Faculty: New UT System disclosure policy could invade privacy

Anthony Green

Faculty members voiced concerns at a Faculty Council meeting Monday about how a comprehensive new policy designed to disclose potential conflicts of interests among University employees could invade employees’ privacy.

The policy, known as UTS-180, would create an online public system to document employee activities outside UT that run the risk of creating conflicts of interest or commitment.

The disclosure policy was meant to take effect in April after the UT System Board of Regents approved it in January, but System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa delayed its system-wide implementation for further review. Now the policy will not take effect until January 2014.

Kinesiology professor Jody Jensen said the System would gather information unrelated to faculty members’ activities outside of UT that should not be published online, but didn’t specify what information was unnecessary for determining conflicts

“The relevant information is in the case of a conflict of interest,” Jensen said. “Everything else seems irrelevant yet is still stored.”

Article 6.2 of the policy says faculty must disclose their activity if they determine it constitutes a conflict of interest or commitment and their outside compensation exceeds $5,000.

President William Powers Jr. said at the meeting that he understands faculty concerns about privacy but believes much anxiety over the policy’s implementation stems from faculty’s reluctance to publicly discuss financial affairs.

“Once information gets collected, it is subject to public display,” Powers said. “People don’t like their financial information disclosed. Unfortunately, that is just what people are curious about.”

In May, Dan Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System, said the policy merited further consideration after faculty protests.

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

In addition to gathering information on employees’ outside affairs, the council also reviewed newly enacted policy concerning employee travel. 

The travel policy requires University employees to make travel arrangements through Anthony Travel Incorporated or Concur Solutions. Previously, the policy allowed employees to book travel plans by any personal means. 

“We had a very able engineering student supervised by faculty members conduct airline and hotel pricing through Concur,” said Patricia Clubb, vice president for University Operations. “While traveling to Beijing, which along with similar cases will be auto-exempted from Concur booking requirements, the student found generally cheaper prices for European travel and accommodations.” 

The reforms include permission to use frequent-flyer mile usage, reimbursement coverage and a partnership with Southwest Airlines allowing a 25 percent discount on fully refundable tickets purchased through Anthony Travel or Concur. 

“By measuring volume through Concur and Anthony Travel, we can get a better idea of the amount of travel we do and gain clout among airliners and hotels, leading to better prices for our clientele,” said Lee Loden, director of Travel Management Services.