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Senate discusses conflict of interest; hears report on efficiency
_STANFORD -- Faculty Senate members appear to support a new policy on conflict of commitment and conflict of interest proposed by the Committee on Research.
Biological Sciences Professor Craig Heller on Thursday, May 27, presented the draft his committee has been developing this year at the behest of President Gerhard Casper (see also Campus Report, May 5 and May 12).
The senate took no action on the policy, but provided feedback that will be incorporated this summer. The Committee on Research will return a final draft for senate vote in the fall.
The current draft calls for a significant presence on campus by faculty members during quarters of active duty and would limit faculty members' abilities to act as principal investigators on outside research. It sets forth obligations to disclose sponsored projects, gifts, inventions, proposed technology licensing arrangements and other situations that may involve conflicts.
It would place limitations on clinical trials by the owners of new therapy, and it would require disclosure of inventions where the inventor chooses not to assign title to Stanford, to assure that title is properly assigned and that university obligations are met.
It also would require annual certification by all faculty that they have read and are complying with Stanford's conflict policies.
Heller told the senate that his committee operated on the assumption that faculty "basically are honorable and ethical, and want to act in the interest of the university."
The committee "went in both directions" as it tried to find balance on every issue contained in the revised policy, Heller said.
Members of his committee were interested in the opinions of senators, he said, but he asked them to avoid "wordsmithing."
Biological Sciences Professor Robert Simoni told Heller that he did not like the draft certification form.
"I find it uncomfortable to have to certify that I comply with the rules," he said, adding that no other annual certifications apply to members of the campus community.
Simoni questioned whether the university should anticipate outside demands for proof of how faculty spend their time or wait until that becomes a necessity.
Several speakers countered with strong support for the compliance process.
President Casper said that trustees now require of themselves certification that they comply with university conflict- of-interest policies. Asking for compliance certification is a more liberal solution than asking faculty members to detail every aspect of their financial interests, he said.
Heller said that the form was intended to develop a set of tripwires, not to ask for full disclosure of financial dealings.
Professor Edward Harris, School of Medicine, said the annual reports that faculty already fill out have been useful in preventing conflict situations. The form developed by the committee is "very reasonable," he said.
David Korn, vice president and dean of the medical school, predicted a "big battle" next year between those who want to impose detailed disclosure requirements on anyone who receives a federal grant and those who want to negotiate a process permitting institutions to establish assurance mechanisms. Substance will be needed "to put credibility into the argument" for institutional monitoring, he said.
Korn praised the committee's proposal and said the university would "lose badly" if it did nothing.
Political Science Professor Stephen Krasner said the university was now operating in an "unsympathetic external environment." The compliance form "covers the university" and is "inescapable," he said.
Simoni responded that his colleagues' perceptions of what the burden may become "are precisely correct."
Several professors spoke about conflict of commitment.
History Professor David Kennedy said conflict of interest was a familiar concept, but conflict of commitment "is a more novel idea." He asked that the committee "think more and enlighten us about what kinds of things constitute a conflict of commitment."
He noted that there might be internal conflicts regarding loyalty, such as loyalty to the department vs. the school. These can present problems to department chairs and deans, said Kennedy, who chairs the history department. Wide laughter ensued.
Psychology Professor Amos Tversky said he would favor splitting the policy in two because he does not view commitment as a "conflict" issue. The committee could issue a second document of guidelines outlining what is expected of faculty members, he suggested.
Education Professor Myra Strober sought more clarification on extended absences from campus. That usually refers to a faculty member being gone a long period of time, but frequent short absences from campus are "equally troublesome" for departments, she said.
Heller said that his committee preferred to let schools and departments develop specific guidelines applicable to their own subculture.
Civil Engineering Associate Professor Jeffrey Koseff asked Heller whether disclosing financial interests would extend to investments in the stock market.
Heller said the committee had "wrestled" with that issue. It is intended to cover involvement in start-up companies rather than investments in the stock market and mutual funds, he said.
Heller's committee will revise the draft this summer and submit a final version to the senate for approval next fall. Comments may be directed to Heller or to Michele Armstrong, assistant dean of research, 723-1655, on her behalf.
"Efficiency" and interdisciplinary programs
In other matters, Professor Arthur Bienenstock, chair of the Planning and Policy Board, told the senate that the new, long- range planning body spent its first year dealing with three issues: organization of the School of Humanities and Sciences, institutional efficiency and fiscal planning, and undergraduate education.
The board's first task, at the request of President Casper, was to consult on the Humanities and Sciences structure. After considering several models, Casper recommended a structure close to what the Planning and Policy Board developed, Bienenstock said.
The board welcomed Casper's decision to establish the Commission on Undergraduate Education. "That takes us out of that business," Bienenstock said, leaving behind the important issue of efficiency and financial planning.
Bienenstock said Stanford could face further financial problems because of the indirect-cost dispute, which is still unsettled.
That makes it important to better understand costs. He said the board would join with the administration in a study of costs - "how do we spend our money" and "what it costs us to do business." Vice Provost Geoffrey Cox will lead the study, which is just beginning.
The results will give the faculty a greater sense of "our own value," Bienenstock said.
During its deliberations, the board became worried that excessive committee work is taking faculty away from teaching and scholarship.
"We ought to think," he said, "about whether that change in academic governance has been for the good."
Has it been "worthwhile to have committees check the work of every administrator in the university?" he asked.
In the area of interdisciplinary programs, the board said in its report, "almost all of these undertakings seem quite virtuous. It is by no means clear, however, that their collective impacts are good, particularly when they drive the university toward higher indirect-cost rates, higher tuition and heavier demands on faculty time for functions other than teaching and research."
The board also said it was concerned about the existence of majors with very few students.
In the discussion that followed Bienenstock's presentation, Political Science Associate Professor Terry Karl reiterated concern expressed during a discussion of interdisciplinary programs several weeks ago that the programs have become a target, while departments escape with little oversight.
Biological Sciences Professor Patricia Jones, also a member of the Planning and Policy Board, told Karl that deans are supposed to review departments, but that interdisciplinary programs fall under the purview of the senate. "We have a special responsibility" for them, she said.
Speaking in support of Karl, Education Professor James Greeno said that interdisciplinary programs fulfill student interests. There are costs involved, "but a lot of resources get mobilized to the benefit of our students," he said.
Bienenstock, director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, reminded the senate that he leads "one of the largest interdisciplinary endeavors in this university."
Professor Hans Gumbrecht, comparative literature, suggested that programs be viewed as experimental and periodically reviewed for possible elevation to the status of department.
On the subject of committees, English Professor Ron Rebholz said it was important to distinguish between oversight committees and policy-making committees. Policy committees should be retained, he said. "It is a worthwhile expenditure of time of faculty and students" to serve on them, he said.
Mechanical Engineering Professor James Adams told Bienenstock that the word "efficiency" is "loaded" and is becoming more controversial in the business world. Efficiency doesn't always correlate with innovation, he said.
"Point well taken," Bienenstock responded.
At Bienenstock's request, the senate adopted resolutions allowing the board to wait until its third year to begin staggered terms for members and specifying that only the last eligible senate chair would serve as an ex officio board member with vote.
The board's composition originally included the last two senate chairs as ex officio members, but this is considered too burdensome on former chairs, Bienenstock said, making the case for his second request.
The board "floundered" some during its first year, Bienenstock said, and would benefit during its second year from maintaining the same membership, with the exception of Political Science Professor Condoleezza Rice, who will be replaced when she becomes provost in the fall.
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