U releases revamped conflicts of interest policy

The University released a preliminary policy to media and faculty.

by Briana Bierschbach

The University of Minnesota released a draft of a new conflicts of interest policy Wednesday, a University-wide overhaul developed after multiple conflicts in the Medical School. The new policy would tighten annual requirements for reporting outside income received by University employees and will encourage them to voluntarily disclose the information on a public Web site, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said. Currently, administrators only have to report financial income up to a threshold of $6,000 per year, according to Board of RegentâÄôs documents. In the proposed policy, there will be no threshold and employees will be required to disclose exact incomes from outside the University. There is no cap on how much an employee can make from an outside organization, but if the number exceeds $100,000, a review is done to assess how much time the employee is committing outside the University, Mary Koppel, spokeswoman for the Academic Health Center, said. The new policy will prohibit ghost writing on research papers and put more pressure on day-to-day conflicts such as taking complimentary âÄúback packs and coffee mugsâÄù from businesses, Rotenberg said. Employees would also be prohibited from endorsing products and collecting certain royalties. Under the proposal, employees will be required to develop a conflict management plan, and deans will be held accountable for conflicts within their respective schools. Punishment for noncompliance could range from modification of the employeeâÄôs duties to termination. Recent financial relationships between researchers in the Medical School and businesses have increased interest in financial accountability. In August, information surfaced that Dr. David Polly, a University spine surgeon, reportedly received more than $1 million over four years for consulting work with Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical technology business. Last fall a University Medical School task force recommended changes to the schoolâÄôs conflict of interest policy, according to a September report obtained by The Minnesota Daily. The University and its medical faculty received nearly $1.5 million from drug companies between 2002 and 2004, according to consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen. For Rotenberg, the new policy is about balancing important connections with the private sector and the potential for conflicts to arise. âÄúWe donâÄôt apologize for those connections, we arenâÄôt embarrassed by them,âÄù Rotenberg said. âÄúThe balance the University needs to strike here is important.âÄù The Board of Regents audit committee will be briefed on the proposed policy Thursday, but the regents will not take a vote on the matter. The PresidentâÄôs policy committee will make a final approval after an input period for faculty and staff. That process could take a few weeks. Rotenberg said he hopes to have a final policy in place before spring.