Carnegie Mellon University

Conflict of Interest/Commitment Policy

POLICY TITLE: Carnegie Mellon University Policy on Conflict of Interest/Commitment
DATE OF ISSUANCE: This policy was originally issued to campus on 9/14/88 as Organization Announcement #316, Policy on Conflict of Interest/Commitment. The most recent revision was approved by the President's Council on March 27, 2012.
ACCOUNTABLE DEPARTMENT/UNIT: Office of the Vice President for Research. Questions on policy content should be directed to the Office of Research Integrity and Compliance, 412-268-4727.
ABSTRACT: This policy addresses the circumstances in which conflicts of interest or commitment may occur, provides examples of the principles and processes outlined in this policy, and specifies a process for resolving potential conflicts.

Policy Statement

The university's principal missions are the education of students and the generation and dissemination of knowledge. In pursuit of these missions, or as a natural outgrowth of such activities, faculty and staff often become involved in outside activities. While extramural activities benefit the university and are generally encouraged, in some circumstances such activities give rise to conflicts of interest or commitment.

This policy addresses the circumstances in which conflicts of interest or commitment may occur, provides examples of the principles and processes outlined in this policy, and specifies a process for resolving potential conflicts. As used in this policy, the term "university members" means faculty (including instructors and special faculty appointments), staff (any employee of the university) and visiting faculty and staff.

University members should use good judgment, professional commitment and ethics to protect themselves and the university from potential conflicts. Administrators and supervisors should make employees aware of this policy and create, by example, an atmosphere consistent with the university's missions.

In addition to the guidelines and processes described below, some funding agencies of the federal government require grantees to conform with other disclosure and conflict of interest resolution procedures. Refer to the related policy Compliance with Financial Conflicts of Interest Requirements in Research for guidance on addressing conflicts of interest related to university funded research.

Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

Conflicts of interest occur when university members are in a position to influence a decision on policy or purchases where they might directly or indirectly receive financial benefit or give improper advantage to associates. Conflicts of commitment arise when university members' involvements in outside activities substantially interfere with their primary commitments to the university: to teach, to conduct research and to meet related obligations to students, colleagues and the university.

Statement of Principles

  1. All university members should make the fulfillment of their responsibilities to the university the focal point of their professional activities. University members should only become involved in extramural professional activities insofar as they advance the mission or prestige of the university and the activities do not interfere with their responsibilities to the university. However, this policy is not intended to unduly restrict involvement in outside activities.
  2. University members are traditionally allowed wide latitude in defining their professional agenda and their degree of involvement in outside activities. This tradition has served the university well. In many circumstances, involvement in outside activities promotes the university's missions and prestige. Consequently, the purpose of this policy is to offer overall guidelines, and not a list of particulars, for arranging outside activities and to provide a mechanism for resolving potential conflicts of interest or commitment.


The following guidelines are not inclusive and are not without exceptions. They provide examples of potential conflicts and processes for resolving them.

  1. University members in a position to influence a university business decision for which they might receive material benefit should disclose the nature of the conflict to others involved in the decision. Whenever possible, those with potential conflicts should remove themselves from involvement in the decision. If the individuals should continue to participate in the decision process, discussion with supervisors and documentation of the potential conflict should be presented to the appropriate dean or department head.
  2. University members are regularly involved in consulting activities from which they profit financially. As a rule, such activities are not a conflict as long as:
    • i) University resources (laboratories, studios, equipment, computational facilities and/or human resources) are not more than incidentally used without reimbursing the university.
    • ii) Such activities do not unduly interfere with the time and energy committed by the individuals to their primary responsibilities to the university. The allowable amount of time dedicated to consulting will be governed by the Consulting Policy. University members should adhere to the understood maximum of one day per week.
    • iii) Such involvement does not inhibit the publication of research findings developed in the course of the individual's regular university activities.
  3. The university actively encourages involvement in professional organizations, panels, advisory commissions, and government, charitable and community organizations. However, such involvement should not become so dominant that university members no longer effectively satisfy their responsibilities to the university. The counsel of colleagues should be regarded as a valuable source of detached perspective on such conflicts of commitment.
  4. University members should not engage in direct competition with the university either personally or through a firm in which they have a substantial interest. For example, such a circumstance may arise when an individual solicits a research award for which the university is a competitor or would have been a competitor had the individual properly acted as an agent of the university. In order to avoid such potential conflicts, the individual should consult the appropriate dean or department head.
  5. Before contemplating outside employment or consulting activities, university members should disclose to the appropriate dean or department head potential conflicts of commitment or interest.
  6. Faculty members must exercise prudence in directing students and supervised employees toward activities from which the faculty might financially benefit. The potential conflict is obvious, and faculty are encouraged to consult their dean, department head or colleagues for an independent evaluation of the activities' educational merits.
  7. Graduate students should be discouraged from consulting, especially as this distracts from their educational goals. In particular, there is great potential for conflict of interest when graduate students consult for spinoff companies; in this case, prior approval of the department head must be obtained.
  8. University members should not undertake or orient university research at the expense of fulfilling the mission of the university to serve the needs of an outside organization.
  9. University members cannot withhold from the sponsoring organization(s) for personal benefit any information that they have acquired in connection with their sponsored research.

Procedures for Resolving Potential Conflicts

The first and most important line of defense against conflicts of interest or commitment must be the university members themselves. Installation of a quasi-judicial system for monitoring and adjudicating potential conflicts will not serve the larger interests of the university. The university, therefore, strongly encourages university members to disclose to the appropriate dean or department head their outside commitments on a regular basis (e.g., during annual departmental reviews, evaluations, or whenever those commitments undergo significant change). In the event that potential conflicts cannot be resolved at this level, they should be referred to the President’s Office.

Conflicts of interest related to research should be addressed in the manner outlined in the related policy Compliance with Financial Conflict of Interest Requirements in Research.


The university actively encourages an open academic environment where teaching, conducting research and disseminating knowledge are the principal goals of the institution. To further these missions, the university has relied and shall continue to rely on the good judgment, professional commitment and moral ethics of the university members to conduct themselves in a manner that promotes objectivity, fairness and appropriate use of resources.