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October 15, 2001
Volume 79, Number 42
CENEAR 79 42 p. 9
ISSN 0009-2347
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Universities are advised to beef up oversight, issue guidelines


The Association of American Universities (AAU) is urging research universities to strengthen their oversight of potential conflicts of interest involving both individual researchers and the research institutions as a whole.

AAU's main objective is to encourage universities to review and toughen existing procedures for dealing with situations in which researchers' financial interests might bias their conduct or reporting of research. For example, the report calls for prohibiting researchers from having financial interests in research involving humans except in "compelling circumstances," which the report does not spell out.

The report is directed at presidents and chancellors of all research universities, not AAU members exclusively, said Nils Hasselmo, president of the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing 63 North American research universities, at a press conference last week.

The report urges that the primary method for managing individual conflicts be the disclosure of financial interests, including equity and consulting fees-- already covered in federal guidelines--and other payments such as royalties, which are not addressed in federal regulations.

Moving beyond individual conflicts, the report also deals with institutional conflicts--a stance that Hasselmo described as "groundbreaking" because no regulations currently govern institutional behavior. Such conflicts can involve equity holdings (in spin-off companies, for example) or royalty arrangements of the university or university officials. The report urges universities, most of which do not have policies addressing such issues, to develop a three-pronged strategy for dealing with institutional conflicts: Disclose financial interests, manage the conflict in most cases, and prohibit the activity if necessary.

The report, available online at http://www.aau.edu, was written by a 15-member task force headed by Steven B. Sample, president of the University of Southern California, and L. Dennis Smith, president of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Hasselmo anticipates that the question of conflicts of interest, which he called an "evolving scene," will need to be revisited. It is very important to have "a continuing informed debate," he said.

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