Home » Part IV Disciplinary Actions and Grievances » Chapter 1: Disciplinary Actions

Chapter 1: Disciplinary Actions

Section A
Standards of Conduct

The faculty of the University is a community characterized by personal interaction and mutual trust. Standards for faculty conduct are derived from tradition and evolve with contemporary practice. Accordingly, grounds for discipline for members of the faculty of a University are usually not made the subject of precise statement; when commonly held standards of conduct are broken, however, disciplinary action must be taken if the community is to be sustained.

At Vanderbilt, the Deans of the schools are responsible for assuring that the University’s standards for faculty conduct are observed. Accordingly, Deans will, in cases in which there is a pattern of activity by a faculty member that appears questionable, advise the faculty member at the earliest reasonable date and counsel the faculty member concerning applicable standards of performance. In serious cases, a single instance of unacceptable activity by a faculty member may be serious enough to warrant discipline in addition to counseling. In other cases, the continued pursuit of a course of unacceptable activity after counseling by the Dean may warrant discipline.

Disciplinary actions against faculty members may include, but are not limited to, a reprimand, a probationary period with specified conditions, suspension (with or without pay), or dismissal for cause. The grounds for cause include: (a) professionally incompetent performance or neglect of duty; (b) gross personal misconduct rendering the person unfit for association with students or colleagues; (c) misconduct in research; and (d) conduct employing unlawful means to obstruct the orderly functioning of the University or to violate rights of other members of the University community. The severity of any discipline shall not exceed a level that is reasonably commensurate with the seriousness of the cause.

Misconduct in research is considered to be a special case of deviation from standards of conduct established by the University or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scholarly community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. Misconduct in the pursuit of truth is inimical to the goals of this community and represents a breach in the commonly held standards of conduct of the community. The University defines misconduct by individuals involved in research or research training as: 1) falsification, fabrication, or theft of data or samples; 2) plagiarism; 3) unauthorized use of privileged information; 4) abuse of authorship; and 5) significant failure to comply with federal, state, or University rules governing research (or with appropriate professional or international rules when research is conducted outside the United States): examples include rules involving human subjects, animals, recombinant DNA, new drugs, new devices, radioactive materials, and preservation of antiquities and natural resources.

The intent of the University with respect to allegations of misconduct in research is to 1) recognize that honest error in judgment or interpretation of data does not constitute misconduct, 2) establish fair procedures for dealing with allegations of misconduct, 3) ensure that policies and procedures are made known to faculty and staff members, and 4) initiate confidential preliminary inquiries promptly after receiving an allegation of misconduct to determine whether a formal investigation is necessary.

A tenured faculty member may not be finally dismissed for cause prior to an opportunity for a hearing as provided in this section, below. In cases where in the judgment of the Dean, the Provost, the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, or the Chancellor, and after consultation with at least one other of these officers, immediate action against a member of the faculty is necessary to prevent harm to the faculty member or others, the faculty member may be suspended pending a hearing.

Section B
Procedures*

In reaching a decision to discipline a faculty member, the Dean shall afford that faculty member appropriate procedural protections to assure that the decision is fully informed and fair. To that end, the following general procedures shall apply in all cases of alleged faculty misconduct, or misconduct by a staff member participating in a research project.

1. Any allegation of misconduct should immediately be brought in written form to the attention of the Dean of the relevant school, who in turn will notify the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs of the existence of the allegations. Initial allegations of misconduct that are found to be false and maliciously motivated may themselves become the basis of a disciplinary action. But no allegations made in good faith, however incorrect, will be the basis for discipline against a complainant, and efforts will be made to assure that no retaliatory actions occur over the good faith reporting of alleged misconduct.

2. Upon receiving a report of misconduct, the Dean may conduct an initial inquiry to determine whether the allegations have merit and whether a formal investigation is warranted. Such an initial inquiry will be completed as expeditiously as possible with a goal of completing it within sixty (60) days. The Dean, at his or her discretion, may appoint one or more persons, including an ad hoc committee, to conduct the initial inquiry and make a recommendation to the Dean. The initial inquiry is not a formal hearing, but a gathering and reviewing of facts to determine whether a full investigation is warranted or, alternatively, whether the facts do not sufficiently support the need for a full investigation.

The individual for whom disciplinary action is being considered will be given written notice of the allegations, including references to the time, place, others present, etc., when the alleged acts occurred. This notice must reasonably inform the individual of the specific activity that is the basis of the allegations. The accused individual will be afforded confidential treatment to the maximum extent possible. It is normally expected that persons having or reasonably believed to have direct knowledge or information about the activity that is the basis of the allegations will be consulted and that those consulted will maintain the confidence of the consultation. The person or persons bringing allegations of misconduct may request that their identity be withheld during this stage of the initial inquiry, but their identity must be disclosed to the accused should the process proceed to the stage of formal investigation. The Dean will notify the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs of the outcome of this initial inquiry. Where the initial inquiry involves allegations of misconduct in research, the records of the inquiry will be kept for at least three years and may be provided to authorized funding agency personnel.

3. Regardless of whether the Dean decides to conduct an initial inquiry, the accused faculty member will be invited to make a response in writing to the Dean regarding the allegations of misconduct. At his or her option, the accused faculty member may also respond in person.

4. Based on the allegations, the initial inquiry (if any), and the response of the accused, the Dean shall make a decision falling into one of two categories:

a. That insufficient grounds have been presented to warrant further pursuit of the allegation and, therefore, that the accused will be subject to no discipline or only minor discipline. The Dean will maintain sufficiently detailed documentation of inquiries to permit a later assessment, if necessary, of the reasons for determining that an investigation was not warranted.

b. That there is presumptive evidence for major discipline and that a formal investigation is warranted. If so, the Dean will notify the accused in writing summarizing the evidence received, relevant interviews, and the conclusions of the initial inquiry, if any.

5. If, in the previous step, the Dean determines that minor discipline is warranted, the final disciplinary action will be taken by the Dean at that point with the matter being subject to appeal to the Faculty Senate Committee on Grievances.

If, in the previous step, the Dean concludes that grounds for major discipline may exist, the Dean will so notify the faculty member and will refer the matter to a school committee within thirty days for investigation.

6. If federal regulations require, as in the case of alleged misconduct in research, the Dean will, on or before the date the investigation begins, notify the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), within the Department of Health and Human Services, or other appropriate agency, of the circumstances and of plans to conduct an investigation. Similarly, the Dean will notify the OSI or other appropriate agency during any stage of the inquiry, and may take appropriate interim measures, if it appears that any of the following conditions exist:

a. there is an immediate health hazard involved;

b. there is an immediate need to protect federal funds or equipment or there is a need to protect the funding agency’s resources, reputation, or other interests;

c. there is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person(s) making the allegations or of the individual(s) who is the subject of the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any;

d. it is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly;

e. the scientific community or the public should be informed;

f. there is a reasonable indication of possible criminal violation. In that instance, the University will inform, if applicable, the OSI or other research oversight agency, as well as the appropriate law enforcement agency, within 24 hours of obtaining that information.

If thought necessary by the Dean, he or she may elect to suspend research in the relevant program(s) pending the outcome of the investigation.

7. The purpose of the formal committee investigation is to explore further the allegations in order to determine whether misconduct has actually occurred. In appointing the investigative committee, the Dean will include individuals with knowledge and background appropriate to carry out the investigation. The Dean will also take precautions against real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of members of the investigative committee. Such conflicts of interest may include: administrative dependency, close personal relationships, collaborative relationships, financial interest, or scientific bias. The committee members will be expected to state in writing that they have no conflicts of interest.

This committee will be given the notice of the allegations as provided the accused, and will be charged to investigate the matter. In its investigation, the committee will be expected to talk with witnesses and review documentary evidence, secure necessary and appropriate expertise to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence, advise the accused of the evidence against him or her, and offer the accused a reasonable opportunity to respond and present evidence. As in the initial inquiry stage, it is normally expected that persons having or reasonably believed to have direct knowledge or information about the activity that is the basis for the allegations will be consulted, and that those consulted will maintain the confidence of the consultations.

Complete summaries of committee interviews with witnesses shall be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included as a part of the investigatory file. Detailed minutes of the investigation will be kept.

Attorneys may not appear with or on behalf of the accused or any witness in proceedings before the committee. The accused and other witnesses may rely on their own legal counsel in the preparation of any documents or the collection of any evidence to be presented to the committee.

During the formal proceedings before the committee, the accused shall have full access to all evidence that may form the basis of discipline within a reasonable time to respond to the evidence, including knowledge of the person or persons alleging misconduct. Only with such full access is the accused afforded an adequate opportunity to refute or explain the evidence. Thus, evidence normally must be acquired by the Dean or school committee for use in the formal investigation with no assurances of confidentiality of sources. If such an assurance of confidentiality must be given to facilitate investigation, the evidence obtained under that assurance may not be used as a basis of disciplinary action. The committee will allow the accused to submit a written response to the evidence that may form the basis for discipline before the committee writes its report to the dean.

The committee will reach findings of fact in regard to the Dean’s charge. If the committee finds facts that appear to constitute a breach of relevant University or scholarly standards of performance or conduct, the committee’s report shall state the nature of the breach and assess the seriousness of the breach. A written report containing the methods of procedure, how and from whom the information was obtained, including the views of those found to have been engaged in misconduct, conclusions, and recommendations of the committee will be submitted to the Dean with a copy to the accused at the end of the investigation. All records of the investigation will be maintained under the control of the Dean.

8. After receiving the report with findings of fact from the committee, the Dean will reach a decision and determine the disciplinary action and the appropriate sanctions to be taken against the accused. The severity of the discipline will not exceed a level that is reasonably commensurate with the seriousness of the cause. The disciplinary actions or sanctions may include, but are not limited to, any of the following: a) reprimand; b) a requirement to correct or retract publications affected by the findings of the investigation; c) a special program for monitoring future research activities; d) removal from a project; e) probation; f) suspension; g) reduction in salary and/or rank; or h) termination of employment. The Dean will notify the Provost or the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and, if appropriate, will provide a full report to the OSI or other agency concerning the final outcome of the investigation.

9. The process of a formal misconduct investigation will be conducted as expeditiously as possible with a goal of being completed within 120 days. This period includes conducting the investigation, preparing the report of findings, making that report available for comment by the subjects of the investigation, and submitting the report to the Dean for decision and submission to the OSI or other appropriate agency.

All of the foregoing procedures should be carried out promptly and in confidence so that the risk to the reputation of the person under investigation is minimized. Diligent efforts will be made to restore reputations of persons alleged to have engaged in misconduct when allegations are found not to be supported.

10. A person who has been disciplined may file a grievance with the appropriate University committee within sixty (60) days after notification of the discipline. After a final decision is reached, the University may, in its discretion, provide notice of the outcome to those persons who were informed about the investigation, may have been affected by the misconduct, or otherwise have a professional need for such information. (See “Faculty Grievances,” Part IV, Chapter 2).

*Effective as of December 1, 2003, in the case of allegations concerning misconduct in research sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, these procedures shall apply http://vanderbilt.edu/faculty-manual/manage/wp-content/files/VU-Policy-for-Responding-to-Allegations-of-Research-Misconduct.pdf.