Faculty member threatens departure as Faculty Council prepares to vote on disclosure policy

Jordan Rudner

Faculty members are rallying against a new UT System disclosure policy that may diminish the University’s ability to recruit and retain professors, according to current Faculty Council members.

The Faculty Council will meet Monday to vote on a resolution objecting to UT System-wide Policy 180, also known as the “Conflict of Interest, Conflicts of Commitment and Outside Activities” policy. The policy would enact a litany of disclosure requirements for all University employees, including forcing faculty members to disclose any gifts they or their family members receive costing more than $250, among other requirements.

Though the policy was originally meant to be implemented Wednesday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced in April that implementation would be delayed until Sept. 1. The announcement came two days after a Faculty Council meeting during which faculty members expressed objections to the policy for more than an hour. 

“The chancellor heard from some of the faculty members and some of the presidents, who expressed concerns,” said Dan Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System. “He decided to take another look at some of the elements of the policy to see if there’s a need for revision.”

One engineering professor, who requested to remain anonymous because his leave of absence request is still pending, said the policy is what convinced him to take a leave from the University, and he will see how the policy plays out before deciding to return.

“My decision isn’t entirely about UTS 180, but that really pushed me over the edge,” the professor said. “It absolutely encroaches on what people would normally consider time away from work. UT is an excellent school, but this doesn’t make any sense.” 

English professor Alan Friedman, a former Faculty Council chairman, said many other faculty members also have concerns. 

“This policy is intrusive,” Friedman said. “It violates academic freedom and privacy rights. There was no argument or rationale offered to why it was needed or what it was intended to accomplish. No study has been done to demonstrate that this will serve any purpose or do any good, and it has not been tried out elsewhere.”

Brian Evans, an electrical and computer engineering professor who created a web page expressing concerns with UTS 180, said he had similar objections.

“The biggest problem with UTS 180 is that it’s forcing faculty, staff and anybody on salary to make their private lives public,” Evans said. “That’s outrageous.” 

Among other provisions, the policy would require full-time faculty and staff to disclose the nature and extent of any outside employment or activity that “may reasonably appear to create a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment,” even if the outside activities are uncompensated, including activities by immediate family members.

“When in doubt in determining whether an activity or interest should be disclosed, the individual should resolve the doubt in favor of disclosure,” the policy states. 

The policy also requires faculty and staff to obtain approval before engaging in the activities it mentions. 

Sharphorn said he acknowledged certain faculty members have concerns but did not say whether he thinks they were legitimate.

“I understand why certain faculty members are concerned, but I don’t know if I’m willing to say whether those concerns are valid or not,” Sharphorn said. “There are many faculty members who don’t have objection to [UTS 180].” 

Sharphorn said public research often includes extensive disclosure requirements, though he said he isn’t aware of any universities that have policies similar to the proposed UTS 180.

“It’s gotten to be pretty common that public employees involved in public research don’t have a lot of privacy,” Sharphorn said. “This just expands those disclosure policies in a couple of ways.”