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Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct

Steps in a Research Misconduct Evaluation Process

1. Assessment

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  • The RIO evaluates the allegation to determine whether it falls within the scope of the UH Research Misconduct Policy. If it does, the case moves to the inquiry stage.

2. Inquiry

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  • The RIO establishes an inquiry committee who will gather preliminary evidence and conduct interviews of the respondent, complainant, and key witnesses to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

3. Investigation

Investigation

  • The RIO established committee will examine research records and the evidence in depth, and conduct interviews to develop a factual record leading to recommended findings on whether research misconduct has been committed by whom and to what extent.

4. Reporting

Reporting

  • The DO will accept the investigation report and its findings and determine the appropriate administrative actions. At this stage, the RIO will normally notify both the respondent and the complainant in writing as well as ORI or NSF, as applicable.

General Policies and Principles

Statement of Policy

The University of Houston (UH) expects all of its investigators and research teams to adhere to the highest standards of conduct when pursuing, conducting, and reporting research.

  • Any form of misconduct is contrary to the principles upon which the University was founded and adversely affects the reputation of the University and its faculty.
  • Research misconduct violates not only the trust of agencies, foundations, and other entities that sponsor research at the University, but also that of the public and subjects that might participate in the research.

For a simplified visual representation of the key steps in the research misconduct process, please refer to the Research Misconduct Flowchart

Read the complete UH Policy on Research Misconduct.

As defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Research Integrity (ORI), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD) research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

  • Fabrication: making up data or results and recording or reporting them
  • Falsification: manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record
  • Plagiarism: the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit1

Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

1DHHS ORI Newsletter, Vol. 15, No. 4, September 2007, page 4: ORI generally pursues plagiarism allegations when, for example, wholesale copying of language and data has been used to produce crucial portions of a grant application such as the preliminary results. However, when reuse of data and language involves former or current collaborators, ORI does not consider this to be plagiarism, but an outcome of the joint development of ideas, data, or language where it frequently is impossible to objectively sort out who was responsible for what.
   
  • Deciding Official (DO):
    • The institutional official who makes final determinations on allegations of research misconduct and any institutional administrative actions. The Deciding Official shall have no direct prior involvement in the institution’s inquiry, investigation, or allegation assessment. The President of the University of Houston has delegated DO responsibilities, including sanctioning authority, to the Provost.
  • Research Integrity Officer (RIO):
    • The institutional official, designated by the President, who is responsible for:
      • Assessing allegations of research misconduct to determine if they fall within the definition of research misconduct and warrant an inquiry on the basis that the allegation is sufficiently credible and specific so that potential evidence of research misconduct may be identified;
      • Overseeing inquiries and investigations, including the appointment of inquiry and investigation committees;
      • Providing resources necessary to carry out inquiries and allegations; and
      • Other responsibilities described in the Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct Policy
      • The RIO is the Associate Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer.
  • Complainant:
    • A person who in good faith makes an allegation of research misconduct.
  • Respondent:
    • The person against whom an allegation of research misconduct is directed or who is the subject of a research misconduct proceeding.

Steps:

  • Assessment:
    • Upon receiving an allegation of research misconduct, the RIO will assess the allegation to determine whether the allegation falls within the scope of the University’s research misconduct policy and is within the jurisdiction of 42 CFR 93.102(b), 45 CFR 689, or other funding source guidelines.
    • During the assessment, the RIO need not interview the complainant, respondent, or any other witnesses, or gather any data beyond that submitted with the initial allegation, except as necessary to determine the above criteria.
    • A written summary of allegations meeting the above criteria and falling under this policy will be provided to the respondent. The full/original concern will not be relayed verbatim due to the Institution’s necessity to protect individuals voicing such concerns in good faith.
    • The assessment period will be brief, preferably conducted within 2-3 weeks. In the event that the allegation is found to lack sufficient merit to warrant an inquiry, the RIO will notify both the respondent and complainant of this finding within one week of this determination.
  • Inquiry:
    • The purpose of the inquiry is to conduct an initial review of the available evidence to determine whether to conduct an investigation. An inquiry does not require a full review of all the evidence related to the allegation. However, it does include the testimony of the respondent, complainant, and key witnesses to determine whether an investigation is warranted. It does not determine whether research misconduct definitely occurred or who was responsible.
    • At this stage, the RIO will initiate the inquiry process by appointing an inquiry committee. Each committee is selected on an ad hoc basis and will include at least one member of the faculty senate. The Deciding Official (DO)/DO’s designee and the Provost of the University will be notified of the initiation of the inquiry and will be provided the opportunity to comment on the specific membership of the inquiry committee.
    • An investigation is warranted if the committee determines:
      • There is a reasonable basis for concluding that the allegation falls within the definition of research misconduct, and
      • The allegation may have substance, based on the committee’s review during the inquiry.
  • Investigation:
    • The purpose of the investigation is to develop a factual record by exploring the allegation(s) in detail and to examine the evidence in depth, leading to recommended findings on whether research misconduct has been committed by whom and to what extent.
    • The investigation committee and the RIO must use diligent efforts to ensure that the investigation is thorough and sufficiently documented, including examination of all research records and evidence relevant to reaching a decision on the merits of each allegation.
    • The investigation will include interviews of the respondent and the complainant as well as any other available person who has been reasonably identified as having information regarding any relevant aspects of the investigation (including witnesses identified by the respondent).
    • Under 42 CFR 93.313 and 45 CFR 689.4(b)(5), the findings of the investigation must be set forth in an investigation report.
  • Reporting:
    • The RIO will assist the investigation committee in finalizing the draft investigation report and transmit the final investigation report to the DO/DO’s designee, with a copy to the Provost.
    • The DO will determine in writing whether the institution accepts the investigation report and its findings and the appropriate administrative actions in response to the accepted findings of research misconduct.
    • When a final decision on the case has been reached the RIO will normally notify both the respondent and the complainant in writing as well as ORI or NSF, as applicable.
    • The RIO is responsible for ensuring compliance with all notification requirements of funding or sponsoring agencies.
  • Assessment – preferably conducted within 2-3 weeks; respondent notified within 1 week of the assessment determination
  • Inquiry – completed within 60 calendar days of initiation of the inquiry; the respondent is offered an opportunity to comment within 10 calendar days after receipt of the inquiry report
  • Investigation:
    • The investigation must begin (first investigation committee meeting) within 30 calendar days after the determination by the inquiry committee that an investigation is warranted.
    • It is to be completed within 120 calendar days of initiation and includes conducting the investigation, preparing the report of findings, providing the draft report for comment and sending the final report to federal agencies.
    • The respondent will be allowed 30 calendar days from the date he/she received the draft investigation report to submit comments to the RIO/designee.

To report a concern and/or have a confidential discussion, you can contact Penny Maher 713-743-9255 or Kirstin Holzschuh 713-743-9740 directly, or submit a report online at the UH Fraud & Non-compliance Hotline.