Chapter 1: Disciplinary Actions
A: Grounds for Disciplinary Actions
The faculty of the University1 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 and Vanderbilt University Medical Center’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 significant 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:
- professionally incompetent performance or neglect of duty;
- gross personal misconduct rendering the person unfit for association with students or colleagues;
- misconduct in research; and
- conduct employing unlawful means to obstruct the orderly functioning of the University or Vanderbilt University Medical Center or to violate rights of other members of the University or Vanderbilt University Medical Center 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:
- falsification, fabrication, or theft of data or samples;
- unauthorized use of privileged information;
- abuse of authorship; or
- significant failure to comply with federal, state, University, as or Vanderbilt University Medical Center 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:
- recognize that honest error in judgment or interpretation of data does not constitute misconduct;
- establish fair procedures for dealing with allegations of misconduct;
- ensure that policies and procedures are made known to faculty and staff members; and
- 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 Part IV, Chapter 1, Section B. In cases where in the judgment of the Dean, the Provost, or the Chancellor, and after consultation with at least one other of these officers, immediate action against a tenured or non-tenured faculty member is necessary to prevent harm to the faculty member or others, the faculty member may be suspended pending a hearing. Any suspension is presumptively with pay; a decision to suspend a faculty member without pay requires a documented finding of exceptional circumstances by two officers (two among the Dean, Provost, and Chancellor) who authorize the suspension. See the remainder of this chapter as well as Part IV, Chapter 2, Section B, for further information about dismissal for cause.
In reaching a decision to discipline a faculty member, the Dean of the relevant school, hereinafter referred to as “the Dean,” shall afford that faculty member, hereinafter referred to as “the Respondent”, 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 tum will notify the Provost of the existence of the allegations.3 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 their/her/his 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.
As soon as possible after they are received, but within thirty days, the Respondent 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 Respondent of the specific activity that is the basis of the allegations. The Respondent 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 Respondent should the process proceed to the stage of formal investigation. The Dean will notify the Provost 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 their/her/his 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 that grounds exist only for 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 Respondent 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 the grievance process set forth in Part IV, Chapter 2, Section B.
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 appoint and convene an ad hoc faculty committee, hereinafter referred to as “the Investigative Committee,” generally within thirty days to carry out an 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 Research Integrity (ORI), 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 ORI 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 of the individual(s) who is the subject of the allegations (as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any) or of third persons, such as other faculty, students, staff and patients;
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 ORI 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 Investigative 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.
The Investigative Committee will be given the notice of the allegations as provided to the Respondent and will be charged to investigate the matter. The Investigative Committee will be expected to talk with witnesses and review documentary evidence within sixty (60) days. The Investigative Committee will secure necessary and appropriate expertise to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence, advise the Respondent of the evidence against them/her/him, and offer the Respondent 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 Respondent or any witness in proceedings before the Investigative Committee. The Respondent 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 Investigative Committee.
During the formal proceedings before the Investigative Committee, the Respondent shall have full access to all evidence that may form the basis of discipline within a reasonable time to allow the Respondent to respond to the evidence, including knowledge of the person or persons alleging misconduct. Only with such full access is the Respondent afforded an adequate opportunity to refute or explain the evidence. Thus, evidence normally must be acquired by the Dean or Investigative Committee for use in the 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 Investigative Committee will allow the Respondent to submit a written response to the evidence that may form the basis for discipline before the Investigative Committee writes its report to the Dean.
The Investigative 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 Respondent 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 Investigative Committee, the Dean will reach a decision and determine the disciplinary action and the appropriate sanctions to be taken against the Respondent. 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 Provost4 and, if appropriate, will provide a full report to the ORI or any other appropriate agencies concerning the final outcome of the investigation. The Dean of the School of Medicine- for VUMC-employed faculty in clinical departments will notify the Chancellor.
9. The process of a formal misconduct investigation will be conducted as expeditiously as possible with a goal of being completed within one hundred and twenty (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 ORI or any 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 Respondent 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 in accordance with the grievance process set forth in Part IV, Chapter 2, Section B (“Faculty Grievances”). After a final decision is reached, the University may, at 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.
1 Faculty employed by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center will be subject to the standards of conduct adopted by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in addition to the standards of conduct adopted by the University, including those set forth in the Faculty Manual. Disciplinary and grievance actions for faculty members will be in accordance with the Faculty Manual. Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center will coordinate actions whenever matters affecting both are involved.
2 In the case of allegations concerning misconduct in research sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the procedures shall apply found in the following Policy shall apply: The Vanderbilt University Policy for Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct in Research Sponsored by the US Public Health Service.
3 In the case of faculty in School of Medicine Basic Science Departments, the Provost or Provost’s designee will fulfill the functions of the Dean.
4 In the case of faculty in School of Medicine Basic Science Departments, the Provost or Provost’s designee will fulfill the functions of the Dean. In the case of faculty in the School of Medicine Clinical Departments, the Dean’s designee will notify the Dean of the School of Medicine.