Administrators to discuss controversial policy with faculty

University officials have committed to working more closely with faculty in discussing new research guidelines, which have been the subject of a slew of complaints in the last two weeks.

The Faculty Senate Executive Committee met with Carol Sigelman, associate vice president for research and graduate studies, on Monday to address many professors’ concerns that new restrictions placed on University-sponsored research are excessive and lacked faculty input. Sigelman sent an e-mail to faculty last month outlining new research guidelines, including mandatory ethics training for all principal investigators. Principal investigators are responsible for managing research projects.

The University is attempting to implement stricter guidelines for research following the October 2004 arrest of former professor Nabih Bedewi in connection with charges of embezzling nearly $600,000 in federal research money. Several professors have complained about the new guidelines and training session, claiming they are being punished for someone else’s misdeeds.

Faculty members in attendance at the meeting said Sigelman will hold an additional series of meetings with researchers to explain the new policies and take faculty suggestions.

The issue was also discussed during a closed session of the Faculty Senate last Friday involving Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, and University President Joel Trachtenberg. Professors at the meeting said the administrators acknowledged the need to be more responsive to professors and promised to involve faculty in future decisions.

“I think they understand the situation and why the faculty are up in arms,” said Murli Gupta, a professor of mathematics who represents the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences on the Executive Committee. “I think they’re now fully informed of what’s going on and understand the issues.”

Gupta was one of several faculty members who objected to the e-mail from Sigelman. In addition to the training sessions, researchers are now required to fill out longer conflict of interest disclosure forms and submit to a full background check before conducting any project costing more than $1 million.

“Faculty are used to the presumption that they’re being honest, and most faculty are very honest,” said Charles Garris, a professor of engineering and member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. “The research restrictions have been jacked up to the point that faculty feel as though they’re being criminalized.”

Garris said research professors are a significant source of prestige and revenue for the University and he worries that new policies might discourage them from conducting University-sponsored projects.

Sigelman said the new policies are necessary to meet the government’s standards, and noted that the administration is also taking steps to better manage University-sponsored research. The burden, she said, does not entirely fall on the faculty.

“We’re being asked as an institution to ensure that we don’t have future incidents of that sort, and in order to protect the faculty…we’re trying to ensure that they have a better understanding of the regulations and where they came from,” Sigelman said. “This is not about blaming the faculty at all.”

Administrators have maintained that the new measures were established to comply with a federal government order, resulting from the Bedewi incident, which requires them to take steps against research misconduct. However, Gupta said the administration has not shared the exact language of the government mandate.

“The faculty needs to know what’s being demanded of us and the University, so we can read those documents and perhaps reach the same conclusion,” Gupta said. In an e-mail message, Sigelman said talks with faculty have been “very constructive” and that she would continue taking professors’ suggestions.

Professors said they did not know if any changes to the new policies will be made, but they look forward to working more closely with the administration on the issue.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.