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Columbia Spectator Staff

A University Senate task force will soon release recommendations for a Columbia-wide conflict of interest disclosure policy, while SIPA and Arts and Sciences continue to deliberate on their own specific policies. The USenate task force, led by political science professor and USenate Executive Committee Chair Sharyn O'Halloran, will present an update on its work at this Friday's senate meeting. Meanwhile, the School of International and Public Affairs and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are working independently to develop their own policies. O'Halloran said that the senate review is likely to result mostly in "technical changes" to the University's policies, influenced by disclosure regulations just released by the National Institutes for Health. "Many of the schools will choose to have even more stringent policies, and I believe that's absolutely appropriate," O'Halloran said. Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks said that a new A&S policy is being discussed by the Policy and Planning Committee. At SIPA, Dean John Coatsworth—who is also the University's interim provost—appointed a small faculty task force this fall to draft what professor and committee chair Robert Lieberman calls a "strong conflict of interest policy that will hold our faculty to high standards of transparency and openness." Lieberman explained that while it is crucial for SIPA professors to get involved with the world outside of the University, impartiality within academia needs to be protected. "The faculty's broad engagement in understanding and trying to solve these problems is essential to what the school is," he said in an email. "At the same time, transparency is equally important for scholarship." The senate made plans to review the policy this year when it last passed a University-wide policy two years ago. But many professors have said that the current policy discussions are being driven by "Inside Job," a documentary released late last year which criticized Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard and Business School professor Frederic Mishkin for perceived conflicts of interest. Columbia Business School and Columbia Law School passed new disclosure policies in the spring. "It was definitely spurred in part by the 'Inside Job,'" said Law School professor Harvey Goldschmid, who helped develop the law school's new policy. "I'm not sure whether we'd have focused on this issue as such without the buzz that came." The policy passed by the law school in April requires professors to "prominently disclose in published written work any external consulting or other activities, whether compensated or not, that a reasonable person would believe creates a significant possibility that an author's views could be inappropriately influenced or compromised." Among other obligations, it also mandates that faculty members disclose, in all written works, "the payment of compensation to them, by a business enterprise or other person, for such written work that discusses issues about which the business enterprise or other person has an economic interest or other specific interest." Goldschmid pointed out that a policy limiting the amount of consulting law professors could do had been in place since 1982. "The Law faculty knew its paramount obligations were to be teachers and scholars," Goldschmid said. "When the 'Inside Job' spurred us, so to say, we then focused on where the gaps were." Under the straightforward policy passed by the business school in May, professors must publicly disclose all outside activities—including consulting—that create or appear to create conflicts of interest. In May, Vice Dean Christopher Mayer told Spectator that he expected other schools to follow the business school's lead. news@columbiaspectator.com

USenate university senate inside job conflict of interest
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