Universities and their employees engage in a wide range of activities. The traditional academic roles, such as teaching and supervising students and conducting grant-funded academic research, are nowadays often supplemented by commercial collaborations including consultancy, commercial research and development, intellectual property licensing and involvement in ‘spin-out’ companies.
By and large, DCU leaves individual departments and academic staff to conduct teaching activities to the highest standards and to develop their own balanced ‘portfolio’ of research activity, including external collaborations of one kind or another. However, by engaging in certain activities, employees may place themselves in a position which may conflict, or appear to conflict, with their DCU duties. The employee may then be open to suspicion that decisions they take as a DCU employee are influenced by personal interest – even though the employee is acting with neutrality and complete professional integrity.
In the vast majority of cases simple disclosure of potentially conflicting activities is sufficient. Occasionally DCU may suggest a different way of managing an activity that avoids the conflict of interest. In extreme cases the conflict of interest may be so fundamental that it is unmanageable and it therefore becomes necessary to restrict one or other of the employee’s conflicting activities.
The purpose of the ‘Conflict of Interest Policy and Guidelines’ is to:
- Present a definition of Conflict of Interest
- Set out typical examples of situations where potential conflict of interest can arise
- Set out DCU policy regarding procedures to be followed in situations of potential conflict of interest
The most important message to deliver is that DCU employees should always disclose an activity if they are in doubt about whether it represents a conflict of interest. This policy document itself describes the way in which such disclosure should be made at the time (i.e. before being engaged in the activity). The fact that DCU has adopted such a policy does not in any way cast doubt on the integrity of DCU employees. Rather it recognises that DCU wishes to give a great deal of freedom to employees to engage in external activities, but in so doing needs to put in place a mechanism to protect its employees, and itself, from reputational damage and other liabilities.
The Conflict of Interest policy document should be read in conjunction with all other relevant existing policies and procedures of DCU. This policy does not absolve, in any way, obligations that staff may have to submit a disclosure of interest to the Standards in Public Office Commission to comply with the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001.