Ad Hoc Faculty Committee Managing Potential Conflicts of Interest in Research


MIT has long-standing policies and procedures designed to foster and preserve the integrity of its research enterprise and to prevent the appearance and reality of conflicts of interest.  However, in recent years the complexity of the research enterprise has increased, particularly in the areas involving commercial sponsorship and technology transfer. The previously high levels of entrepreneurship and innovation at MIT have grown further and involve larger numbers of faculty, graduate students and even undergraduates.  There are also new challenges associated with the increased involvement of universities in commercial activities, such as through technology transfer and investment of endowment funds.

At the same time, government, the public and the media have voiced increasing concerns about these issues. There is danger that a small number of well-publicized cases could erode the traditional, high level of trust that the government and the public have accorded to research universities.

More and more federal and non-federal sponsors are requiring conflict of interest disclosures as part of the award process, and several associations have issued recent reports and recommendations regarding conflict of interest and research integrity.  Concerns, which previously focused on individual conflict of interest, now also encompass institutional conflicts of interest, in which the financial interests of the institution or its senior officers are affected by the outcome of individual research programs.

Therefore, it is both timely and appropriate for MIT to undertake a comprehensive review of its principles, policies and procedures, with the goal of preserving the highest level of integrity in the conduct, products and administration of research including its role in education.  The Provost, in consultation with the Chair of the Faculty, will appoint an ad hoc faculty Committee on Research Integrity and Responsibility with the following charge:

  1. Explore the various kinds of individual and institutional relationships that could give rise to the perception or reality of conflicts of interest.
  2. Review and assess relevant government regulations, legal requirements, and best practices at other major research institutions.
  3. Review and assess MIT’s written and practiced principles and values regarding research integrity and conflict of interest.
  4. Review and assess MIT’s written policies and procedures and unwritten practices regarding research integrity and conflicts of interest.
  5. Coordinate with the separate ad hoc Committee on MIT Technology Transfer in the Twenty First Century, in recognition of the connection between the two studies.
  6. Recommend any changes or additions to our policies, practices and procedures.
  7. Review and recommend appropriate mechanisms for reporting, monitoring and managing conflicts of interest, both individual and institutional.
  8. Examine current procedures within research groups that affect the education of students including restrictions on publications, authorship, credit for research advancements, lack of transparency across research groups, sharing and participation in intellectual property rights and participation in outside professional activities with faculty supervisors.
  9. Review and recommend programs for ongoing education and information exchange for faculty, staff, postdocs and students regarding research integrity and conflict of interest.
  10. The Committee will produce a report laying out its recommendations within a year.