In the inquiry stage, factual information is gathered and expeditiously reviewed to determine if an investigation of the charge is warranted. An inquiry is not a formal hearing or a conclusive analysis of the allegation; it is a process to determine whether there is enough evidence of misconduct to have an investigation. As soon as sufficient information is obtained that indicates an investigation is warranted, the inquiry process terminates, and an inquiry report is prepared.
The Deciding Officer (DO), Research Integrity Officer (RIO), and attorney from the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) meet to plan how to sequester the evidence and notify the respondent in a manner that protects the privacy of the respondent while assuring the safety of the physical evidence.
When allegations of misconduct involve activities being considered for funding or activities funded by an external source, the RIO reviews all sponsor requirements before initiating an inquiry and conducts the inquiry and investigation process to comply with all sponsor and University requirements.
- Gather evidence and notify respondent.
Depending on the circumstances of the particular case, the RIO will notify the respondent about the allegation at the same time or before evidence is gathered. The RIO may exercise discretion to share information with the respondent about the allegation prior to the conference if the RIO determines it will facilitate the process and not jeopardize the integrity of original data. The RIO will collect the evidence in accordance with the Protocol for Handling Physical Evidence.
- Confer with the complainant (if any).
A conference is held with the complainant to:
- review details of the allegation,
- describe the process to be followed to resolve the allegation, and
- discuss involvement of complainant.
Whether a case can be reviewed effectively without the involvement of a complainant depends upon the nature of the allegation and the evidence available. Allegations may be brought anonymously through the University’s confidential reporting service UReport, but cases that depend specifically upon the observations or statements of a complainant cannot proceed without the open involvement of that individual. Every attempt will be made to maintain anonymity through the allegation review phase of the process, but the respondent will learn the identity of a known complainant during later stages of the process, and the complainant may have to face the respondent during a subsequent hearing if the case proceeds that far.
- Confer with respondent.
A conference is held with the respondent to:
- present the details of the allegation and the evidence upon which the allegation is based,
- explain the process to be followed, and
- obtain the respondent's preliminary explanation of the allegation.
At the conference, the RIO will provide a written statement of the allegation along with a copy of the research misconduct policy and procedures. A summary of the evidence will be provided if the allegation is based on extensive documentation; and the respondent will have supervised access to review all of the evidence held by the RIO.
The RIO will inform the respondent of the obligation to provide all the evidence relevant to the allegation. The RIO also tells the respondent of the opportunity to be interviewed in the inquiry, by the RIO or the panel if one is appointed, and to provide any documentation or names of individuals who might help clear the claim against the respondent. The respondent may seek the assistance of an advisor (legal counsel or another individual) at this point, if assistance has not already been sought. If the respondent wishes to have an advisor present during the interview with the panel or the RIO, notice of the advisor's participation should be submitted at least 48 hours prior to the interview.
- Decide whether to handle inquiry personally or convene panel (to be decided within 10 working days after meetings with complainant and respondent).
Personally Handling the Inquiry. If the RIO decides to handle the inquiry personally, the OGC will provide advice on the appropriate protocol and practices that should be followed.
Inquiry Panel Selection. If the RIO decides to have the case examined by a panel, then the RIO will convene a panel of individuals who have the appropriate scientific, scholarly, or artistic expertise on the issues in question. The RIO may obtain nominations from the Faculty Senate Research Committee on suitable members to serve on the panel. While normally the inquiry panel will be composed of faculty members only, at least one member of the panel should be from the same employment category as the respondent [faculty (94xx), graduate students and professional trainees (95xx), P & A (96xx, 93xx, 97xx), or civil service]. Members of the panel may be chosen from within or outside of the University. The inquiry panel will have an odd number of members, preferably three. The RIO identifies one member as chair.
The RIO will verify that panel members do not have unresolved personal, professional, or financial conflicts of interest with the complainant, respondent, or other key individuals in the process. A conflict of interest could mean:
- coauthoring a book, paper, or grant proposal with any of the individuals directly involved with the misconduct case (complainant or respondent) within the past seven years;
- professional or personal relationship with any of these individuals, e.g., current or former students or mentor, direct supervisory or subordinate relationship, direct collaborator within the past seven years;
- professional differences of opinion with any of the involved individuals that might reasonably be expected to affect objectivity in considering the case;
- financial ties to the involved individuals; or
- other reasons that might affect the ability of the individuals to make fair and impartial judgments.
The RIO informs the respondent of the proposed composition of the panel and gives the respondent five working days to object to any of the panel members on conflict of interest grounds. The RIO will provide the panel with an explicit charge for the inquiry activity. The OGC advises the chair of the panel on the appropriate protocol and practices that should be followed.
- Conduct the Inquiry.
An inquiry (conducted by either the RIO or the panel) will be completed as quickly as possible, but no more than 60 calendar days after its initiation unless circumstances warrant a longer period of time. If the panel or RIO anticipates that the established deadlines cannot be met, the panel or RIO will document the reasons for the delay and progress to date, for the record to the DO, and inform the respondent and other involved individuals.
The inquiry panel or RIO reviews the physical evidence and takes oral or written testimony as needed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of possible research misconduct to warrant a full investigation. They may consult with subject matter experts as warranted and need to consider only as much information as is necessary to determine whether there is a sufficient basis to proceed to an investigation. Transcripts of interviews are prepared and submitted to the interviewed person for comment or revision.
- Write the inquiry report.
Upon completion of the inquiry, the RIO or panel produces a written report that states what evidence was reviewed, summarizes relevant interviews, and includes the conclusion of the inquiry. The report will be sufficiently detailed regarding the reasons for determining that an investigation is not warranted, if such is the case. The report may recommend actions to correct the scientific record or sub-standard research practices involved in the case, regardless of whether the matter proceeds to an investigation. If the report recommends that an investigation be conducted, it may propose subject matter to be included in the investigation.
This report is then sent to the respondent who has 10 working days to review it and submit written comments. Summaries of all interviews and data examined by the RIO or panel will be made available for the respondent to review. If the panel produces the report, it is also sent to the RIO who will make comments and pass them to the DO.
- Determine whether to close the case or initiate an investigation.
After receiving the inquiry report, any comments from the RIO and the respondent's statement, the DO determines within 10 working days whether the case will be closed or an investigation initiated. The RIO notifies the complainant (if any) and respondent as to whether the complainant's allegations will be subject to further investigation. The RIO maintains the records of an inquiry in a secure manner for at least seven years.
Close the case. If the DO decides not to conduct an investigation, the matter is closed with no finding of misconduct and no further formal action will be taken other than informing all parties involved. The DO will preserve privacy consistent with law for all parties involved and take reasonable steps to protect the positions and reputations of those, who in good faith, were involved in the process. As appropriate, the RIO will take reasonable steps to minimize the damage to reputations that may result from inaccurate reports. The DO may take actions to correct the scientific record or sub-standard research practices involved in the case, regardless of whether misconduct is found.