FAS To Revise COI Policies

A new set of regulations that will govern faculty members’ off-campus commitments will be introduced by the end of this academic year.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ revised school-specific conflict-of-interest policies will align Harvard’s rules with federal laws. Many Harvard faculty members rely on both public and private funding sources for their research, which requires them to adhere to federal standards for disclosure of conflict of interest. FAS administrators hope the new, tighter policy will ensure that all faculty research projects pass federal scrutiny.

The FAS-specific policies come on the heels of a University-wide set of policies that were published in July 2010.

“The University, for the first time, has a University-wide policy on conflicts of interest,” said Government Professor Jeffry A. Frieden, the interim co-chair of the University’s Standing Committee on Individual Financial Conflicts of Interest. “We typically need to keep our policies consistent with the federal government, which has quite stringent rules on COI.”

Former Vice Provost for Research David Korn ’54 and former University Provost Steven E. Hyman headed the University-wide initiative with the goal of monitoring collaboration between Harvard faculty and private industry. Administrators expressed concern that in addition to faculty allocating less time for their classes, outside interests might influence professors’ objective academic work.

“Where it gets murky is when a professor is starting his or her own company,” said School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Cherry A. Murray. “If the professor is a founder of the company, then a conflict of interest would arise when graduate students, or undergraduates for that matter, working in the professor’s lab really cannot be funded by that company.”

FAS—along with Harvard’s other schools—is currently developing a more specific set of rules to manage each of its disciplines.

“Someone who’s facing issues with psychological tests on human subjects might face very different restrictions than someone in, say, physics.” Frieden said.

“It’s not like a traffic light, which is red for everyone. Every case is specific,” Frieden added.

Beyond FAS, University President Drew G. Faust confirmed in an interview with The Crimson yesterday that all other schools within the University will publish their individual COI reports by the end of this academic year.

Last year, following an 18-month internal review, Harvard Medical School revamped its conflict of interest policy to prohibit faculty from accepting personal gifts and giving industry-sponsored talks at events where the material was prepared in advance by the company. The new policy also cut the limit on annual faculty compensation from outside companies to $10,000, half of the previous limit.

The policy change stemmed from a 2008 controversy in which U.S. Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) accused Joseph Biederman, a Harvard-affiliated psychiatrist, of receiving $1.6 million in consulting and speaking fees from the makers of drugs he had used to treat children for bipolar disorder.

—Radhika Jain, Tara W. Merrigan, and Zoe A. Y. Weinberg contributed reporting to this story.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at jryan@college.harvard.edu.

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