Ethics in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities

The University of Southern Mississippi is dedicated to the pursuit of truth in its research, scholarly, creative, and sponsored program activities. Integrity and the highest standards of ethical behavior on the part of every member of the university family must characterize these endeavors, lest the public trust placed in the university be compromised. 

Misconduct in research, scholarly, creative, or sponsored activities is prohibited at the university, and all allegations of such misconduct will be investigated thoroughly and resolved promptly. Violation of this policy will be considered a serious breach of trust and conduct, and disciplinary action will be taken. Such action may include, but is not limited to, dismissal from the University or termination of employment. 

Every member of the university family has the responsibility to abide by this policy and to report violations when they are known or suspected to have occurred. Frivolous or malicious accusations, however, will be considered acts of misconduct themselves and will be subject to possible disciplinary action under this policy. 

Definitions

Misconduct as used herein is defined as

  1. fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, deception, or other practices that seriously deviate from accepted practices in proposing, conducting, or reporting research, scholarly, creative, or other sponsored program activities; 
  2. material failure to comply with University requirements for the protection of researchers, human subjects, or the general public or for ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals; 
  3. material failure to protect the environment; or 
  4. failure to meet other material legal requirements governing research, scholarly, creative, or other sponsored program activities.

University family as used herein is defined as a member of the administration, faculty, staff, orstudent body engaged in research, scholarly, creative, or sponsored program activities of the University. 

University Research Ombudsperson as used herein is defined as a senior member of the faculty who shall be appointed by the Vice President for Research to serve for a period of not less than two (2) years as the official within the University to receive allegations of misconduct in research, scholarly, creative, or sponsored program activities lodged against a member of the University family. The University Research Ombudsperson shall be responsible for keeping the Vice President for Research and Planning fully informed of all allegations of misconduct and for the security of all documents pertaining to allegations, inquiries, and investigations of misconduct. 

Inquiry as used herein means information-gathering and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of misconduct warrants an investigation. 

Investigation as used herein means a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if misconduct has occurred. 

Board of Inquiry as used herein refers to an ad hoc panel of at least three (3) faculty or staff members that shall be appointed by the Vice President for Research in consultation with the Chair of the University Research Council to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant a formal investigation of alleged misconduct by a member of the University family. 

Board of Investigation as used herein refers to an ad hoc panel of at least five (5) faculty or staff members that shall be appointed by the Vice President for Research in consultation with the Chair of the University Research Council to conduct an investigation into the alleged misconduct of a member of the University family. 

Complainant as used herein refers to the individual(s) alleging that an act of misconduct has been made.
 

Procedures

Confidentiality
All records of allegations, evidence, and proceedings shall be treated as confidential materials to the extent permitted by law and shall be maintained in a secure manner in the Office of the Vice President for Research. It should be noted, however, that various external funding agencies require notice from the University of investigation of any alleged acts of misconduct. The University of Southern Mississippi will comply with such agency requirements. Procedures established at The University of Southern Mississippi for handling accusations of misconduct are also designed to involve as few individuals as is reasonable to assure prompt and fair resolution of such cases while maintaining confidentiality and to avoid possible harm to the character and reputation of innocent individuals. 

Initiation of an Inquiry
Anyone having reason to believe that a member of the administration, faculty, staff, or student body has committed an act of misconduct in a research, scholarly, creative, or sponsored program activity should first consult informally with the University Research Ombudsperson. The University Research Ombudsperson will review with the Complainant the procedures involved in an inquiry and investigation and provide him/her with the appropriate documents for lodging the complaint in written form. The written complaint must be signed by the Complainant and returned to the University Research Ombudsperson. Upon receipt of the written and signed formal complaint form, the University Research Ombudsperson shall notify the Vice President for Research that a formal complaint has been lodged against a member of the University community. A copy of the formal complaint shall also be provided to the Vice President for Research. 

The University Research Ombudsperson will monitor the treatment of individuals who bring allegations of misconduct to ensure that these persons will not be retaliated against in terms and conditions of their employment or other status at the institution. The University will undertake diligent efforts to protect the positions and reputations of those who, in good faith, make allegations. 

Inquiry Process
An inquiry consists of information gathering and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation of misconduct warrants an investigation. Upon receipt of a signed, formal complaint, the Vice President for Research, in consultation with the Chair of the University Research Council, shall appoint and ad hoc Inquiry Board consisting of three (3) faculty members not having a conflict of interest and who are judged to be competent to evaluate the questions before the Inquiry Board. One of the members of the Inquiry Board shall be appointed to serve as Chair of the Inquiry Board. Members of the Inquiry Board should be selected in such a manner as to provide reasonable competence in technical matters that may impinge on the deliberations of the Board. No member of the Inquiry Board may have an appointment in the department of the respondent(s) or any connection with the project of activity associated with the alleged act of misconduct. The University Research Ombudsperson shall serve as secretary to the Board. All deliberations and discussions of the Inquiry Board are to be treated in a confidential manner. 

The Chair of the Inquiry Board shall notify the respondent in writing of the allegation of misconduct, the formation and membership of the Inquiry Board, and the nature of the alleged act of misconduct. The administrative supervisor(s) of the respondent will not be notified by the Chair of the Inquiry Board of allegations against the respondent during this phase of review; however, the respondent is free to inform such supervisory persons at his/her discretion. During the inquiry phase of review the identity of the complainant will also be withheld. Should the Inquiry Board recommend to the Vice President for Research that a formal investigation is warranted the name of the complainant must be divulged to the respondent. 

The Inquiry Board shall meet separately with the complainant and the respondent and shall review all necessary and reasonable documentation to determine whether an investigation is warranted. Refusal of the complainant to allow the Inquiry Board to examine all pertinent documents shall be grounds for dismissal of the complaint. Likewise, refusal of the respondent to allow the Inquiry Board to review necessary and pertinent documents shall be grounds for a recommendation for a formal investigation. 

While the inquiry phase is preliminary in nature, both the respondent and the complainant will be allowed to have representation by legal counsel. Legal counsel may appear for the purposes of advisement of the respondent or complainant only. Such counsel may not examine witnesses or argue before the Board. Retention of legal counsel shall be at the expense of the respondent or the complainant. The University Research Ombudsperson will notify cognizant agencies, as appropriate, at any stage of the inquiry if any of the following conditions exist:

  1. there is an immediate health hazard involved; 
  2. there is an immediate need to protect Federal funds or equipment; 
  3. there is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person(s) making the allegations or of the individual(s) who is the subject of the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any; 
  4. it is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly; or 
  5. the allegation involves a public health sensitive issue, e.g, a clinical trial; or 
  6. there is a reasonable indication of possible criminal violation.

In this instance the University will inform the cognizant agency within 24 hours of obtaining that information. 

If the University plans to terminate an inquiry for any reason without completing all relevant requirements pertaining to necessary regulations by any cognizant agency, the University will submit a report of the planned termination to said agency, including a description of the reasons for the proposed termination. 

The Inquiry Board shall normally take no more than thirty (30) working days from receipt of the signed complaint to conduct its inquiry and to determine whether an investigation is warranted. In extenuating circumstances, additional time may be requested by the Inquiry board, the complainant, or the respondent. Such requests shall be forwarded to the Vice President for Research who shall decide whether to grant an extension of time for deliberation. If a time extension is approved, the reason for the extension will be entered into the records of the case and the report. The respondent will be notified of the extension as soon as it is approved. 

Upon completion of its review, the Inquiry Board shall make a formal written report for the Vice President for Research. The final report shall consist of the written complaint, the Inquiry Board’s finding, and the Board’s justifications for its conclusions. The Inquiry Board may conclude that

  1. the information collected during the inquiry does not substantiate the complaint; therefore, no formal investigation is warranted or 
  2. the preponderance of the information collected during the inquiry warrants a formal investigation.

In either case, the report will include complete documentation of the findings from the inquiry, including the names and testimony of all witnesses. A copy of this report will also be forwarded by certified mail to the respondent and to the complainant by the Chair of the Inquiry Board. 

The inquiry process will be conducted in a manner that will ensure fair treatment to the respondent(s) in the inquiry and confidentiality to the extent possible without compromising public health and safety or thoroughly carrying out the inquiry. The University will undertake diligent efforts, as appropriate, to restore the reputations of persons alleged to have engaged in misconduct when allegations are not confirmed. 

After completion of a case and all ensuring related actions, the University Research Ombudsperson will prepare a complete file of all records of the inquiry, including documents and other materials furnished to the University Research Ombudsperson and the Inquiry Board. These records will be retained for a minimum of three (3) years after completion of the case to permit later assessment if required. The University will give access to appropriate cognizant agency personnel upon request. 

Investigation
An investigation is a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if misconduct has occurred. Upon notification by an Inquiry board that a formal investigation of an alleged act of misconduct is warranted, the Vice President for Research, in consultation with the Chair of the University Research Council, shall appoint an Investigation Board consisting of at least five (5) University employees not having conflicts of interest and who are judged to be competent to evaluate the questions before the Investigation Board. The Investigation Board will be appointed and the process initiated within thirty (30) days of the completion of the inquiry, if findings from the inquiry provide a sufficient basis for conducting an investigation. The Board and the University will undertake diligent efforts to protect the positions and reputations of those who, in good faith, make allegations. 

In the interests of conducting a thorough and authoritative evaluation of allegations, the Vice President may retain external consultants when such expertise is required. The Vice President for Research shall appoint one of the members of the Investigation Board to serve as chair. The University Research Ombudsperson shall serve as the secretary of the Investigation Board. The Vice President for Research shall notify the President of the University, the appropriate Vice President(s), Dean, Chair, Director (or other appropriate supervisory person), the respondent, and the complainant that a formal investigation has been initiated. 

The University Research Ombudsperson will notify cognizant agencies, as appropriate, at any stage of the investigation if any of the following conditions exist:

  1. there is an immediate health hazard involved; 
  2. there is an immediate need to protect Federal funds or equipment; 
  3. there is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person(s) making the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any; 
  4. it is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly; or 
  5. the allegation involves a public health sensitive issue, e.g., a clinical trial; or 
  6. there is a reasonable indication of possible criminal violation.

In this instance, the University will inform the cognizant agency within 24 hours of obtaining that information. 

The Investigation Board shall conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, which normally should require no more than sixty (60) working days to complete. The investigation will be as thorough as possible and will include examination of all documentation, including but not limited to, relevant research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, memoranda of telephone calls, notes, and drawings. Complete summaries of all interviews with individuals involved either in making an allegation, responding to an allegation, or providing information to the Investigation Board during the investigation will be prepared. Such summaries will be provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision and will be maintained as part of the investigatory file. If the alleged act of misconduct involves an activity supported by external funds, the Investigation Board shall observe appropriate granting agency requirements. During the investigation, the respondent shall have the right to present evidence and testimony and to question the complainant. Legal counsel may be engaged by any individual involved in the investigation at his/her own expense. Retention of legal counsel shall be for the purposes of advising his/her client only; counsel shall not be permitted to examine witnesses or argue before the Investigation Board. 

If the University terminates an investigation for any reason without completing all relevant requirements pertaining to necessary regulations by any cognizant agency, the University will submit a report of the planned termination to said agency, including a description of the reasons for the proposed termination. 

Upon completion of the investigative phase, the Board shall prepare a preliminary report of its findings. A copy of the report will be forwarded to the respondent by certified mail, return receipt requested. The respondent shall be given a period of fourteen (14) days from the date of receipt of the Investigation Board’s preliminary report to respond in writing to the Board’s findings, should he/she desire to make a response. Upon receipt of the respondent’s written response or expiration of the above stated response period, the Board shall prepare its final report. If the University determines that it will not be able to complete the investigation within a stated time-frame as dictated by a cognizant agency’s regulations, the University Research Ombudsperson will submit to said agency a written request for an extension that explains the delay, reports on the progress to date, estimates the date of completion of the report, and describes other necessary steps to be taken. 

The Investigation Board shall submit its complete report of the investigation to the Vice President for Research. This report will consist of the complaint, the Investigative Board’s finding, and any documentation thereof. 

After review of these documents, the Vice President for Research may concur with the findings of the board or may remand the case back to the Investigation Board for further deliberation if he/she believes that errors have occurred or that material evidence that would affect the findings of the Board has been overlooked. If the case is remanded to the Board for additional deliberation, the Board will submit its final findings to the Vice President for Research within fourteen (14) days. When the decision has been made on the case, the Vice President for Research will submit the report to cognizant agencies, as appropriate, adhering to stated time lines as required by agency regulations. The final report will, at minimum, describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, how and from whom information was obtained relevant to the investigation, the findings, the basis for the findings, and will include the actual text or an accurate summary of the views of any individuals(s) found to have engaged in misconduct, as well as a description of any sanctions taken by the University.

If misconduct is not substantiated by a simple majority of the Investigation Board, the Vice President for Research shall notify, in writing, all parties to the investigation that the respondent has been exonerated by the University Investigation Board. 

If the Board of Investigation determines that an act(s) of misconduct has(have) occurred, the Vice President for Research shall notify, in writing, all parties to the investigation of the findings of the Board. The respondent shall also be informed of his/her right to appeal such findings to the Vice President for Research. (See Appeals section of this document for additional details relative to an appeal.) 

Interim Actions
Where, in the judgement of the Vice President for Research, an allegation involves the potential for danger or detrimental action to human subjects, the general public, experimental animals, or the environment and/or where an allegation involves an immediate need to protect fiscal resources or property, the Vice President shall recommend that the President of the University impose appropriate interim sanction(s) to avert such possibility. Such administrative sanctions will remain in effect until the completion of the inquiry and/or investigation. Should there be reasonable indication of possible criminal violation(s), the University will take appropriate steps to notify cognizant agencies. 

Report to External Agencies
Pursuant to applicable laws, regulations, and agreements, the Vice President for Research shall take appropriate steps to notify sponsors when an investigation has been initiated. The University shall keep the sponsor(s) apprised of any developments during the course of the investigation that disclose facts that may affect current or potential funding for the individual(s) under investigation or that the sponsor needs to know to ensure protection of the general public. The sponsor shall be provided with copies of all final reports resulting from any investigation hereunder. 

Appeals
Upon notification of a finding of misconduct by the Investigation Board and prior to the imposition of disciplinary action(s), other than any interim actions that may have been previously imposed, the respondent shall have the right to appeal the decision of the Board to the Vice President for Research. This appeal must be made in writing and delivered to the Vice President’s office within fourteen (14) days of notification of the findings of the Board. The appeal shall be restricted to the body of evidence presented in the inquiry and investigation. 

The Vice President for Research shall review all of the evidence available to him/her and shall submit his/her written report to the President of the University within fourteen (14) days of the deadline for receipt of an appeal from the respondent. The Vice President may either concur or disagree in whole or in part with the findings of the Investigation Board. The report of the Vice President for Research and Planning shall be accompanied by the full report of the Investigation Board and the written appeal of the respondent, if an appeal is filed. The report shall also include the recommendations of the Vice President for Research regarding any sanctions to be imposed upon the respondent. 

Disciplinary Actions
The Vice President for Research shall recommend to the President of the University the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken if a Respondent is found guilty of misconduct under the provisions of this policy. The following actions are neither exhaustive nor do they preclude possible criminal action or sanctions that may be imposed by a funding agency; however, they represent a range of possible actions that may be appropriate and that are classified from minimally restrictive to most severe. They are presented herein for illustrative purposes only. These are also not to be construed as mutually exclusive, for the University may impose additional and/or multiple sanctions.

  1. Issue a letter of reprimand to the respondent. 
  2. Require that special written permission for certain activities be obtained from the Vice President for Research prior to initiation of those activities. 
  3. Require special monitoring by appropriate supervisory personnel of continuing and/or future work. 
  4. Bar the respondent from conducting specified activities. 
  5. Suspend or terminate an active grant or project. 
  6. Place the respondent on probation. 
  7. Debar or suspend the respondent from participation in specific granting agency programs for a specified period of time. 
  8. Suspend the respondent from the University for a specified period of time. 
  9. Reduce the rank or level of a faculty or staff member. 
  10. Reduce the salary of the respondent. 
  11. Terminate the employment of the respondent with the University.

In the case of a student judged guilty of misconduct under this policy, appropriate sanctions may include one or more of the following actions:

  1. Terminate employment of the student within the University. 
  2. Assignment of a failing grade by the instructor of record in a course. 
  3. Recommend further disciplinary action by the Student Disciplinary System of the University.

NOTE: 02/24/97 revisions are stylistic in nature. References notes, bolding, and line numbering have been removed. Content has not changed since Dr. Lawrence Rhodes, ORI, approved the changes in November 1996. Content last revised on 10/02/96. (pbs)