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Office of Research Integrity Plays Critical Role in USM Academic Mission

Sun, 02/02/2020 - 08:31am | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Sam BrutonEnsuring the integrity of research and scholarship is the primary focus of The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Office of Research Integrity (ORI), and it accomplishes this in a variety of ways to support the work of both the institution’s faculty and students. 

Established in spring 2012, the USM ORI manages its Research and Scholarly Integrity Assurance Program, sponsors various educational activities and workshops, reviews relevant University policies, and oversees both the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).

Dr. Sam Bruton, a professor of philosophy whose research expertise is in ethics, has led the ORI since its inception as its director, and is also USM’s first Research Integrity Officer (RIO). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires universities receiving NIH research funding to have a designated RIO.  

Dr. Bruton’s duties include oversight of the University’s Institutional Review Board (for human subjects research), oversight of the University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (for animal subjects research), oversight of the University’s financial conflict of interest disclosure process, oversight of the Integrity Assurance Program (USM’s name for its Responsible Conduct of Research [RCR] training), and responsibility for several research-related policies.

In addition, as RIO Dr. Bruton reviews potential allegations of research misconduct committed by university constituents (faculty, students, staff) and, if appropriate, guides the inquiry and investigation process in accordance with the university’s scholarly misconduct policy. However, the RIO’s role does not involve rendering decisions regarding potential allegations of scholarly misconduct. 

“I find USM researchers to be conscientious and hard-working, committed to doing the right thing and supportive of my efforts,” Dr. Bruton said. “And I’m grateful to USM Vice President for Research Dr. Gordon Cannon for his support of our work, the wonderful help I get from Jo Ann Johnson, who manages the IRB and the Integrity Assurance Program, and the dedicated members of the University’s IRB and IUACUC Committees, who help us meet ORI goals,” Dr. Bruton said. “We have a really good team.” 

To further help USM faculty and students meet integrity benchmarks in their research, Dr. Bruton and the ORI staff often provide workshops that cover a range of topics, including the basics of research misconduct, financial conflicts of interest, ethical use of animals in research, workshops on writing grant proposals, mentoring graduate students, and getting one’s work published. 

“Lately, a lot of our focus has been on IRB processes,” Dr. Bruton said. “In the fall of 2018, the University’s IRB switched to an electronic submission system, and we’ve put considerable effort into helping University researchers learn to navigate that system. Overall, the new system is working well.” 

Dr. Bruton also regularly visits with and speaks to students in Honors College 301 classes to help undergraduate Honors students new to formal academic research learn some of the ins and outs of the University’s research ethics processes.

“Over the years, I’ve found the Office of Research Integrity to be extremely efficient in the important service work that it performs,” said Dr. Alan Thompson, interim associate dean of the USM Graduate School and an associate professor of criminal justice. “From answering the most basic questions regarding the responsible conduct of research to providing guidance on the myriad of institutional policies and federal regulations guiding such endeavors, every member of the ORI staff is both well-informed and highly professional.

“And, of course, Sam Bruton’s background in ethics equips him well to provide guidance on the types of questions and issues that invariably arise as part of the research enterprise at a Carnegie R1 institution like USM.”

For more information about the USM Office of Research Integrity, visit