Annual Report 1998

CPI is proud of its "renegade" heritage and is insistent on not becoming a part of the TAMU formal bureaucratic structure. Nevertheless, the past year was notable for the cooperation between CPI and the TAMU administrative personnel. Examples include:

  • University administrators routinely request nominations from CPI for ad hoc committees and appoint CPI members to all research related committees. The Chair of CPI continues to be a member of the University Research Council.
  • CPI has been requested to participate in the review of candidates for administrative positions related to research, including the search for the Associate Vice President for Research, which resulted in the selection of Dr. Larry F. Lemanski. Other searches included those for Associate Provost for Information Technologies and Director of Radiation Safety.
  • CPI particiapted in the review of various System and University rules and regulations. These ranged from revised travel rules to the annual contract between TAMU and TAMRF (Research Foundation). In many cases CPI input resulted in changes that eliminated unnecessary regulations, providing more flexibility to principal investigators.
  • As recommended by CPI, the Vice President for Research is creating an advisory Research Infrastructure Committee which will have as members several CPI members (including the Chair of CPI) and other principal investigators.
  • At the request of CPI, the CPI Communications Committee, the Provost, and the Associate Vice President for Research met with State Representative Bill Roman to discuss how to inform legislators and the public about the benefits which research at Texas A&M and other academic institutions provide to the State of Texas.
  • The CPI Communications and Fiscal Committees met quarterly with the Vice President for Finance to review fiscal rules that caused barriers to research of principal investigators.
  • Members of CPI, along with TAMU and TAMRF administrative personnel are deeply involved in studying electronic research administration (ERA). The Vice President for Research supported travel of CPI members to two national meetings about ERA and formed a committee (which contains two CPI members) to develop electronic submission capability for grants administered internally.
  • CPI member Dr. Sharon Braunagel was appointed the TAMU representative to the Federal Partnership (FDP).


Working Group Activities

COMMUNICATIONS

  • The Communications Working Group acts as a steering committee and as the committee which interacts with external groups. This group was involved with all the activities mentioned above as well as with the work of the other committees which involved communication with external groups. One major activity planned for the coming year is to work with the office of Vice President for Research to cooperate with faculty administrators at other research universities in Texas to form a coalition to inform the people of Texas about the importance of research.


FISCAL

  • CPI determined that the relaxed rules for purchasing eventually percolated through the system, but it took quite some time. At one of the quarterly meetings with the Vice President for Finance, CPI recommended that he create an ombud position. The ombud would facilitate communication (on purchasing and other issues) between members of the academic community and personnel in Finance by serving as a contact person for those in the academic community. The Vice President is considering this recommendation.
  • CPI assisted Finance with the revisions to University travel rules. The new rules provide more flexibility. In particular, for accounts for which it is legal, there are now many exceptions to the State Travel Allowance guidelines, and State Travel Management guidelines are no longer applied to non state funds.
  • CPI looked into problems surrounding the payment of foreigners and found the TAMU interpretation of federal regulations significantly differed from that of other organizations. Revised rules for payment of foreigners have been in place since May 1997, but there continue to be difficulties even in reimbursing foreign nationals for expenses only.
  • Matching moneys for grants (EMAP funds) have traditionally carried very restrictive regulations. After discussions with CPI, the Vice President for Finance has relaxed the regulations and further flexibility will be introduced for EMAP accounts established after September 1, 1998.
  • Under the revised Circular A-21, office and related supplies are no longer allowed as direct costs on Federal grants. Discussion of sources to provide these essential items has been initiated in CPI and will be pursued in the coming year.
  • CPI should meet with the Vice President for Administration to learn how university contract rates are established, specifically long distance telephone rates. The charge for parking at Easterwood should also be addressed, as well as service account rules, e.g. their perceived effect on competition with external vendors.


HUMAN RESOURCES

  • CPI has convinced the administration that the lack of availability of health and other benefits, including in-state tuition, for fellowship holders is a serious problem, and several committees have been established to consider this matter. CPI has met with university officials and Scott and White to explore outside coverage. It will interact with the university committees investigating the matter and recommend that the university develop a flyer for immediate circulation describing the insurance options which are currently available.
  • CPI succeeded in obtaining some increased flexibility for principal investigators in hiring research personnel. Among other achievements, there now exists a non-classified title of Temporary Research Assistant. CPI will work to remove the requirement for a minimum number of hours that is being placed on research titles by some units.
  • CPI alerted the administration that some units did not allow pay increases for graduate research assistants (GARs) under revised university rules. The administration added rules (approved January 12, 1998) to make it clear that GAR pay increases are tied to college research policy. CPI members should attempt to meet with units that do not comply with these rules.
  • CPI will continue to work with the administration to remove or relax the hour cap for graduate students.
  • CPI is seeking tuition waivers for graduate assistants.


LEGAL

  • After learning of a request using the State of Texas Open Records Act for original data from a researcher at the University of Texas, CPI undertook the task of understanding this Act and its ramifications including:
  • the criteria used to keep unpublished, original research data protected
  • the process by which a researcher should respond to such a request to maintain privacy of intellectual property, and
  • the process initiated by the Office of General Counsel when informed of such a request.

The Associate General Counsel Scott Kelly met with the Communications and Legal committees and also made a presentation at the May 1997 CPI meeting. While this is not an attempt to summarize all that was clarified by the Associate General Counsel, several points are fundamental for a proper response to a request under the Texas Open Records Act and for the maintenance of intellectual rights of unpublished data:

(1) Any request can be considered an Open Records Act request. While routine exchanges of data will likely not be affected, if a PI receives a request that the PI considers inappropriate, the PI should treat this request as though it is a Open Records Act Request.

(2) Upon receipt of such a request by the PI, General Counsel has only ten working days to respond in writing to the Attorney General and explain why this information should remain protected. Therefore, the PI should IMMEDIATELY inform General Counsel Rick Floyd's office so that a timely response can be generated. General Counsel would then make every effort to see that unpublished and appropriate material remained protected.

An ongoing project concerns the compilation and clarification of information that relates to "conflict of interest," While TAMU System Policy sets the basic principles and expectations, the policy has been further interpreted and expanded, or modified, by TAMU, colleges and departments to address specific needs. There are ambiguities, particularly for faculty that have joint appointments or who are very active in interdisciplinary areas where Conflict of Interest is an immediate issue. Statements regarding Conflict of Interest are not only found in TAMU Rules on Conflicts of Interest [15.01.03.M1] but related policies are included in policies on "Consulting," "Travel," "Intellectual Property." "Ethics," "Use of University Equipment," "Continuing Education," "Authorship," and others. CPI is working to clearly define policy and processes to interpret ambiguities.

CPI will also attempt to determine the extent of PI responsibility for equipment that is under the jurisdiction of the PI.


RESEARCH & GRADUATE STUDIES

The primary accomplishment of this group was the preparation of the CPI response to the draft of the TAMU Strategic Plan. A detailed list of suggestions was sent to the Provost and to the university committee responsible for revising the preliminary version of the Strategic Plan.

CPI reviewed and made recommendations on a preliminary version of a university document which details the roles and responsibilities of principal investigators and others in the conduct of sponsored research. CPI will be involved with rewriting the next version of this document.

CPI was supportive of several initiatives of the Graduate Student Association and intends to increase its interaction with that organization.