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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Senate puts off prof. investigation decision

    The Faculty Senate again delayed taking action on a revised policy for investigating scholarly research misconduct at the UA yesterday, citing reservations that researchers such as those who use human subjects might be vulnerable to anonymous complaints.

    Charles Sterling, a veterinary science professor, introduced a new version of the code for investigating misconduct after university attorneys and Michael Cusanovich, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, made some adjustments.

    Cusanovich had said if the UA policy precluded investigating an allegation of something like falsified data in a project, but the federal Office of Research Integrity did look into it, the university as a whole could face severe consequences.

    Sterling said the university attorneys decided to comply with statements in the 2005 Federal Register from the ORI, a national agency that regulates university research, requiring universities to accept anonymous allegations of fraud and other misconduct.

    But Roy Spece Jr., a professor of law, said he didn’t agree with the university attorneys’ action because the actual text of the Federal Register only states that universities must accept “”complaints.”” Spece said the ORI has interpreted the text to mean “”all complaints,”” including anonymous ones.

    “”The mere fact that they do it as a matter of custom doesn’t mean you have to do it,”” Spece said.

    However, Spece said he was worried that the government would reject a policy that took a hard stance against anonymous complaints. For that reason, he introduced a compromise of his own.

    Spece’s compromise was to make anonymous complaints acceptable only for people involved in research, who are not tenured or have continuing status, so that people at a disadvantage in their position wouldn’t need to fear reprisals.

    “”The idea is vulnerable people have the ability to make anonymous complaints,”” Spece said. “”I’m contending that people who have tenure or continuing status aren’t vulnerable people.””

    James Ranger-Moore, an associate professor of public health, spoke in favor of anonymity, saying that allegations of fraud shouldn’t be ignored no matter what their source.

    “”Imagine if we didn’t follow up on that, and it later came to light that there was fraud there,”” Ranger-Moore said. “”That has implications for the entire research program at the university.””

    Ranger-Moore said anonymous complaints are usually self-contained anyway, requiring detailed explanations of wrongdoings that usually point investigators directly to the evidence they need.

    Dr. Marlys Witte, a professor of surgery, said she is against anonymity for most complaints, though the type in Ranger-Moore’s scenario are fine because they focus on an act and not an individual.

    For instance, a group of data could be investigated and determined fraudulent, and an investigation could determine who of the 20 to 30 people working on the project is responsible.

    Sylvan Green, a professor of public health, said he was worried about another aspect of the investigations that might breach the privacy of possible human subjects involved in research projects.

    Sterling said he thought those people were already protected under federal law. The Faculty Senate eventually ran out of time for the issue and planned to bring it up again later and discuss new clarifications about human subjects and anonymity.

    The Faculty Senate also approved a graduate certificate in water policy, which will now head to the Arizona Board of Regents for final approval.

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