Rethinking the honor system

A review process is underway of a new policy that seeks to tighten conflict of interest reporting requirements.
November 22, 2009
Editor's Note: Editor's note: This story looks at the University’s efforts to revamp its conflict of interest policy. To accompany the information, the Minnesota Daily received data on outside sources of income and affiliations for top administrators at the University in various department and positions of power.

The University of Minnesota’s oft-controversial conflict of interest policy is moving away from the honor system.
A review process is underway of a new “wall to wall” administrative policy that seeks to tighten reporting requirements and restrictions on gifts and product endorsements for University faculty, staff and students.
Currently, there are two major policies that govern conflicts of interest on campus: a Board of Regents policy for top administrators such as department heads, deans and presidents, and an administrative policy for everyone else.
The Board of Regents’ policy requires top administrators to report outside sources of income, affiliated organizations, property ownership, retirement accounts and stock holdings. Under the current administrative policy, all other employees need only check a box on an annual disclosure report if they receive $10,000 or more in income outside of the University.
In July, University President Bob Bruininks received a 142-page letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, informing him that University surgeon Dr. David Polly had a consulting deal with Minneapolis-based medical device manufacturer Medtronic. While such relationships are permitted by the University, Polly’s deal had him pocketing about $1.2 million from Medtronic between 2003 and 2007. The University was not aware.
The existing process for disclosing potential conflicts also does not ensure that reported information remains updated — and some administrators fail to keep their business ties current.
When asked to talk to University Foundation Chief Executive Officer L. Steven Goldstein about his financial disclosure form, foundation spokeswoman Martha Douglas said his information was no longer accurate.
“His comment is that the form is, by now, very out of date,” Douglas said. “It was almost a year ago when the form was completed, and things have changed a lot for him.”
There will be punishments for noncompliance in the new policy, said Mark Rotenberg, general counsel for the University. But monitoring still won’t be airtight.
“The University is not a law enforcement agency; it’s not the FBI. We are a teaching and research community. The basic expectation is that this policy will be abided by like all other University policies,” Rotenberg said. “We don’t assume that everyone is going flaunt the rules.”

A recommended policy
Rotenberg released a draft of the revamped conflict of interest policy two weeks ago that recommends University faculty, staff and students cannot:
-Ghostwrite or put their names on research papers produced by others
-Get paid for product endorsements or marketing lectures
-Accept industry gifts such as “backpacks and coffee mugs”
There will no longer be a threshold for reporting outside income. All employees will be required to disclose the information and how much they make within predetermined ranges.
The draft also requires that teachers disclose conflicts of interest to their students. University doctors would have to do the same with their patients, according to the draft.
While the administrative policy does not require the University to publish the data for all employees on a public Web site — state data laws prohibit that — employees will still be encouraged to voluntarily do so on a site the University plans to create.
To enforce the policy, the University will require a management plan for employees who have a potential conflict. University conflict committees and deans will review the plan.
If a conflict arises, deans of respective colleges can be held accountable. Employees must also report any changes to their disclosure form within 30 days of a business modification.
Punishment for failure to disclose or comply could range from the University asking an employee to eliminate affiliation with an industry up to termination.
To coincide with the administrative policy change and provide consistency, the Board of Regents plans on changing their conflict of interest plan for top administrators, too, Ann Cieslak, secretary for the Board of Regents, said.

‘It’s not just the docs’
The University’s desire to overhaul its conflict of interest practices is not new.
In fall 2007, then-Dean of the Medical School Dr. Deborah Powell commissioned a task force to address concerns about conflicts of interests related to University doctors and researchers.
The University received more than $700,000 from drug companies between 2002 and 2004, according to Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group.
But through the Medical School’s work, Bruininks decided that a new conflict of interest policy was needed to cover all employees on campus — not just doctors.
Mark Paller, executive vice dean of the Medical School, said that while they couldn’t ignore the potential conflicts specific to the Medical School, he thinks broadening the policy to all employees in a “position of trust” is important.
“It’s good that everybody in the University is seen in the same way,” he said.
“These are general principals of how we should represent ourselves to our students and the public, and not just a Medical School problem.”
Rotenberg agrees that “it’s not just the docs” who need this policy.
“It was important to do a comprehensive review because we are doing a lot of multi-disciplinary research and teaching, and the lines between various collegiate units and departments are becoming less rigid over time,” he said. “Academic disciplines are no longer encased in silos.”
But trying to draft a single plan that would translate to every department and college at the University is challenging, as “a rule in the Medical School might not make sense in the same way for the business school,” he said.

A similar approach
At the University of Wisconsin, a university-wide conflict plan has been in place since the late 1990s.
Under the policy, about 9,000 employees are reviewed at least once a year by the school’s Conflict of Interest Committee. While about 8,000 report nothing, the remaining 1,000 are broken down, and management plans are created if a conflict is identified. While the University of Minnesota is heading in this direction with the new policy, there are still instances of ambiguity in the document’s language.
The proposed policy states that a professor's “unique value” can be considered when reviewing a potential conflict of interest — something some critics say could mean certain faculty will get special treatment.
“With the Internet you can find someone’s outside interest within 10 minutes,” said Kelly Ullrick, program director of the University of Wisconsin’s Conflict of Interest Committee. “[Our policy] creates a system to address everyone similarly, and I think that’s necessary in a world where these lines are blurry.”

Bob Bruininks, University president
Outside sources of income:
Royalty income from Riverside Publishing
Royalty income from Pearson Education
Affiliated organizations:
University of Minnesota Foundation
Minnesota Medical Foundation
Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board
NASULGC
Mississippi River Trust
Minnesota Early Learning Foundation
Minnesota Business Partnership
Minnesota Orchestra
Big Ten Conference
National Collegiate Athletic Association
Midwest Universities Consortium of International Activities
Governor’s Educational Committee
Minnesota P-16 Education Partnership Roundtable
Committee for Economic Development
The National commission on Writing
Itasca Project
Arc Greater Twin Cities
Guthrie Theater
National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter
Comment: Bruininks did not respond to interview requests. University spokesman Dan Wolter sent the Daily an e-mailed response on behalf of Bruininks.
“My disclosure form includes modest publishing royalties from my academic career, as well as a very small stipend to help offset the expense of serving on the national Fulbright scholarship board, an important appointment that just recently ended. While none of these items actually constitute a conflict, I believe it’s critical that we all play by the same rules regarding disclosure in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

Thomas Sullivan, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs
Outside sources of income:
$2,500 honorarium for peer review of City University of Hong Kong Law School in December 2008
Comment: Could not be reached for comment.

Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services
Outside sources of income:
Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota
Affiliated organizations:
CSJ Ministries Foundation
DFL Education Foundation
Weisman Art Museum
Campus Club
Comment: Could not be reached for comment.

Karen Himle, vice president of University Relations
Outside sources of income:
HMN Financial directors Fees
Nebraska farm land crop sales
John Himle, Himle Horner Inc.
John Himle, Oklahoma oil/gas mineral rights
John Himle, Kraus-Anderson construction director’s fees
Affiliated organizations:
HMN Financial
Minnesota Orchestra
Commission on Judicial Selection, Minnesota Supreme Court
Comment: “I’ve spent many years as an officer of a publicly traded corporation, and as a matter of practice, officers of certain level in public traded corporations are required to report any for-profit boards on which they serve. It’s a practice that I’ve done for many years, so when I was given this form, it was a disclosure form, so I thought I will simply carry on as I always have to make sure that whomever I am working for knows all of my professional activities that I do along with the University. I am a paid director of that board, which is why as an employee of the University I disclose that fact. My HMN director’s fees are roughly $24,000 a year. I also run a family farm, I raise corn and soybeans. I retired from the board of Minnesota Orchestra in December of 2008.”

David Wippman, dean of the Law School
Outside sources of income:
Aspen Publishers, casebook royalties
Comment: “I have a public international casebook with two other faculty … and the discourse form requires disclosure of any sort of outside income over $10,000 that relates to law or law practices and that’s my field. And I listed it because not every year, but some years it exceeds that amount ... It’s maybe $13,000 on a year when a new edition comes out, it’s somewhere in that ball park.”

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education
Outside sources of income:
Prentice Hall Publication s, textbook
Comment: Declined to comment citing time constraints.

Allen Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Outside sources of income:
General Mills
Purdue University
Affiliated organizations:
Minnesota Agri-growth Council
Comment: “I went to Purdue University as a visiting professor, and I lectured for a class on food intake regulation. General Mills was the same thing; I gave a talk on food intake regulation and obesity,and I got paid for it. I am the director of the Minnesota Obesity Center, and my scholarly area of research is on obesity and food intake. They just called me to talk. I made under $1,000 for both of those, so it wasn’t a huge amount of money.”

L. Steven Goldstein, president and CEO of the University Foundation
Outside sources of income:
Internet Broadcasting
The Bush Foundation
Quatris Fund, LLC
Affiliated organizations:
University Enterprise Laboratories
Comment: University Foundation spokeswoman Martha Douglas commented on behalf of Goldstein.
“His comment is that the form is, by now, very out of date. It was almost a year ago when the form was completed, and things have changed a lot for him. He is not interested in commenting on the things he listed because they are out of date.”

Deborah Powell, dean emeritus of the Medical School
Outside sources of income:
Rent from house in Nantucket, Mass.
Pepsi Americas
Affiliated organizations:
Fairview Health Services
Minnesota Medical Foundation
Institute for Healthcare Improvement
Pepsi Americas
University of Minnesota Physicians
Comment: Powell could not be reached for comment, but there was some controversy after she joined Pepsi Americas’ board at the end of 2006. A report in the Pioneer Press revealed that Powell accepted a paid position on the board of Pepsi Americas, the world’s largest seller of Pepsi and Mountain Dew Products. Those serving on the board are paid in more than $60,000 in stock and a $30,000 annual retainer.

Mark Paller, executive vice dean of the Medical School
Outside sources of income:
Phiels & Wisniewski, Perrysburg, Ohio-based Family law firm ($5165)
Affiliated organizations:
Marjorie Paller (wife) Minneapolis Public School system
Comment: “It was doing consulting on a medical malpractice case. My wife works for Minneapolis Public Schools. I’m not doing any work for Phiels … I’m not working on any of those activities right now.”

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