Why I Recommend Serving on Research Responsibility Committees
By Ralph Viator
By serving on the Investigator Financial Disclosure Committee
(IFDC), one of several research responsibility committees, my self-perception transitioned, unexpectedly. I moved away from seeing myself as a professor employed by a specific college to teach in a specific program, and towards seeing myself, fundamentally, as a Texas Tech professor. The transition has been very enriching.
In spring of 2012, I was offered the opportunity to chair the IFDC, a new research responsibility committee. My personal contribution as chair of the IFDC has been modest: identifying problems to be addressed by the committee, structuring discussion of those problems, and guiding committee members in developing new policies and procedures.
Prior to serving on the IFDC, I was unaware of the complex issues regarding externally funded research and investigators’ financial and business interests. Potential financial conflict of interest arises when faculty have legitimate financial interests, such as stock ownership or consulting services, that might be affected by their externally funded research. More importantly, I was unaware of the gravity of those issues. Trying to understand “what are the issues” was a challenge; thinking through how administrators and faculty can optimally address those issues was another challenge. By digging into the underlying issues, I learned much about the diversity of research at Texas Tech and the demands placed on both faculty and administrators as they strive to comply with disclosure. The fundamental riddle that I came to appreciate is this: how does the university establish an environment where faculty are encouraged to pursue excellence in research, establish themselves as leading experts in their field, yet maintain unquestionable conduct that insures the integrity and reliability of Texas Tech research? The answers are not easily derived.
A second outcome of serving on the IFDC is that I more deeply appreciate the importance of faculty governance, which is neither a slogan nor a means for faculty “to feel good about themselves.” Rather, faculty oversight in managing issues such as investigators’ potential financial conflict of interest is critical. Yes, Texas Tech administrators are actively involved on a daily basis in managing potential financial conflicts of interest, including reviewing financial disclosures by faculty and developing management plans. However, how would administrators become aware of faculty views without oversight by a faculty committee? Furthermore, how would faculty develop an appreciation of the complexity of the issues faced by Texas Tech as an institution, without the direct involvement of faculty in developing policy and procedures? Because of my service on the IFDC, I now more deeply appreciate the relevance of faculty governance.
My experience serving on the IFDC has deepened my connection to the university as a whole. I now see myself as a Texas Tech professor, rather than an accounting professor who happens to teach and conduct research at Texas Tech. For that reason, I can strongly recommend that other faculty, from the many diverse departments and programs across the university, volunteer to serve on university-level committees, including the research responsibility committees.
Ralph Viator is the Clark & Lois Webster Professor in the School of Accounting and chair of the Investigator Financial Disclosure Committee .