In 2020, Virginia Tech chartered a task force to make recommendations for improvement in developing and recommending best practices for universitywide conflict of interest procedures. 

The revised policy, which was approved at the June Board of Visitors meeting, reduces redundancy, removes extraneous information requests, and streamlines training requirements, making it easier for researchers and Virginia Tech as a whole to meet their ethical commitment to maintain objectivity in research and the requirements of their research sponsors. 

“The task force maintained as its driving principle that the process to comply with federal and state conflict of interest requirements be as straightforward as possible for faculty and staff while ensuring objectivity and promoting trust to meet our public mission as a land-grant university,” said Lisa M. Lee, associate vice president for research and innovation and director of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance who served on the task force.

In partnership with the universitywide task force, the Research Conflict of Interest Program in the Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance in the Office of Research and Innovation implemented many changes that streamline conflict of interest processes for researchers. 

One facet of integrity that cuts across university business is conflict of interest, which occurs when two or more competing priorities affect the objectivity of our decisions. For researchers, financial conflicts of interest arise when they have a relationship with a funding source or otherwise stand to benefit financially from a research result. When not addressed and managed, these conflicts can result in biased or inaccurate research results and harm public trust in research.

In coordination with the task force’s recommendation to use a single portal, a new disclosure module was launched for researchers, more than doubling the number of disclosures received in 2021 compared to previous years. Before changes were made, it took an average of 37 days until a faculty outside activity disclosure was finalized. Comprehensive changes to the disclosure system reduced this time to an average of 12 days, reducing the time for finalization of a faculty outside activity disclosure by 67 percent.

During its process, the task force recognized the need to clarify the difference between financial conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, which are separate topics that sometimes overlap. Financial conflicts of interest involve an impact on objectivity, while conflicts of commitment are concerned with whether a person can engage in an outside activity without impinging on the time and effort they have committed to Virginia Tech. 

To address this confusion, the task force recommended removing commitment procedures from Policy 13010 because they are covered in other university policies. The policy revision refers to these and other policies that have overlap such as the Consulting and Outside Employment policy of the Faculty Handbook Policy 4070.

The task force also focused on determining a forward-thinking workflow with clear delineation of responsibilities between units. To make compliance with disclosure more straightforward, the task force recommended a single portal for all employees to disclose relevant financial interests and outside activities with external entities, which will direct the disclosure to the correct Virginia Tech department or unit responsible for assessing or approving it. 

Designed to reduce duplicate disclosure, the disclosure system has been updated to include a landing page to help the employee decide the type of disclosure to submit. The disclosure system now automatically routes disclosures to responsible entities for their review.

Contact program administrators at with questions about what to disclose to meet federal, state, and institutional directives as well as what to expect when research involves a managed financial conflict of interest.

Additionally, Conflicts of Interest and Commitment, Research requirements, and Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer guidelines webpages are available for researchers to learn more about specific details.

Conflict of Interest Task Force members that served during the process are:

  • Kay Heidbreder, university legal counsel
  • Kristina Hartman, associate university legal counsel
  • Steve Capaldo, associate university legal counsel
  • John Ferris, associate professor and former faculty senate president
  • Jack Finney, vice provost emeritus for faculty affairs
  • Robert Gourdie, professor and Commonwealth Fund Eminent Scholar
  • Velva Groover, senior research specialist
  • Dee Harris, director of policy development and coordination
  • Mary Helmick, director of procurement
  • Cristen Jandreau, director of research conflict of interest program
  • Sharon Kurek, executive director, audit, risk and compliance
  • Leslie LaConte, assistant dean for research
  • Lisa M. Lee, associate vice president for Research and Innovation
  • Angie Littlejohn, former senior associate athletic director
  • Curtis Mabry, executive director of human resources initiatives and partnerships
  • Ellen Plummer, associate vice provost, academic administration
  • Trudy Riley, associate vice president for research and innovation
  • John Talerico, director of export and secure research compliance
  • Paul Winistorfer, dean, College of Natural Resources and Environment
  • Grant Brewer, executive director of License
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