Conflict of Commitment

The University's Conflict of Interest (COI) Program within the Office for Research Protections (ORP) manages the annual reporting requirements and facilitates the prior approval process for faculty engagement in entrepreneurial or professional services that meet the definition of Outside Professional Activities per policy AC80 Outside Professional Activities and Conflict of Commitment. Required reports of outside activities are collected through each college and department annually and are facilitated by the ORP and reviewed by COI staff. The Provost receives a yearly report of the aggregated data. Deans and Department Heads, upon request, will also have access to reports for information that falls within their college/unit and will see pre-approval requests.

AC80 Forms

Not sure which form to use? See below for additional information on activities that require prior approval.

Who Does AC80 Apply To?

All full-time Penn State faculty (36- or 48-week appointments) both tenure and non-tenure track faculty, research faculty, teaching faculty, clinical faculty, and professors of practice. This includes Penn State Health physicians with a College of Medicine appointment. Policy AC80 also applies during sabbaticals. Policy AC80 does not apply to adjunct or part-time faculty.

 

What are Outside Professional Activities?

Outside Professional Activities are paid or unpaid services that are in the faculty member's general area of expertise but are beyond the scope of the individual's employment at the University. The University encourages its employees to engage in outside activities when such activities enhance the mission of the University, do not compete with the University, and do not conflict or materially interfere with any faculty member's appointment or responsibilities with the University.

While all outside professional activities related to your institutional responsibilities require disclosure, there are specific activities that require prior approval. For additional assistance, review the applicable sections of this website and the following resources:

When to Disclose / Request Prior Approval

  • Annually
  • Within 30 days of starting a new outside activity
  • Prior to an application for sponsored funding (if disclosure is not up to date)
  • Or in certain instances as identified below, prior to starting the activity: 
    • Outside Teaching that takes place outside the Appointment Period should be disclosed within 30 days of accepting the Outside Teaching role or prior to starting that activity, whichever is earlier.

 

 

Per AC80, all faculty are required to disclose all outside activities related to their institutional responsibilities, including those for which Prior Approval was required and obtained.

How Do I Disclose an Activity?

To disclose an outside activity, submit a separate online Disclosure Form for each activity.

The following are outside activities that require prior approval (and disclosure):

  1. Exceeding the Monthly or Annual Time Limits defined above.
  2. Involving undergraduate or graduate students, or University staff, in Outside Professional Activities.
  3. Starting a company.
  4. Outside Teaching during the Appointment Period.
  5. Outside Professional Activities that involve the conveyance of intellectual property rights to another entity.
  6. Compensated (money or In-Kind) Research from all foreign and domestic entities that is not subject to approval by the Office for Sponsored Programs.
  7. Research at other entities for which there is a required time commitment or an agreement/contract between the faculty member and the other entity.
  8. Chairing a doctoral or graduate committee at another university.
  9. Holding a foreign or domestic position or professional appointment, including honorary, adjunct, and visiting positions or appointments, at another university (this includes titled academic, professional, or institutional appointments whether full-time, part-time, or voluntary) whether or not remuneration is received, other than those solely for the purpose of teaching a course outside of the Appointment Period.
  10. Running or having fiduciary responsibility for a Research endeavor at another entity (e.g. lab, institute, program)
  11. Participation in programs sponsored by foreign governments, instrumentalities, or entities, including foreign government-sponsored talent programs.
  12. Becoming an employee of or assuming an executive or management position for a third-party entity (e.g., as President, Chief Scientific Officer, etc.) including serving on the advisory board positions that have fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of the third-party entity.

How Do I Request Prior-Approval?

To request prior approval, submit the Prior Approval Form to your department head sufficiently in advance of beginning the activity to allow time for the review and approval process.​

Approval Process.png

  • Use a separate prior-approval form for each entity with which you will be engaging in the outside activity.
  • Use the same form for multiple activities with the same entity. For example, use the same form to request starting a company and to request exceeding the hourly limit to work with that company.
  • Approval should not be unreasonably withheld. However, withholding prior approval is appropriate when the proposed activity, considering the totality of the circumstances, would significantly detract from the requester’s University responsibilities and obligations.

1. Activities Unrelated to Your Expertise

Activities that are not related to your area of expertise do not need disclosure or prior approval, do not need to be reported in the annual reporting, and do not count toward monthly or annual Time Limits.

2. Scholarly Activities

Scholarly activities are activities that are expected of a faculty member as part of their normal professional responsibilities and scholarship. These activities do not need prior approval, do not need to be reported in the annual reporting, and do not count toward monthly or annual Time Limits. Colleges, schools, or departments may place stricter limits on the number of hours that may be spent away from the University conducting these activities. Examples of Scholarly Activities include but are not limited to:

  • Peer review of articles and grant proposals;
  • Presentations at professional meetings or other similar gatherings;
  • Leadership positions in professional societies;
  • Preparation of scholarly publications;
  • Unpaid (i.e. neither cash nor In-Kind compensation) scholarly collaboration at another institution of higher education for which there is no agreement or required time commitment;
  • Editorial services for educational or professional organizations;
    • Service on advisory committees or evaluation panels for governmental funding agencies, nonprofit foundations, or educational organizations;
  • Serving on, but not chairing, master's or doctoral thesis committees at another university;
  • Service with accreditation agencies;
  • Conducting workshops for professional societies; or
  • Musical and other creative performances and exhibitions to the extent that they are expected or required of a faculty member in their position.

Disclosing Scholarly Activities in COINS

Although scholarly activities are excluded from Policy AC80, you may have to disclose these scholarly activities in COINS under Policy RP06 if related to your Penn State Institutional responsibilities and you exceed the applicable income thresholds. Thresholds vary by funding source. (NOTE: this does not apply to teaching faculty, instructors, or lecturers).

3. Approved Sabbatical Plan Activities

  • Activities conducted as part of the approved sabbatical plan are not outside activities for purposes of AC80.
  • If faculty conduct additional activities that are not part of the sabbatical plan, the same time limits and reporting obligations must be followed.

Policy AC80 focuses on commitments outside of your work at the University. Faculty can spend up to one day per week (or 40 hours per month) on outside activities during the appointment period. These hours are all inclusive of weekdays, evenings, and weekends. Generally, faculty are on 36- or 48-week appointments. The following time limits and reporting requirements apply per the appointment period: 

  • Faculty on 36-weeks appointments
    • May participante up to 40 hours per month / 360 hours per year
    • Disclose outside activities conducted throughout the entire year (NOTE: monthly time limits only apply to activities conducted during the appointment period).
    • Request prior approval for activities during the appointment period
  • Faculty on 48-week appointments:
    • May participant up to 40 hours per month / 480 hours per year 
    • Disclose outside activities conducted throughout the entire year (appointment period)
    • Request prior approval for activities conducted throughout the entire year (appointment period)

Exceeding Time Limits

If faculty intend to exceed either the monthly or annual time limits, they must request pre-approval. Exceeding the yearly hourly limit under AC80 should only be done in extraordinary cases. If a Department Head approves the request, the form should be forwarded on to the Dean who will then obtain approval from the Office of the Provost. Exceeding the annual hourly limit is considered an exception to Policy AC80 and requires a higher level of review.

Please note that the following are included in the Appointment Period:

  • Summer months for which the faculty member receives supplemental salary
  • Paid leave from the University
  • Sabbaticals

Student or Staff Involvement

AC80 requires prior-approval if faculty plan to involve students or University staff in the outside activity. The most important consideration when involving students is ensuring students’ academic progress is not impeded and that they do not feel pressured to spend too much time with the activity, or to come to a specific research result that is favorable to a company in which the faculty member has a financial interest. Before requesting prior-approval, faculty should consider the following:

  • Does the activity involve a significant time commitment for the student that could impact their academic progress?
  • Students should be fairly compensated or receive credit for their time and effort.
  • If you are the student’s adviser, the student may need to have a co-adviser depending on the nature of the student’s involvement.
  • Students should not be required to perform any activities related to a faculty member’s outside activity.
  • Students, staff, and faculty should not use University resources such as phone, email, computer, scientific equipment, or lab or office space for work related to the outside activity.
  • Staff and students are not permitted to use University time or resources on outside activity.
  • If University staff intend to conduct work on an outside activity during University hours, they will likely need to use paid time off, or reach an agreement with their supervisor to do so.

Starting a Company and Other Entrepreneurial Activities

Faculty should complete the prior-approval form prior to filing the documents with a state to create a new company. Considerations for starting a new company include:

  • If the company is intending to license intellectual property from Penn State, be sure to contact the Office of Technology management.
  • Once the entity is legally formed, it should be disclosed in COINS within 30 days even if it is not yet operational or earning revenue.
  • Before you conduct any research at Penn State that is related to the company, you must disclose your ownership interest in COINS and be in contact with the COI Program.
  • The time limits under AC80 apply to work on start-up companies.

Teaching for an Entity Other than the University

  • Teaching a semester-long or equivalent course during your Appointment Period always requires prior-approval under AC80.
  • If the entity is a foreign university, you should review the  Guidance for International Activities section of the  Research Security Program website.  You will also need to disclose in COINS if the income thresholds apply.
  • Consider whether the course you are teaching is or could be in direct competition with a course taught at Penn State. If so, teaching this course may not be permitted.
  • Teaching at another entity during a paid sabbatical is not permitted unless it is part of the approved sabbatical plan or pre-approved under AC80.

Additional Policies

  • AC80 – Outside Professional Activities and Conflict of Commitment
  • RP06 – Disclosure and Management of Significant Financial Interests (*Note – this does not apply to teaching faculty, lecturers, or instructors)
  • FN14 - Use of University Tangible Assets, Equipment, Supplies and Services
  • IP06 - Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurial Activity (Faculty Research) (Formerly RA12)
  • ACG15 - Regulations Regarding Use of Support Funds and Receiving Outside Compensation During Sabbatical Leaves of Absence