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November 8, 2001


At the Oct. 2 Faculty Assembly meeting, I presented for comment a proposal to modify the University's policy on indemnification of faculty and staff, 07-06-06. This policy provides for legal defense and payment of judgments, fines, penalties, settlements and any other expenses actually and reasonably incurred in connection with actual or threatened legal actions of various kinds, brought against University employees when serving the University. However, the policy currently does not extend legal defense and/or the protection of indemnification to an employee in an internal University proceeding, brought by the University.

My proposal is to extend the coverage of the indemnification policy to faculty and staff who are the subjects of research misconduct charges and who, after completion of the proceedings in the University's policy dealing with research misconduct, have been exonerated; that is, found not to have engaged in research misconduct. Such employees would be indemnified for the legal expenses they incurred in connection with defending themselves against the charges. Faculty and staff are not permitted to be represented by legal counsel in such proceedings, but attorneys can assist the employee in marshalling evidence, preparing witnesses for their testimony and in many other ways.

My interest in this issue was sparked in part by the revised research misconduct policy draft presented by the University's research integrity officer for Senate review during the preceding academic year. As then-Senate president, I assigned the revised policy draft for review to a working group headed by then-Senate Vice President Carol Redmond. The group devoted much time to review of the document, and submitted proposed changes to the research integrity officer, who incorporated a good number of them in the final draft of the document.

I believe that any faculty or staff member who is charged with research misconduct needs the assistance of legal counsel in order to prepare his/her defense. I assisted, without compensation, one of the Pitt faculty members charged with research misconduct in connection with the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) in the early part of the 1990s. This faculty member also had the services of an attorney with a Downtown law firm. I became aware of the substantial cost of legal services for faculty members who defend themselves in research misconduct proceedings. All Pitt personnel charged in the proceeding concerning the NSABP were exonerated.

My experience with the NSABP research misconduct charges led me to give a talk at Johns Hopkins University to a group of medical researchers and, later, to write an article expressing my strong belief in the need for legal assistance for those charged with research misconduct. The article, "The Clinical Investigator as Target," was published in the journal Controlled Clinical Trials. Anyone who would like a copy should contact me by e-mail (

An individual found to have engaged in research misconduct may find his/her career seriously compromised, if not destroyed. The effects on reputation and future earning capacity cannot be overestimated. Even when a successful defense is mounted, serious damage to reputation may still be sustained.

The proposal for modification of the indemnification policy is working its way through the University Senate processes. I assume the proposal eventually will reach Senate Council and that a majority of the Council will vote to recommend the change in policy. Then the University administration will have to decide whether to act upon the recommendation.

Faculty members who support revision of the indemnification policy, especially those involved in medical and scientific research who are most likely to be the targets of research misconduct charges, should contact their representatives on Faculty Assembly to express their view on the subject and find ways to bring the indemnification issue to the attention of colleagues, department chairpersons and deans. Staff who support the proposal should make their Senate Council representatives aware of their views.

Pitt's policy on research misconduct and federal requirements for institutions engaged in federally funded research establish the University's obligation to rehabilitate an individual cleared of such charges — to restore the individual's reputation. My view is that the rehabilitation of such an individual should also include rehabilitation of the individual's finances. If the faculty or staff member has incurred legal expenses in preparation of his/her defense in the research misconduct proceedings held by the University, and is cleared, the individual's finances should be restored through the indemnification policy. n Nathan Hershey, past president of the University Senate, is a professor of health law in the Graduate School of Public Health.

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