Faculty members are public officials whose professional activities may create situations in which their private or personal interests are potentially in opposition to their official responsibilities. A faculty member must be sensitive to the potential for conflict of interest situations and act in a manner to minimize their effects.
As a matter of state law and University policy, it is the responsibility of faculty members to avoid being in a position of authority over a spouse or a member of the immediate family who also is employed by the University (for specific details, see the University's Financial and Administrative Policies Manual and Code of Virginia 2.1-639.6). A faculty member and his or her spouse or another member of the immediate family may both be employed by the University, so long as the faculty member does not exercise any control over the employment conditions and activities (such as initial appointment, retention, promotion, tenure, salary, leave of absence, grievance advantage) of the spouse or relative and is not in a position to influence those activities. Furthermore, the state and local government Conflict of Interests Act permits dual employment of spouses or other immediate family members, in the following limited circumstances:
- if both the employee and the family member are in teaching, research, or administrative support positions;
- if the Board of Visitors finds that it is in the best interests of the institution and the Commonwealth for such dual employment to exist; and
- if the Board of Visitors ensures that neither the employee nor the family member supervises, evaluates, or otherwise participates in personnel decisions regarding the other.
As a matter of sound judgment and professional ethics, faculty members have a responsibility to avoid any apparent or actual conflict between their professional responsibilities and personal interests in terms of their dealings or relationships with students. It is the responsibility of faculty members to avoid being placed in a position of authority - by virtue of their specific teaching, research, or administrative assignments - over their spouses or other immediate family members who are students at the University. It is also the responsibility of faculty members to avoid engaging in sexual relationships with or making sexual overtures to students over whom they are in a position of authority by virtue of their specific teaching, research, or administrative assignments. [NOTE: In this context, the term "faculty members" broadly includes all full-time and part-time University personnel who hold positions on the academic or general faculty, as well as all graduate teaching assistants, graders, and coaches.] These professional constraints derive from AAUP ethical standards and the University's policy prohibiting conflict of interests, in order to ensure that the evaluation of students is conducted fairly and without any perception of favoritism or bias. Perhaps less obvious, but equally compelling, is the interest in avoiding potential harm to students as well as the liability that could occur, for example, if facts regarding a sexual relationship or sexual overture are demonstrated that support a legal claim of sexual harassment by either party (see Policy on Sexual Harassment).
The Conflict of Interests Act also currently contains other pertinent provisions. For example, a University employee may be allowed to have a contract with another state agency if the contract is awarded through a competitive process and the employee discloses the employee's personal interest in such a contract to the administrative head of that agency. [NOTE: The Conflict of Interests Act provisions on contracts between the University and its own employees are too complex to summarize here- faculty members should consult the Financial and Administrative Policies Manual. Except under extraordinary circumstances, the University does not buy goods or services from faculty or staff members. Should an occasion arise where such a purchase appears to be in the best interest of the University, the department should contact the director of Purchasing and Materials Services.] An employee is prohibited from soliciting or accepting money or any other thing of value for performing official duties, except the compensation or expenses paid by the University. Under the Act, an employee of the University may not use for his own economic benefit confidential information not available to the public and acquired by reason of his/her position.
In accordance with the Act and the Ethics in Public Contracting section of the Virginia Public Procurement Act, University employees must not accept personal gifts of any kind, including food and beverages, travel, and tickets to sporting and cultural events, from firms with which the University does business. Gifts of goods or services to the University or to an employee cannot influence the selection of a vendor to provide goods or services to the University. Offers of incentives, free goods and services, gifts, and coupons should be reported to the director of Purchasing and Materials Services.
The technical details of these and other conflict of interest situations are set forth in the Financial and Administrative Policies Manual and in the Code of Virginia, which should be consulted by all faculty members who may be involved in any such situation.
Failure to abide by the conflict of interest principles described above can have serious consequences. Violations of the employment-based restrictions contained in the State Conflict of Interests Act may lead to civil - and if willful, criminal - penalties, as well as termination from state employment. Breaches of professional ethics standards (e.g., an abuse of the faculty member's authority over students) may also prompt disciplinary action. Moreover, serious misconduct associated with sexual harassment raises the risk, under federal law and state policy, of personal responsibility in terms of both litigation defense and liability exposure.
A deliberate action to obtain an unauthorized personal benefit is a fraudulent transaction. This might include misappropriation of cash or property, unauthorized use of University property, unauthorized use of University employees to perform non-University business, or use of the University telephone system for personal long distance telephone calls. Deans and department chairs are responsible for reporting any fraudulent transactions to the University Police and the Audit Department.
Office of the Vice President and Provost
September 2, 1993