Conflicts of commitment
By Diane Ainsworth,
30 AUGUST 00 | What constitutes a "conflict of commitment" among faculty who are spending time and sometimes earning substantial money from professional interests outside the university?
This question has raised considerable consternation among faculty who object to limitations on their outside professional and creative activities. It will be among the top priorities addressed by the Academic Senate when it resumes regular meetings this fall.
At stake is the new proposed systemwide policy requiring faculty to disclose and obtain prior written approval for many activities they are engaged in outside of their salaried positions.
Running a professional practice, serving as a consultant or teaching at other institutions are some of the activities that would be subject to additional reporting requirements under the proposal modifications to UC's Academic Personnel Manual, said psychology professor Christina Maslach, incoming chairwoman of Berkeley's Academic Senate.
The proposed modifications will be reviewed, through mid-November, by four Academic Senate subcommittees - the Budget, Academic Freedom, Privilege and Tenure and University Welfare committees.
"Faculty who wish to pursue certain activities while in active service to the university must have annual prior written approval by the chancellor," said Richard Fateman, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, a member of the systemwide committee that drafted the proposal. "But there is a question of balance that we must consider, given the flexibility that is inherent in a professor's work.
"How do we define an appropriate level of commitment to the university?," Fateman asked. "Do we make judgments about conflicts based on the nature of the activity or how much income is earned, or on the amount of time spent on such outside activities? Shouldn't we be making judgments based on how well professors are performing at the university? "Even if we assume that professors are reporting all of their outside activities, the administrative mechanisms for regulating these activities aren't clear, and unfortunately, the draft proposal falls short in many respects," he said.
Within the university environment, faculty are evaluated and promoted based on four interrelated categories of activity: teaching; research and creative work; professional competence; and university and public service. Of these, teaching and scholarly or creative activity clearly are primary activities and receive the largest commitment of effort and energy. But faculty members also are expected to participate in university activities and to contribute to their professions and to the community.
Depending on the professor's professional field, a wide spectrum of paid outside professional activities is possible, the existing policy states.
"Typical examples that do not represent conflicts of interest include, but are not limited to, serving on a committee, panel or commission established by a federal, state, local government agency; acting in an editorial capacity for a professional journal; reviewing journal manuscripts, book manuscripts, or grant or contract proposals on an ad hoc basis; and serving as a committee member or as an officer of a professional or scholarly society," the manual states.
These vocational activities, all of which have time limits of 39 to 48 days per year, must be reported annually. They also include such activities as accepting a commission for a specific service, such as a work of art or dance; participating in a musical, dramatic or other artistic performance; practicing a profession on a part-time basis; providing professional services to clients or corporate or governmental agencies; and testifying as an expert in a court of law.
New reporting requirements, however, have been added to several activities most likely to create conflicts of commitment.
"Those activities that are likely, at face value, to raise conflicts of commitment are: assuming an executive or managerial position in a profit or nonprofit business; administering a grant outside of the university that would ordinarily be conducted under the auspices of the university; establishing a relationship as a salaried employee outside of the university; or receiving compensation for teaching or research at another institution while employed as a full-time faculty member at the university," the new report cautions.
"It seems a little perverse that we should be adding an extra reporting requirement to the policy when, in fact, the truly serious conflicts of commitment only arise in a very small percentage of the faculty population," said Hal Varian, dean of the School of Information Management and Systems. "The vast majority of faculty, who are devoted and hardworking, will probably find the reporting requirements just another burden. And I think department chairs are pretty much aware of who is fulfilling their responsibilities and who isn't.
"You could look at it this way," he said. "If a faculty member plays golf two days a week on his own time, he's not in violation of commitments to the university, but would he be if he spends one day a week conducting a professional practice outside of the university? Right now the answer would be yes, if he's running that practice once a week more than 48 weeks out of every year."
A related policy that pertains to faculty who serve as consultants during sabbaticals has been revised and will also be on the table this year.
"I think faculty, for the most part, want to be able to continue their consulting work at the same rate that they were consulting before going on sabbatical," Fateman said. "This proposed change should not be controversial.
"But for the larger issue, there are a lot of details and considerations to address," he said. "Perhaps we need to have a large set of examples that illustrate conflicts of commitment or, on the other hand, we simply need to let department chairs determine whether faculty are in violation of their job commitments."
Academic Senate's top six priorities
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