This Is Auburn OFFICE OF AUDIT, COMPLIANCE & PRIVACY
Office of Audit, Compliance & Privacy

Our Mission

The mission of the Office of Audit, Compliance & Privacy is to assist the University in fulfilling its vision of being a preeminent comprehensive land-grant university. Our office provides services in three distinct yet related disciplines - audit, compliance, and privacy - in support of Auburn University's three-pronged mission of teaching, research, and service.

The Office of Audit, Compliance & Privacy functions in partnership with University leadership to:

  • improve the internal control system and culture;
  • improve and enhance the management of operational, financial, compliance, strategic and reputational risks;
  • enhance governance processes;
  • ensure strong stewardship and management accountability at all levels of the University.

Case In Point: Lessons for the proactive manager
Volume 10: No 09

Last month we began a discussion of conflicts of interest. As a reminder, a conflict of interest (COI) is a situation where an employee has competing interests between their university responsibilities and what could benefit them personally. Conflicts of interest will occur in higher education and every other industry, so it's important to remember that simply having a COI doesn't mean someone has done anything illegal or unethical. However, it does bring risk to the individual and the institution if not appropriately disclosed, evaluated, and managed. We've seen this play out in higher education over the past couple of months where at one institution multiple executive-level employees were terminated (and may well be prosecuted) due to conflict of interest related issues.

The majority of information regarding COI in higher education focuses on research-related conflicts. Federal agencies have specific guidelines as to how research related COIs are to be managed. However, it is important to realize that COIs can occur in many more ways than those encountered by researchers. Today we will focus on some of the other areas where university employees may encounter COIs and provide some basic suggestions. The potential ways there can be conflicts of interest are virtually unlimited, but here are six general areas where we've seen issues develop at institutions in recent years.

  1. Vendor Relationships – employees becoming too close to one vendor, or being offered something of value by the vendor.
  2. Prospective Vendor Relationships – employees being offered something of value from a potential vendor especially during a procurement bidding situation.
  3. Family or Friends Outside Business – employees steering institutional business to their own business, a family member's business, or to someone who is a close personal friend.
  4. Corporate Boards – employees directing institutional business to an organization whose corporate board they serve on, whether paid or not.
  5. Outside employment – employees having outside employment in addition to their university position can lead to conflicts of commitment if care is not taken to manage the situation.
  6. Nepotism – hiring of family members.

So what should you do if you have a conflict?

Transparency is your friend in conflict of interest situations. Disclosing and discussing the potential conflict with your supervisor in the organization is a good first step. After this discussion, it may be necessary to develop a conflict of interest management plan. A conflict of interest management plan protects both the employee and the institution. An effective COI management plan will eliminate or reduce the competing interest, typically bringing someone else into a decision making or oversight role.

It's also important to remember that there are some conflicts that cannot be managed and some activities that should not be undertaken as an employee. The facts and circumstances will determine when these situations arise, but going it alone without disclosure, discussion, and independent evaluation is not a wise choice.

Conflicts of interest are an important topic worthy of thought, but they are only one of many ways institutions and their stakeholders run into trouble. We again invite you to evaluate the events occurring across higher education in the past month with a view toward proactive risk management.

(Read more of Case In Point)

Anonymous Reporting Hotline

Auburn University uses the EthicsPoint anonymous Reporting System to enhance communication and empower individuals to promote safety, security, and ethical behavior. Use this anonymous, confidential system to report situations, events or actions by individuals or groups that you believe unethical or otherwise inappropriate. Frivolous or unfounded reports do not help foster a positive workplace. This hotline service does not replace our existing reporting methods for reporting fraud, waste, abuse or other potentially illegal activities. The University continues to encourage stakeholders to report concerns or suspected violations to their supervisor or other campus entities as appropriate. If you are uncertain if a situation violates University policy, is illegal or constitutes harassment or discrimination, you may use EthicsPoint to obtain clarification. We would much rather have you ask questions than let potential problems go unchecked. However, EthicsPoint should not be used for immediate threats to life or property. If the situation presents an immediate threat to life or property call emergency -- 911

Last Updated: June 27, 2018