In December 2000, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OTSP) published the Federal Research Misconduct Policy in the Federal Register. This policy lays out the federal government's definition of misconduct and the guidelines for handling misconduct allegations. Research misconduct is defined by the federal government as "fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." Misconduct is found to have taken place when "there is a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and the misconduct was committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and the allegation can be proved by a preponderance of evidence." Research misconduct can occur in the acquisition, analysis or reporting of data.
In the 24-hour, sensationalized news cycle world, research misconduct can very quickly erode the trust the public has in researchers. Recent cases of misconduct have also lead to questions of how federal dollars are spent, and who should manage that allocation. It is critical that research be performed with the utmost integrity, but also that suspicions of misconduct be reported and investigated. The National Academy of Sciences advised, in 1995, that "someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistakable obligation to act."
The Hardin-Simmons University Research Misconduct Committee is an ad hoc group, chaired by Associate Provost, with the purpose of investigating and adjudicating allegations of research misconduct at Hardin- Simmons University. As misconduct can occur at any research level, the committee shall be comprised of students, faculty, and staff who are actively engaged in research. The Research Misconduct Committee shall consist of seven members, including the chair, with at least three faculty, one staff, and one student on the committee. Nominations for the committee are made by the deans of the colleges and schools to the Provost and Chief Academic Officer during the spring for appointment beginning with the start of the fall semester. The nominations are presented to the faculty for final selection. Appointment is for an initial three-year term; committee members may serve two consecutive three-year terms if reappointed by the faculty.
Should anyone have reason to believe an act of research misconduct has occurred at Hardin-Simmons University, that person should immediately report the possible research misconduct to the chair of the Misconduct Committee. When presenting the allegation of misconduct, the person should be prepared to make a statement, and give any evidence which corroborates their statement.
Should a member of Hardin-Simmons University witness a perceived act of misconduct, it is his/her duty to report it immediately to the Research Misconduct Committee. Whistleblowers, and other members of the community who are asked to testify regarding the allegations are protected from retaliation when information is given in good faith. All efforts will be made to keep whistleblowers and informants anonymity throughout the process of adjudication.
Should a member of Hardin-Simmons University have an allegation of misconduct filed against him/her, the allegations will be resolved in a timely manner. The accused will receive a written letter outlining the complaint, and the investigation process. The accused will also have time to go over any evidence given in support of the allegation. Until the matter is adjudicated, there will be no undue penalization, while the researcher takes the time to prepare his/her response to the allegations.
Once an allegation has been made, the Research Misconduct Committee will assess the statements and evidence to determine if the reported incident is an example of research misconduct. The committee will also determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with the allegation procedures. Should they determine that the incident fits within the purview of the responsibility of the Research Misconduct Committee, the allegation will then lead to an inquiry.
The inquiry is the next stage of fact finding in a research misconduct allegation. The chair appoints two to three members of the Research Misconduct Committee to gather evidence on the alleged misconduct. The inquiry is the evidence gathering stage. The evidence gathered during this stage will be used in the adjudication proceedings. If the inquiry members determine that the evidence suggests misconduct has occurred, the chair must notify the subject of the allegation prior to initiation of the inquiry, including an outline of the allegations, an outline of the inquiry process, and the names of the committee members who will be performing the inquiry. The subject has five business days to contest, in writing, the inclusion of any member of the inquiry, based on a conflict of interest. The chair then has five business days to either deny the request or replace the member.
Following finalization of the inquiry committee, the subject of the allegation will be kept aware of the proceedings and findings of the inquiry. The inquiry period should be no longer than sixty days, unless the inquiry committee has a clear, abiding interest in a longer time frame. Should the inquiry committee need more than sixty days, they must make the reasoning clear in a written statement to the misconduct committee and the subject of the misconduct allegation.
At the end of the inquiry period, a written report of the findings will be made available to the subject of the inquiry no more than ten business days following its conclusion. Wherever possible, anonymity will be maintained. The subject of the inquiry will then have ten business days to respond to all findings included in the report.
Based on the inquiry report and the response by the subject of the allegations, the chair will then have five business days to make a decision whether to proceed with the investigation. Should the chair determine that the allegations and findings of the inquiry warrant a full investigation, the subject of the allegation must be notified within three business days of the decision.
Should the inquiry findings warrant a full investigation, the Research Misconduct Committee will have sixty business days to perform their investigation of the misconduct allegation. The subject of the allegation has five business days following notification of the investigation to contest the inclusion of any member of the Research Misconduct Committee, with reasons for their conflict of interest provided in writing to the chair. The chair of the Research Misconduct Committee then has five days to recuse that member of the committee, or deny the request.
Once the committee membership has been finalized, the members will receive all relevant materials gathered in the inquiry stage. The committee can also call upon witnesses to testify to the alleged misconduct, as well as witnesses to rebut the findings of the inquiry. All interviews must be documented and included in the file on the allegation proceedings.
Once the investigation has concluded, the committee must meet and discuss their findings. At this point, the committee submits their final evaluation to the Research Misconduct Committee chair, along with their recommendations for any disciplinary actions. The subject of the allegations is notified of the findings of the committee and has ten business days to respond to the findings. The chair of the Research Misconduct Committee, along with the Provost and Chief Academic Officer and the dean of the research department of the subject of the allegations, will meet to consider any response offered by the subject of the allegations and make a final determination of the conclusions of the findings of the committee and any recommended disciplinary action. Should any actions be taken against the subject of the investigation, all funding sources must be notified, as well as the Office of Research Integrity.
All funding sources should be notified of the allegations of misconduct and the findings of the inquiry committee. All findings thereafter must be communicated to all funding sources, along with any evidence gathered by the committee. At the end of the adjudication of the alleged misconduct, the chair of the Research Misconduct Committee must submit a final report to all funding agencies.
Chair of the IRB Misconduct Committeeframpton@hsutx.edu
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