professional disputes, a disagreement, not really misconduct. In some cases, there is plagiarism. If there is some evidence the plagiarism allegation is true, a painful, well-documented investigation begins. It has to be reported to the provost and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI). If misconduct is found, the ORI will probably take punitive action. Dr. Sanchez qualified that, strictly speaking, the requirement is for federally funded research.
Steve Keckler asked how many allegations there were. Dr. Sanchez said very few, but they come in waves. Most common was the treatment of students, staff, junior faculty, and post docs. A typical case is a faculty person agrees to write a paper with a student, but the post doc leaves without doing it, so the faculty member does a paper and doesn’t put the post-doc’s name on it.
People in positions of authority need to be aware. We need some program to put faculty in a mentorship position.
Dr. Sanchez explained that authorship order is very dependent on the discipline, and it is difficult for anyone to try to change customs and history in disciplines. What is important is that students be advised of what is the common practice. Part of the mentorship process is for faculty to train students in the culture. He said he doubted anyone would be able to come up with a uniform rule for that.
Stan Zimic asked what the University was doing about having others evaluate research who are enemies or adversaries of the author and cannot judge the work objectively. He clarified that he meant for peer review, promotion, internal awards, etc. He said administration has been made aware but no one responds.
Dr. Sanchez said most selection processes have an opportunity for an appeal such as the process in place at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Zimic wanted to know if it is an internal selection, with a dean’s committee or department. Dr. Zimic proposed that this issue be examined very carefully. He said people have been victimized, lost their jobs, been denied raises, their work has not even been looked at.
Dr. Sanchez said this is not necessarily a research issue. It may surface at the departmental or college level, and isn’t something that he feels he can address. He is on the president’s T&P committee, and he sees every case. There is a well-established appeals process. Research may be a piece of it, but it needs to be discussed outside the research process, at the departmental level. He said this was an issue that spills over into human nature. Why is it that we have professional tensions that rise to this level?
Dr. Kappelman said he thinks we need to add in the idea of transparency, where everybody tries to do their best to know what is happening. That goes for data too, which prevents people from making up data. The data are to be made available. The NSF requires this. Also, if you have a post doc, you need a mentoring plan. Everything is up front and transparent. With conflicts of interest and business ties, those have to be presented up front too. Students need to know this for when they become professors.
Dr. Kappelman said that with NSF, if you believe someone should not be able to review your grant, you are allowed to explain why and request that they not be allowed to review your proposal. That’s accepted within the community now. The best contracts are the ones that spell out those relationships.
Dr. Kappelman said he doesn’t think it’s just a question of the faculty. The division between faculty, post docs, and students is artificial. We have to have the same standard regardless of who we are. He said it doesn’t matter if it is a senior honors thesis. Level the playing field and make things transparent. Everybody should be working at the same level and not have this hierarchical tier. Dr. Sanchez said general statements are good but very passive tools.
Dr. Sanchez said conflict of interest is a more frequent topic than research integrity. People are very conscious that you can’t fabricate or steal data. You’ll be caught. You have to recognize the pressure to publish or perish, go up for tenure or out in six years. This seems to allow certain people to justify their conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is more urgent because of the way universities are changing. Faculty are now more active as consultants to business. Federal regulations require we provide objectivity. Dr. Sanchez said that every time the University can identify a significant financial interest with an entity that is going to fund research, significant is $10,000 or 5 percent equity in the company, then we have to eliminate the conflict or develop a management plan. It is very time consuming, but he thinks it is working. Management plans dedicate oversight to the departments and colleges. You can’t eliminate conflict of interest; all you can do is manage it, he said. To try to eliminate it would bring to a standstill the research of many faculty. We do it on a case-by-case basis.
Dr. Sanchez said we don’t know of all the cases of conflict of interest, but we know of those with a contractual relationship, licensing of technology. He gave an example of a case at Cornell recently of a faculty speaking on behalf of a pharmaceutical company who made 250K a year just talking, and had National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. NIH requires assurances that research is objective. It may be, but 250K a year has a potential for conflict.
Dr. Sanchez talked about a case of a university researcher being on the board of a company that is funding research. He recommends stepping off the board to eliminate the conflict. He has two rules when the University creates a company – don’t serve on the board, and if it goes public, sell the equity. There is an institutional conflict of interest policy that is more complex than the individual policy. It is restricted to human subjects only. Dr. Sanchez said we have to have zero tolerance when dealing with humans. It is very difficult to execute policy. Investigators may not know who is on the board or owns stock.
Dr. Kappelman said you have to be in the field to know what the authorship rules are. However, some journals say at the end of the paper who did what. So who cares what the authorship order was? Who did data collection, whose idea, etc. That means that everybody agrees on the order. A little tag at the end of who did what would be so helpful. And it’s honest, that is asking what is your contribution.
Steve Keckler asked where Dr. Sanchez thought UT was weak. He said it was in awareness of the guidelines. He said he’s always walking a thin line between informing and spamming people. In many cases, it would be extremely helpful to have a signed version of the memo saying you read it. We want an acknowledgement that it’s been read, he said.
Paula Poindexter observed that she accidentally discovered the document while updating her compliance training profile. Prior to this accidental discovery, she was not aware of this document, which is more comprehensive than the document that the RPC will produce. Dr. Sanchez indicated that he sent the document to deans to distribute in their colleges. (The document can be found under the Compliance Training Profile at https://utdirect.utexas.edu/cts/index.WBX
Steve Keckler asks where a document produced by this committee would get used, if at all. Dr. Sanchez said compliance is different from ethics. UT is doing the best it can with compliance. Ethics is the bigger issue. Another way of framing it is the responsible conduct of research. The process is typically for NSF to issue guidelines. He recommended this committee be ready to comment on those guidelines. Down the line, NSF will make following the guidelines a requirement for NSF funding.
Dr. Kappelman said some funding agencies are requiring that publications be posted as pdf’s on a web site. Some journals have data repositories. He asked about having the University be a central clearinghouse for all papers published and have a repository for data. Dr. Sanchez said creating a data depository would cost the University and asked, “what would be the return on investment?” It would also be a copyright nightmare to publish on a web site papers that are copyrighted by journals. Dr. Sanchez said we need to get input from faculty before taking our report to the Faculty Council.
Paula Poindexter suggested sending it to the deans to distribute to faculty and Dr. Sanchez agreed. With regards to being passive, “if the Faculty Council approves it, it will have the weight of law,” he said.
Dr. Sanchez said there are general principles under all these that intersect with personal issues, academic freedom, etc. These need to be addressed. We have addressed things from a compliance point of view, but not the broad ethical point of view because you can’t enforce that. Dr. Sanchez said we need to make sure it’s not just a document out there, but that people teach it to faculty and students.
The meeting adjourned at 12 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Renita Coleman, vice chair.