Conflict of Interest
Montana State University

Subject:    Conflict of Interest

Policy:    Montana State University Conflict of Interest Policy

Revised:    N/A

Effective Date:    April 4, 2008

Review Date:    April, 2011

Responsible Party:    MSU Legal Counsel


The administration, faculty, and staff of Montana State University (MSU or University) all bear the responsibility of serving the teaching, research, and service mission of the University.  That mission is enhanced by the sustained, active interaction of members of the University community with business, government, not-for-profit groups, professional societies, academic institutions, and other individuals and organizations. Therefore, MSU encourages entrepreneurial activities that support the University’s mission through dissemination of knowledge, enhancement of educational opportunities for students, and economic development.  These many interactions and activities can, however, create the potential for conflict of interest in which University employees' external activities or interests affect—or appear to affect—the manner or extent to which those individuals carry out their University responsibilities.  Such conflicts—real or apparent—may undermine public and professional confidence in the University, diminish its ability to accomplish its mission, and violate state or federal law.  However, the existence of a conflict of interest does not necessarily mean that the activity at issue violates law or must be avoided or discontinued. Often, conflicts of interest can be dealt with effectively through disclosure and other steps to resolve or manage the conflict.  Thus, an integral part of this Policy is the disclosure and management system detailed in §§ 500-600 below.

200.        POLICY

Montana State University-Bozeman is committed to fulfilling its mission with integrity and in full compliance with state and federal ethics and conflicts of interest laws and regulations and with Montana Board of Regents Policy.  A conflict of interest may exist whenever an employee’s work responsibilities, actions or decisions may be, are, or have been influenced by considerations of personal or financial gain.  Therefore, it is the policy of the University that in all of its activities—the education of students; the design, methods of analysis, interpretation, and reporting of research; the hiring and supervision of staff; the procurement of materials and services; and all other tasks incident to its mission—it shall endeavor to be free of undue influence or bias that may result from conflicts of interests. This Policy is intended to enable employees to recognize potential conflicting interests and, thus, to protect themselves and the University from such conflicting interests through disclosure, evaluation, and, if required, management or elimination of conflicts of interest.

210.        Applicable law, regulation, and policy.  In addition to this Policy, MSU employees’ ethical conduct is governed by:


This policy applies to all MSU employees.  Employees are expected to review and understand their obligations under this Policy and to be familiar with their obligations under the laws, regulations and policies referenced in § 210 of this Policy.

400         DEFINITIONS

410.        Conflict of Interest.   A Conflict of Interest occurs:           

  • When a University employee has a personal interest that is inconsistent or incompatible with the employee’s  obligation to the University to exercise the employee’s best judgment in pursuit of the interest of the University and its students;
  • When a non-University activity unreasonably encroaches on the time an employee should devote to the affairs of the University; or

  • When an employee’s non-University activities unreasonably impinge on or compromise the loyalty or commitment to the employee’s University duties and responsibilities.

  • In sponsored research, when an Investigator’s personal interest could directly and substantially affect, or has directly and substantially affected, the design, conduct, or reporting of the research.

In determining whether a Conflict of Interest exists, an important consideration is whether an independent observer might reasonably question whether the employee’s professional actions or decisions are influenced by considerations of personal gain, financial or otherwise.
420.        Significant Financial Interest.  A Significant Financial Interest is anything of monetary value, including but not limited to, salary or other payments for services (e.g., consulting fees or honoraria); ownership interests (e.g., stocks, stock options or other ownership interest); and intellectual property rights (e.g.,  patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights).  Significant Financial Interest includes the interests of the employee’s Immediate Family.   The term does not include:

  • An equity interest that when aggregated for the employee and the employee’s Immediate Family, meets both of the following tests:  has a value of $10,000 or less as determined through reference to public prices or other reasonable measures of fair market value, and represents a five percent or less ownership interest in any single entity.

  • Annual salary, royalties, or other payments that when aggregated for the employee and the employee’s immediate family amount to $10,000 or less over 12 months.

  • Salary, royalties, or other remuneration received from or through the University.

  • Income from seminars, lectures, or teaching engagements sponsored by public or nonprofit entities.

  • Income from service on advisory committees or review panels for public or nonprofit entities.
  • A financial interest arising solely by reason of investment in a business by a mutual, pension or other institutional investment fund over which the employee does not exercise control.

430.        Investigator.  Principal Investigators and any other MSU employees who are responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of sponsored research.

440.        Immediate Family.  The employee’s spouse and dependent children.

450.        Sponsored Research.  Research, creative activities, scholarship, training and instructional projects involving funds, materials, or other compensation from outside sources under agreement.  Research in this context means a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge, including behavioral and social-science research.

460.        Responsible Vice President.  The Vice President responsible for the employee’s organizational component of the University, except that in disclosures related to research, the Responsible Vice President shall be the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer (VPR).

500.        DISCLOSURE

The key mechanism for implementation of this Policy is disclosure.  Disclosure allows the University and the employee to evaluate personal interests to determine if they present potential Conflicts of Interest and to take appropriate action based on the evaluation.   All employees (unless exempted as provided in § 530 below) must annually complete and submit a Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement form (See § 530 below).  All employees, including those exempted from the annual disclosure requirement (See § 530 below), are required to comply with this Conflict of Interest Policy and to make disclosures of any potential Conflicts of Interests (See § 510 and § 520 below) whenever they occur (using the Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement form).

510.        Sponsored Research Disclosure.  In Sponsored Research, all Investigators (including Graduate Research Assistants) must disclose Significant Financial Interests, including those of their immediate family:

  • That would reasonably appear to be affected by the Sponsored Research; or
  • In entities whose financial success would reasonably appear to be affected by the research.

511.        Disclosure shall be made before submitting a proposal for funding on a “Research Disclosure Statement” form included with the Proposal Clearance Form to the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP).   If the Significant Financial Interest has previously been disclosed on a Conflict of Interest Disclosure form and is up to date, a copy of the most recent disclosure may be attached in lieu of a new Research Disclosure Statement.  The Research Disclosure Statement must be updated on the Annual Form as provided in §530 below.
512.        In addition, for as long as the Sponsored Research continues, Investigators shall disclose any new acquisition of a Significant Financial Interest by filing a Research Disclosure Form with OSP.
513.        OSP will provide copies of such Research Disclosure Statements to the VPR and Office of Legal Counsel.
520.        Disclosure.  All employees must disclose the following whenever they occur:

521.                The acquisition by the employee, or a member of his/her Immediate Family, of a  Significant Financial Interest in an entity engaged in commercial or research activities directly related to the employee’s University responsibilities.

522.                The holding of an executive or officer position in or serving as a member of the board of directors of an entity engaged in commercial or research activities directly related the employee’s University responsibilities.

523.                An immediate family member holding an executive or officer position in or serving on the board of directors of an entity engaged in commercial or research activities directly related to the employee’s University responsibilities.

524.                The planned direct participation in a University decision which would involve a direct benefit or detriment to:
A relative as defined in MSU’s Nepotism Policy []; A person in whom or with whom the employee has a financial interest; or A person with whom the employee has a consensual romantic relationship.

525.                Any financial interest of the employee or an Immediate Family member in an entity involved in a University purchase or sale whenever the employee is in a position to recommend or approve the purchase or sale.  Such interests must be disclosed to the Purchasing Department for purchases and to the Property Management Department for sales.
NOTE: This disclosure requirement does not include textbook adoptions when the employee is clearly identified as an author, contributor, or editor of the textbook under consideration.  However, faculty members should not receive a profit as a result of recommending a specific vendor for the purchase of texts or course materials by their students, whether on-line or from other sources.
526.                Participation as an employee, officer, board member, or owner in an entity which has (or wishes to have) rights to intellectual property for which you were an inventor or creator in your work for MSU as provided in Board of Regents Policy § 407 [].

527.                The acquisition of any personal or financial interest which creates a potential Conflict of Interest.

528.                The disclosures required by this Section shall be submitted on the Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement form.

530.        Annual Disclosure.  Annually, all employees (unless exempted as provided in § 533 below) must complete and submit a Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement (Disclosure Form) as follows:

531.        Disclosure Forms shall be completed and filed by October 1 of each year.

532.        The employee’s signature on the Disclosure Form certifies that the employee has read and understands this Policy and that either (1) the employee does not have any interests which require disclosure, or 2) that the employee has appropriately disclosed any interests which create a potential conflict of interest.
533.        The following groups of employees are exempt from the annual disclosure obligation, (although they remain obligated to make disclosures under § 510 and §520 above):

  • Employees working less than one-half time; and
  • Classified employees.

540.        Disclosure Submission.   All Disclosures shall be submitted to the Office of Legal Counsel, with copies to the employee’s supervisor, the appropriate dean (when applicable) or director, and the Responsible Vice President.   [Note, this may change depending on electronic submission system]

550.        Submission to President. All disclosure forms of executive employees reporting directly to the President and employees reporting directly to the VPR, other than Research Center Administrators, shall be submitted to the President of the University and Office of Legal Counsel.

560.        Optional Conflicts Management Plan Submission.  Any of the above disclosures may be accompanied, at the employee’s option, by a proposed conflict management plan; a plan template is available from the Office of Legal Counsel (994-4570), and that office is available to answer questions or provide help with a plan.


610.        Initial Review.  The Office of Legal Counsel shall review each form containing a disclosure and determine, in consultation with the Responsible Vice President, or the President relative to the disclosures described in § 550 above, whether a conflict of interest exists.
620.        Waiver of Conflict.  The Office of Legal Counsel, in consultation with the Responsible Vice President, or the President under § 550, may waive the conflict and the need for a conflict management plan if they make the following written determinations:

  • That the conflict of interest is so remote that there is no significant probability for bias or undue influence on the employee’s University duties and responsibilities;
  • Any resolution of the conflict other than by disclosure and waiver would be ineffective or inequitable and the conflict is not prohibited by statute or regulation; or
  • Any bias reasonably expected is outweighed by the interests of scientific progress, technology transfer or the public health and welfare, and the conflict is not prohibited by statute or regulation.

640.        Conflict Management.  If a Conflict of Interest exists and is not waivable, Office of Legal Counsel, in consultation with the Responsible Vice President, or the President under § 550, the employee, and any others deemed helpful in assessing the situation, will develop a written conflict management plan to manage, reduce, or eliminate the potential for conflict of interest.
641.         The conflict management plan may employ strategies including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Public disclosure of the Significant Financial Interest;
  • Monitoring of the relevant employment duties (e.g., research) by independent reviewers;
  • Modification of duties of the employee, including modification of a research plan;
  • Disqualification from participation in the conflicting employment activity, such as research, procurement,  student advising, or employee supervision;
  • Divestiture of the conflicting interest; or
  • Severance of relationship that creates the Conflict of Interest.

642.        Whenever a decision is made to manage rather than eliminate the conflict of interest, the Office of Legal Counsel shall make a written statement explaining why management is in the best interest of the University.  Such statement may be included in the conflicts management plan.
643.        Relevant questions to consider in designing an appropriate conflicts management plan include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the magnitude of the financial interest?
  • What is the level of incentive created by the interest?
  • How direct is the link between the interest and the duties of the employee, including research duties?
  • Could the conflict compromise the objectivity of research results or their evaluation and presentation?
  • Could the conflict adversely affect students?
  • Could the conflict unreasonably interfere with the employee’s commitment to University responsibilities?
  • Can a reasonably knowledgeable person be identified to satisfactorily monitor the conflict?


710.        Appeal to President.  If an employee believes the conditions or restrictions in the conflict management plan are inappropriate, the employee may appeal the decision to the President, unless the President was involved in the decision appealed, in which case the President’s decision is the final decision of the University.  The President may, in his/her discretion, appoint and convene a Conflict Review Committee to provide advice on an appeal.  The President’s decision on the appeal shall be the final decision of the University.

720.        Conflict Review Committee.  If the President wishes to have the benefit of advice from a Conflict Review Committee, the President shall appoint a three member committee.  The members shall include employees or community members who have had no involvement in the decision being appealed and who have relevant experience or training to assess the conflict.
730.        Montana  University  System  Appeal.  An employee who disagrees with the final decision of the University may appeal further as provided in the Board of Regents Appeal Policy, § 203.5.2. [].


810.        Sponsored Research.  The VPR is responsible for the following compliance duties related to conflicts of interest in Sponsored Research, if required by the sponsoring agency:        

  • Compliance of subgrantees, subcontractors and collaborators.
  • Submission of compliance certifications.
  • Reporting concerning conflicts of interest in research.
  • Notifying the sponsoring agency if the University concludes it cannot satisfactorily manage the conflict.
  • Notifying the sponsoring agency if non-compliance with this policy has biased the design, conduct, or reporting of the funded research and identify the corrective action taken or to be taken to address the non-compliance.
  • Records of conflicts disclosure submitted with the Proposal Clearance Form and records of actions related to such disclosures shall be maintained by OSP in the grant or contract file for three years from termination of the award. 

830.        Records Maintenance. Office of Legal Counsel shall be responsible for maintenance of all disclosure and conflict management records (including copies of records kept by OSP for sponsored research disclosures) for the period of time required by state and federal laws and regulations.  Records will be maintained in a manner to protect sensitive and confidential information consistent with state and federal law.

900.        COMPLIANCE.

910.        MSU expects all employees to comply fully and promptly with all requirements of this Policy.  Breaches of this Policy include, but are not limited to: intentionally filing an incomplete, erroneous, or misleading disclosure form; failure to provide additional information as required; failure to provide a disclosure form as required by this Policy; failure to remedy conflicts of interest; or failure to abide by a conflicts management plan.

920.        A violation of this policy may be the basis for discipline of an employee.  Such discipline will be imposed consistent with the discipline policies and procedures applicable to the particular employee (Faculty Handbook, collective bargaining agreement, Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual).

930.        Potential sanctions may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Letter of warning
  • Removal or suspension of privileges related to the violation, such as suspension of the privilege: to apply for Sponsored Research grants or contracts; to supervise graduate students; or to perform research which requires approval of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
  • Suspension without pay
  • Termination