Laurie Taylor Column

March 24, 2006

From: The Office of the President (formerly Vice-Chancellor)

Subject: Conflict of interest

A senior manager at the University of Northampton has recently insisted that staff should provide an explanation for the inclusion of their own books on student reading lists. A spokesperson said that this development was the result of "a review of internal quality assurance systems" and was designed "to protect staff as far as possible from potential charges of conflict of interest".

I am now writing to let you know that following a meeting of this university's quality assurance committee (me and someone else), we will be adopting a similar policy at Poppleton. All members of staff should therefore immediately check their booklists for examples of self-nomination and, where necessary, provide the committee with appropriate letters of explanation.

Following further discussion, the Poppleton quality assurance committee also decided that in order to protect staff more completely from potential charges of conflict of interest, they should exercise control over other forms of self-promotion.

Opinions. Members of staff who wish to give their own opinions in lectures and/or seminars are requested to send a list of such opinions to the quality assurance committee in advance so that they can be critically compared with other available opinions. Letters should make clear the nature of the opinion and how strongly it will be expressed. In general, staff should avoid any "potential conflict of interest" expressions such as "I think" and "in my opinion".

Evaluations. Members of staff are also reminded that they should not show any personal favouritism towards particular points of view, perspectives or theories unless this imbalance has been previously cleared with the quality assurance committee. Letters should make clear the nature and degree of preference that will be expressed, ie, "I request permission to indicate a modest affection for Immanuel Kant."

One hopes that this clarifies the situation.

The President (signed in his absence by someone who looks like Mrs Dilworth)

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