Across today's increasingly complex higher education landscape, conflicts of interest (COIs) can pose a significant threat to academic integrity and trust. Higher education institutions face a growing array of potential conflicts, from faculty members engaging in outside consulting to researchers receiving grants from private foundations. Addressing these conflicts requires a thoughtful and comprehensive approach that balances the interests of all stakeholders. Colleges and universities should be transparent about their COI policies and procedures, including disclosing any potential conflicts to relevant stakeholders, such as students, faculty and the public. They should also hold themselves accountable for implementing and enforcing these policies.
It is essential for higher education institutions to implement and enforce COI policies and procedures and mitigate risks to support ethical decision-making.
Key risks associated with conflicts of interest in higher education
- Damage to the institution's reputation: If COIs are not properly managed, it can lead to a loss of public trust in the institution's academic integrity and impartiality.
- Compromised research quality: When COIs are not monitored, they can potentially influence research findings, skew data interpretation or affect the objectivity of research outcomes. This can undermine the quality and reliability of the research conducted by the institution.
- Legal and financial risks: Failure to manage COIs can result in legal and financial risks for the institution. This can include lawsuits, fines or loss of funding, particularly if the institution receives federal grants or contracts.
- Decreased productivity: If COIs are not effectively managed, they can lead to delays or disruptions in decision-making processes, particularly those related to research and partnerships.
- Decreased morale: COIs that are not properly managed can lead to perceptions of favoritism, unfair treatment and mistrust among employees, students and external stakeholders. This can negatively impact morale and productivity within the institution.
- Conflicts of commitment: Conflicts related to commitment arise when individuals are using institutional resources to complete outside work or are failing to meet their job requirements due to additional and external commitments. This can impact operations, productivity and related responsibilities.
How Baker Tilly can help
Baker Tilly helps higher education institutions effectively manage COIs by:
- Providing expertise and guidance on the development and implementation of policies and procedures
- Identifying opportunities for training and knowledge-sharing
- Supporting institutional leadership and general counsel in facilitating annual disclosure processes