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Research Policy Committee
The Research Policy Committee (RPC) resumed this academic year after a hiatus in the 2011-12 year during which the committee did not meet.
The RPC held five meetings this academic year: 9/10/12; 10/8/12; 11/12/12; 1/14/13; and 4/8/13. The initial meeting was convened by Elizabeth Gershoff; through an online poll, Elizabeth Gershoff was elected as chair and Sharon Brown as vice chair. The meetings were well-attended, with between 10 and 15 members at each meeting.
The vast majority of the RPC’s work this year was devoted to understanding the implementation and implications of the UTS 175 policy on conflicts of interest in research and then later of the UTS 180 policy on conflicts of interest and commitment. Over the course of several meetings, the RPC focused its concern regarding UTS 175 on the fact that any activities submitted for review but declared to be not in conflict could still become public record through FOIA requests.
A subcommittee of the RPC (Jon Dingwell, Liz Gershoff, Jim Holcombe, Dean Neikirk, Michael Oden, and Lynn Westbrook) drafted a proposed Faculty Council resolution expressing faculty concerns about UTS 175. Chair Gershoff submitted the resolution to Faculty Council for consideration on 3/25/13, but then retracted it when it was announced that UT System Vice Chancellors Dan Sharphorn and Stephanie Huie would be coming to Faculty Council to answer questions about the UTS 180 policy.
On behalf of the RPC, Chair Gershoff submitted a list of questions to Vice Chancellors Sharphorn and Huie before their appearance at a Faculty Council meeting on 4/15/13. The committee had many concerns regarding both UTS 175 and the proposed UTS 180, chief among them being that they violate the privacy of UT employees by requiring public disclosure of activities, including those engaged in on their own time and those that have only the “appearance” of conflict. The committee asked explicitly what the legal basis was for requiring such disclosures. Chair Gershoff and committee member Dean Neikirk also spoke at that Faculty Council meeting to voice concerns about UTS 180. The RPC was gratified when Chancellor Cigarroa from UT System announced on 4/17/13 that UTS 180 implementation would be delayed from 5/1/13 to 9/1/13 as a result of the concerns raised by faculty and University administration at the various UT campuses.
In other activities, Susan Sedwick and Amy Always from the Office for Sponsored Projects (OSP) requested committee input into the request for proposals for a new research management system. Two committee members, Chair Gershoff and Sean Banks, attended and provided input to OSP; Chair Gershoff also forwarded suggestions from committee member John Ekerdt to Amy Always.
At its April meeting, the RPC considered an inquiry from Susan Sedwick at OSP regarding whether UT Austin should submit a coordinated response to the National Science Foundation’s request for information on “Reducing Investigator’s [sic] Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research.” The committee decided that it would be best for individual investigators to respond to the request rather than to have UT Austin provide an institutional response.
Early in the fall, committee members were asked to vote on what topics the RPC should focus on for the year. Twelve members participated in an online poll and generated the following list of top priorities for topics of interest:
- How can we further support and promote cross-disciplinary research? (two suggested)
- What can be done to improve the sharing of research findings?
- How can the EUREKA database be renovated? What other platforms exist to post research opportunities, and should they be standardized across campus?
- How well are funding and resources facilitated to researchers?
- What are the University policies that interfere with the conduct of research, and can implementation of these policies be improved? E.g., how can the conflict of interest policy be streamlined?
- What research tools are people using to enhance their research (e.g., data collection programs, project management software)? And how can our committee help promote good research tools for use across campus?
With so much time devoted to the important issues concerning UTS 175 and UTS 180 this past year, the RPC did not spend much time on the issues above and will endeavor to address them in the coming year.
Elizabeth Gershoff, chair