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Allegations of Misconduct in Research Procedures

Category Research
Type Procedure
Approved by Council, 3 August 1993
Date Procedure Took Effect 1 January 1994
Last Approved Revision 29 May 2019
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
Responsible Officer Senior Research Analyst
Review Date 19 May 2024

Purpose

To establish procedures for the investigation of allegations of misconduct in research and to define the authority of those with responsibility for dealing with such cases.

Organisational Scope

These procedures apply to all staff and students of the University who engage in any form of research, and to those charged with investigating allegations of misconduct in research.

Where a matter covered by these procedures falls within the scope of other University policies or procedures, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise will determine which policies or procedures will apply, either in addition to, or as an appropriate alternative to, the Allegations of Misconduct in Research Procedures (noting that the Allegations of Misconduct in Research Procedures shall always be applied in cases where the alleged misconduct may have implications for published research or research otherwise in the public domain). Such other University policies and procedures may include:

  • Ethical Behaviour Policy – which may apply where the matter concerns unethical conduct, including harassment, bullying, discrimination, abuse of supervisory authority, or failing to declare or manage a conflict of interest
  • Fraud Procedure (and associated Fraud Policy) – which may apply where the alleged misconduct involves deception, misrepresentation or omission committed with the intention of gaining an unjust or illegal financial advantage or to cause an unjust or illegal loss or disadvantage
  • Student Academic Misconduct Procedures – which may apply where the alleged misconduct relates to a student’s current research-based studies.

Definitions

Misconduct in Research includes:

  • The fabrication of data by claiming results where none have been obtained
  • The falsification of data, by changing records or falsely claiming the use of techniques or methods or of levels of precision
  • Plagiarism, including the direct copying of handwritten, typed, printed or published text or notation, the use of other people's data without acknowledgement or permission where that was appropriate, and the deliberate use of published or unpublished ideas from other people without adequate attribution. This includes materials published online
  • Misleading ascription of authorship, including listing of authors without their permission, attributing work to others who have not contributed to the research, and failing to acknowledge work produced by an academic associate, research student or trainee
  • Conducting research without ethics approval in any circumstances where such approval is required
  • Breaches of confidentiality and privacy
  • Breaches of institutional data (including but not limited to surveys, reviews, Human Resources data, Business Objects, Finance One, eVision)
  • Other practices that seriously deviate from those accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting or reporting research, including activities that contravene the University’s Health and Safety Policies, Ethical Behaviour Policy, Fraud Policy, Student Academic Misconduct Procedures or Code of Conduct for Responsible Practice in Research. Misconduct does not include honest error or honest differences in the interpretation or judgment of data.

Preliminary Inquiry     An initial assessment under these procedures to determine whether an allegation of research misconduct merits formal investigation.
Formal Investigation     A formal investigation under these procedures to determine whether serious misconduct in research has occurred and to make recommendations for consequent action.

Policy Content

1. Protection of parties

(a) All those involved in matters considered under these procedures are expected to act fairly and in good faith toward interested parties, who may include:

i. the person bringing the allegation
ii. the person or persons against whom an allegation is made
iii. research students and staff working with the person(s) concerned
iv. the Department(s) and/or Programmes(s) in which the research was conducted
v. the Department, Programme and/or Institution of the person bringing the allegation
vi. publishers, actual or potential, of allegedly fraudulent work
vii. funding bodies which have contributed to the research
viii. human subjects of on-going or past research
ix. the public.

2. Raising concerns, allegations or complaints

(a) Concerns, allegations or complaints about misconduct in research by any staff member or student (“the researcher”) are to be raised with the appropriate Divisional Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) who will notify the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise (DVC R&E).

(b) The party raising a matter (“the complainant”) will be:

i. provided a copy of these procedures
ii. advised that information provided about another person is likely to become available to that person in the course of the processes established by these procedures or under the provisions of the Privacy Act
iii. afforded an opportunity to discuss their concerns with the PVC.

(c) If the PVC considers it appropriate, they may seek additional information regarding the matter raised. This might include advice from Human Resources, the Registrar or other University professional staff to determine if the matter more appropriately falls within the purview of another University policy or procedure.

(d) Where the matter raised appears to the PVC to be one which would be capable of being resolved, and which would be appropriately resolved, through discussions between the complainant and the researcher, mediation may be recommended to those parties, but neither shall be required to participate in that process.

(e) After the initial discussions, and any mediation, the complainant should be offered the opportunity to decide whether or not they wish the matter to proceed. Should the complainant wish the matter to proceed, or should the PVC determine that it should do so, the matter must be submitted in writing to the DVC R&E by the complainant or the PVC as the case may be.

(f) If the matter raised appears to the PVC to fall within the purview of another policy or procedure, for example the Ethical Behaviour Policy or the Fraud Policy, the PVC will inform the DVC R&E and refer the matter appropriately.

3. Preliminary Inquiry

(a) Where an allegation of misconduct in research is submitted to the DVC R&E, they will:

i. inform the Vice-Chancellor
ii. after such consultation as they consider appropriate, appoint a person or persons to conduct a Preliminary Inquiry, and establish terms of reference for that inquiry
iii. provide the researcher involved with:

  • written advice that a Preliminary Inquiry is to proceed and a copy of its terms of reference and of these procedures
  • a fair summary of the issues being considered, including the name of the complainant unless there is good reason to withhold that information
  • advice of their right to provide, within not more than fourteen (14) days, a written response to the concerns

iv. call on the researcher to produce relevant experimental data files or other material for the purposes of the processes under these procedures. The DVC R&E will ensure that such material is kept secure for those purposes and in a way that protects the interests of all relevant parties.

(b) A Preliminary Inquiry shall:

i. be limited to an assessment of the information supplied by the complainant, any additional material sourced under clause 2(c), any response provided under clause 3(a)iii (bullet point 3), and experimental data files or other material provided under clause 3(a)iv
ii. be completed quickly, preferably within thirty (30) days
iii. be conducted so far as possible on a confidential basis.

(c) The Preliminary Inquiry shall not purport to make any final determination but shall report to the DVC R&E the investigator’s view as to whether:

i. the matter is of sufficient seriousness, and
ii. whether there is or is likely to be sufficient evidence
to warrant holding a Formal Investigation.

(d) The report of a Preliminary Inquiry may also:

i. make recommendations as to any steps that might be included as part of a Formal Investigation process, if one is warranted
ii. suggest any steps that should be taken to protect the interests of other parties, including steps that would involve disclosure of information regarding the issues being inquired into
iii. comment on the way in which the matter was raised, including whether it may have been made without reasonable foundation or in bad faith.

4. Actions on completion of the Preliminary Inquiry

(a) If, in light of the report of the Preliminary Inquiry, the DVC R&E considers that no further action is warranted, the researcher and the complainant shall be advised accordingly. This outcome shall be recorded, and all information put forward in the process shall be managed in a manner that appropriately protects the interests of those involved.

(b) If, in light of the report of the Preliminary Inquiry, the DVC R&E considers that a Formal Investigation may be warranted, the researcher shall be advised accordingly and shall be given a copy of the report and provided seven (7) days to supply further written comment.

(c) After considering any further comment under clause 4(b) the DVC R&E shall either:

i. determine that the matter be closed, in which case clause 4(a) shall apply, or
ii. proceed to establish a Formal Investigation under clause 5.

(d) The DVC R&E may also:

i. determine whether there are other individuals or organisations that need to be informed of the circumstances
ii. if concerned that the complainant has acted in bad faith, refer the matter to the Vice-Chancellor for consideration to be given to action to be taken against that person
iii. refer any other forms of misconduct that it appears may have occurred for action under the Ethical Behaviour Policy or other applicable policies.  

5. Formal Investigation

(a) The DVC R&E shall establish an Investigation Panel of one or more persons to conduct the Formal Investigation in accordance with these procedures and under specific Terms of Reference appropriate to the relevant situation.

(b) The DVC R&E shall ensure the Investigation Panel is free from any actual or apparent bias and may make appointments to the Investigation Panel from within or from outside the University.

(c) As far as possible, Formal Investigations shall be undertaken on a confidential basis.

(d) If a researcher under investigation leaves the University before a Formal Investigation is complete it will nevertheless be completed in the interests of the integrity of the research and the potential interests of other parties.

(e) If information available to the DVC R&E calls into question the validity of one or more research publications the Terms of Reference may extend to the investigation of research beyond that covered by the Preliminary Inquiry.

(f) The Terms of Reference established by the DVC R&E for a Formal Investigation may allow it to be conducted without procedural formality but shall:

i. clearly state the specific allegations which are being investigated
ii. empower the Investigation Panel to require any member of the University to give oral evidence before it and/or to produce any material or other records in their possession relating to the matters at issue, and to require the researcher to repeat an experiment for the Investigation Panel where this is appropriate
iii. require that all relevant material which is to be available to the Investigation Panel is disclosed to the researcher
iv. entitle the researcher to meet with the Investigation Panel with the assistance of legal representation to present a response to the allegations under investigation.

(g) The Investigation Panel shall provide the Terms of Reference to the researcher involved and shall complete its investigation into matters in accordance with those terms following such reasonable process as deals with the matters expeditiously while ensuring fairness to all interested parties.

(h) The Investigation Panel may at any time seek amendment or extension of their Terms of Reference. The DVC R&E shall seek and take into account the views of the researcher before making any such change.

6. Action following the Formal Investigation

(a) The decision of the Formal Investigation will take the form of findings on any allegations made and recommendations to the DVC R&E as to action that might be taken.

(b) If an allegation is not proven:

i. the researcher shall be entitled to have this recorded, and to have all information put forward in the process managed in a manner that appropriately protects the interests of those involved
ii. the DVC R&E shall give consideration to any redress that may be appropriate for the researcher.

(c) If the investigation suggests any allegation was made in bad faith, the DVC R&E shall give consideration to referring the matter to the Vice Chancellor for appropriate process to be followed.

(d) If the allegation is proven the DVC R&E:

i. shall refer the matter if it involves a member of staff to the Vice-Chancellor for action to be considered under the researcher’s employment agreement or independent contract or for other legal action to be considered
ii. in the case of any matter involving a student, shall exercise any of the powers established by clause 5.7(b) to (f) of the Academic Statute 2011
iii. shall determine what information, if any, should be released, having regard to the interests of all concerned. This shall include determining whether funding agencies and publishers need to be informed that research and publications may have resulted from misconducted research
iv. shall determine any steps that may be required to address the position of past and present co-workers in relation to the misconduct.

7. Acknowledgement of Misconduct by Researcher

(a) If at any point a researcher acknowledges that their actions represent misconduct in research the DVC R&E may suspend the operation of these procedures as they relate to a Preliminary Inquiry and/or Formal Investigation, and instead shall arrange for a report to be prepared recording the circumstances and the researcher’s acknowledgment.

(b) A report prepared under clause 7(a) shall be supplied to the researcher who shall be:

i. advised of their right to seek legal advice or other support
ii. invited to provide written acknowledgement of their acceptance of the terms of the report.

(c) If a researcher accepts a report in accordance with clause 7(b)ii the matter shall be dealt with under clause 6(d) on the basis of that report.

8. Interim Measures

(a) At any stage of the processes under these procedures relevant funding agencies may need to be informed that an investigation is in progress. Any decision to make such disclosure shall be made by the DVC R&E.

(b) If at any time it appears to those undertaking a Preliminary Inquiry or Formal Investigation, or to the DVC R&E, that there may be grounds to suspend the researcher’s employment, contract or enrolment while these procedures are followed, the DVC R&E shall refer the matter to the Vice-Chancellor to be addressed in accordance with the researcher’s employment or contractual terms, or enrolment status.

Related Policies, Procedures and Forms

Contact for Further Information

If you have any queries regarding the content of this policy or need further clarification, contact the Senior Research and Policy Analyst, Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise (david.geraghty@otago.ac.nz).