Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-7

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-7
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-7

      Application Of The Code To The Outside Employment Of A University
      Professor Which Involves The Supervision Of His Students

The State Ethics Commission has been asked whether a state university professor may accept outside employment with an entity while, at the same time, his or her university students or advisees perform work for the entity under the professor’s supervision. Additionally, the Commission has been asked whether a state university professor may assign a text he or she has authored to his or her classes.

The Commission has previously held that, in general, a state employee supervisor may not privately employ a state employee subordinate without violating the 1-84(b) ban on acceptance of outside employment which impairs independent of judgement. State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 92-24, 54 CLJ 31, p. 4C (2/2/93). Specifically, the Commission concluded that the supervisor’s judgement could be impermissibly impaired with regard to official duties such as evaluating the state performance of his or her subordinate. Id. By analogy, this reasoning similarly applies when the subordinate is a student or advisee of a state university professor.

The Commission has also held that, in general, a state employee may not profit from the sale of a publication to a group of individuals he or she oversees in his or her state capacity. State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 94-21 56 CLJ No. 20, p. 3D (11/15/94). Again, this reasoning would also apply to the professor/student relationship.

Based on the foregoing analysis, the Commission’s initial inclination was to prohibit the activities in question. Representatives of the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State Universities have, however, asked that the Commission reconsider this holding. Specifically, while acknowledging the potential conflicts of interests, University officials also point to the benefits the current system provides for their students. With regard to work-study and other forms of student outside employment, these officials stress the desirability of continuity of instruction as well as the importance of not unnecessarily limiting, already scarce, employment opportunities. With regard to textbooks, the officials point out that in certain instances the professor in question may be the author of a book recognized as the standard in the field or offering a unique perspective on the topic of study.

Based on these legitimate concerns, the Commission is willing to allow the compensated activities, provided that the Universities establish protocols for insuring that potential conflicts, misuse of office and impairment of independence of judgement are all proscribed. Specifically, the Commission has proposed and the Universities have agreed that a review system will be set in place whereby both outside professor/student employment relationships and requests to utilize a professor’s text for his or her class will be ruled upon, in advance, by a board composed of individuals not subordinate to the professor involved in the request. See, Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-86(a) and Regulations of Conn. Stat. Agencies 1-81-29: employee with potential conflict of interests must inform supervisor who shall assign matter to another who is not subordinate to the individual with the conflict. Additionally, the process will provide, in the case of outside work, that the student has ongoing recourse to University officials in order to address any grievances (e.g., concerns regarding fair compensation) that may arise during the term of the employment.

In conclusion, the State Ethics Commission believes that, in principle, the above procedures address the substantial ethical concerns raised by professor/student outside employment relationships and the use of a professor’s text by his or her class. At the same time, the agreed upon resolution maintains important academic traditions which can provide significant benefits to Connecticut’s public university students. The Commission commends the Universities for their cooperation in arriving at this resolution, and is committed to allowing the review panel process adequate time to establish that these procedures can, in fact, prevent the potential ethical conflicts in question.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:03:54 AM