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Stanford Faculty Senate approves changes to conflicts of interest, commitment policies

On Thursday, the Faculty Senate voted to approve proposed changes to the Research Policy Handbook from the Committee on Research and proposals from the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy. Senators also voted to approve three recommendations related to military transfer credits, Cardinal Service, and part-time enrollment for coterminal students.

Following a lengthy discussion, the Faculty Senate voted Thursday to consolidate two conflict of interest and conflict of commitment policies into one policy, among other recommendations from the Committee on Research (C-Res) to the university’s Research Policy Handbook (RPH).

The Faculty Senate voted Thursday to approve proposed changes to the Research Policy Handbook and approve three recommendations related to military transfer credits, Cardinal Service, and part-time enrollment for coterminal students. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

Senators additionally voted to approve three recommendations related to military transfer credits, expansion of Cardinal Service, and part-time enrollment for coterminal students and discussed flexibility around final exams for students isolating due to COVID.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne also responded to senator questions regarding gun violence and discrimination or harassment against members of the campus’ Jewish community.

The Faculty Senate voted to approve a recommendation from C-Res that two current policies about Conflict of Interests (COI) and Conflict of Commitments (COC) – one for faculty (RPH 4.1) and one for academic staff and other teaching staff (RPH 4.4) – be merged into one.

Senators also voted to approve changes to Consulting and other Outside Professional Activities by Members of the Academic Council and University Medical Line Faculty (RPH 4.3). One change involves limiting consulting days for postdoctoral scholars to 13 days per quarter.

An administrative update was made to Relationships between Students (Including Postdoctoral Scholars) and Outside Entities (RPH 10.6) to add reference to these policies.

The proposed changes were initially brought up at the April 7 senate meeting when senators postponed or tabled the items to allow for more time to review the complex policy matters and to submit questions and input.

C-Res discussed and approved the proposed changes, which were endorsed by David Studdert, acting vice provost of research, senior associate vice provost for data resources, and professor of health policy.

The policy changes were motivated by a need to address concerns regarding a lack of clarity in policies, such as which activities require prior approval, as well as by changes in federal research sponsor rules regarding disclosure, Studdert explained. Furthermore, a longstanding expectation for faculty to identify and report conflicts on behalf of their staff and postdocs was “suboptimal” and “out of step with best practice,” Cindy Kiel, associate vice provost for research policy and integrity, told the senate in April.

Kiel and Studdert were joined by Jen Dionne, C-Res chair and senior associate vice provost for research platforms and shared facilities, in presenting the items to the senate.

While some changes were minor clarifications, others were more substantive, such as defining terms like “Outside Professional Activity” and “Professional Service,” and clarifying institutional roles. Deans remain primarily responsible for COI/COC oversight and may delegate Outside Professional Activity disclosures to the office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research (VPDoR). Other changes were made in response to a federal requirement. There is also clarification and some narrowing of which activities require prior approval.

Also, the Stanford Consulting Rider – an addendum found within RPH 4.3 that can be used when entering into an agreement to perform outside professional activities – must be applied to consulting agreements involving staff, academic staff, and postdocs; the existing requirement had applied only to faculty.

Several senators, including David Spiegel, the Jack, Lulu, and Sam Willson Professor of Medicine, spoke against the changes, describing the document as patronizing, disrespectful, and demeaning to faculty, and asking, “why impose sweeping and ill-advised administrative remedies when judicious response to any individuals’ problems has been, and is, available?”

“These and other proposed changes are not well thought out,” Spiegel said. “They’ll create more problems than they will solve, including poor oversight of conflicts of interest and disrespect for the faculty. The proposed cure is worse than the presumed disease.”

Studdert responded that some changes are motivated by new requirements under federal law. “The aim of the policy is not to eliminate every conflict we have, but it’s to identify conflicts where they exist and manage or reduce them if possible,” Studdert said.

Kathryn “Kam” Moler, vice provost and dean of research, emphasized the difference between a disclosure and a finding of conflict of interest.

“[It’s] not a problem actually to have a conflict of interest most of the time. It’s manageable,” Moler said. “We’re just asking that people disclose it, so that it’s on us, on Stanford, to identify whether it’s not a conflict of interest and to make sure it’s managed.”

Much of Thursday’s discussion centered around the Stanford Consulting Rider. Several senators were concerned about the signature line at the bottom of the addendum, which was included in January 2020.

Kiel and Studdert both said they felt it would be worth having a broader conversation about the Rider at a later time. They also noted that it’s currently ambiguous whether a signature is needed, and “until it’s not ambiguous, then the Rider doesn’t need to be signed as an obligation to the university,” Studdert said.

Upon senate approval, communication, training, and education for the new policy elements will occur this spring and into the fall. Full implementation, including new policy elements and Outside Professional Activities Certification System (OPACS) system changes, is targeted to occur through winter 2023.

Gun violence and discrimination against the Jewish community

In light of the steady rise of gun violence, Branislav Jakovljević, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities, asked whether Stanford leadership is planning to reconsider its relationship with Hoover Institution Board Members Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox news, and Rebekah Mercer, a major financial backer of Breitbart News Network, noting they have an extensive record of promoting gun rights and supporting the gun lobby.

President Tessier-Lavigne said he shares the concern about lives lost to gun violence and that he personally abhors gun violence as it relates to both recent events and those in the more distant past. He noted that university policy prohibits guns on campus but said that “beyond that, the university does not take an institutional position on the appropriate level or means of gun regulation in the country as a whole.”

Tessier-Lavigne added that while he doesn’t know the individual views of the more than 100 Hoover overseers, he suspects they vary. “As a university, we support the debate on this issue, the ability of individuals to use their voices on it, and importantly, the scholarship that members of our faculty contribute to an informed discussion of this issue for the benefit of the public and policymakers. I believe those are the appropriate roles for the university, as an institution.”

Bringing up concerns regarding recent and past discrimination or harassment against members of the Jewish community, Michael Boskin, the Tully Friedman Professor in Economics, asked what’s being done or planned to address the matter.

Tessier-Lavigne agreed it has been a concerning and escalating development in the U.S. and said a committee was formed last year to investigate specific allegations as well as advise on how to best support members of the Jewish community on campus. The committee is expected to share its findings and recommendations in the coming months, he added.

Final exam flexibility

Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S), also told senators that many students have requested increased flexibility for those in isolation due to COVID-19 symptoms to take their final exams. “In some cases, students who cannot take in-person exams find themselves in a position where they have to wait a full year in order to take a makeup exam in person.”

In response, Satz’s office has shared these concerns with faculty to encourage flexibility around final exams and emailed all department chairs in H&S urging them to consider a remote exam option this quarter for students in isolation. “We’re still in a pandemic … and our immediate policies need to take that into account,” Satz said. “Going forward, we’re going to have to find a better way to balance student learning, student mental health, and grading fairness, which means looking again at the Honor Code.”

Cardinal Service Notation

The Faculty Senate also approved recommendations to make the Cardinal Service Notation a permanent notation offered at Stanford and add the Cardinal Commitment track to grant the notation.

Established in 2015, Cardinal Service is a university-wide effort to make public service an essential feature of a Stanford education. The Cardinal Service Notation began as a pilot program in 2016 for students who complete service-related requirements. The Haas Center for Public Service made the proposal request to C-USP, noting that on average, about 75 students have received the Cardinal Service Notation each year. The Cardinal Commitment program has been built out since the Cardinal Service Notation was launched in 2016 and supports students to sustain a service commitment for at least three quarters.

Military transfer credit

Senators approved a proposal to allow for credit earned in military training and service to be eligible for transfer credit to Stanford for the academic year 2022-23 and beyond. Among the requirements, work must have been completed at an accredited college or university in the U.S., or must appear on an official American Council on Education-evaluated Joint Services Transcript.

The Office of the University Registrar brought the proposal to C-USP during its October session, and C-USP recommended approval of the Military Transfer Credit proposal, as outlined in the Transfer Credit AY 22 Proposals document. Many students who would benefit from this policy are transfer admit students, and that population is expected to grow, according to the proposal justification.

Coterminal students

The Faculty Senate also approved a recommendation from C-USP and the Committee on Graduate Studies (C-GS) to allow part-time enrollment for coterminal students, as outlined in the Enable Part-Time Enrollment for Coterm Students proposal.

The coterminal degree program allows undergraduates to study for a master’s degree while completing their bachelor’s degree in the same or a different department. The University Registrar’s Office proposed to remove a requirement for coterminal graduate students to have already conferred their undergraduate degree in order to be eligible for part-time enrollment status once they meet certain eligibility criteria.

In memory

In other matters, the Faculty Senate also heard a memorial resolution for Kurt Mueller-Vollmer, 91, professor emeritus of German studies and humanities. He died Aug. 3, 2019.

Dionne is also associate professor of materials science and engineering, senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, and associate professor, by courtesy, of radiology.