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Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct

General Policies and Principles

UH Full Research Misconduct 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.

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.[1]

  • 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 credit [2]

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

  [1] 42 CFR 93.214 and 45 CFR 689.1

  [2] DHHS 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.

This policy applies to all UH faculty staff, and students, as well as any person who, at the time of the alleged research misconduct was:

      • Employed by,
      • An agent of, or
      • Affiliated by contract or agreement with the University of Houston [3] 

The Research Integrity Officer and/or designee will determine the policies and guidelines applicable to the alleged research misconduct and will apply UH policy and the sponsoring agency requirements accordingly:

      • Public Health Service (PHS) research – requirements contained in 42 CFR 93
      • National Science Foundation (NSF) – described in Section 930 of the NSF Grant Policy Manual
      • Department of Defense (DoD) – described in the Instruction 3210.7
      • All other funding sources – the terms of the funding source guidelines as well as UH policy
      • Unfunded research – UH policy

This policy does not apply to authorship or collaboration disputes, which are to be addressed under current UH grievance policy and procedures:

[3] 42 CFR 93.214

    • For PHS funded research – In most cases, this policy does not apply to alleged research misconduct that occurred more than six years before the allegation was received by UH or PHS. There are, however, three exceptions under 42 CFR 93.105(b) [4] .
    • For NSF research [5] – There are no time limitations. This policy applies to all research, including proposals submitted to NSF in all fields of science, engineering, mathematics and education and results from such proposals, regardless of the date of alleged misconduct.
    • For all other research – There are time limitations. Unless stated otherwise in funding source guidelines, this policy does not apply to alleged research misconduct that occurred more than six years before the allegation was received by UH.

[4] 42 CFR 93.105(b) (1)   Subsequent use exception.  The respondent continues or renews any incident of alleged research misconduct that occurred before the six-year limitation through the citation, republication or other use for the potentialbenefit of the respondent of the research record that is alleged to have been fabricated, falsified, or plagiarized. (2)   Health or safety of the public exception. If ORI or the institution, following consultation with ORI, determines that the alleged misconduct, if it occurred, would possibly have a substantial adverse effect on the health or safety of the public. (3)   ‘‘Grandfather’’ exception. If HHS or an institution received the allegation of research misconduct before the effective date of this part.

[5] For NSF Research – in addition to these definitions, prior to April 17th, 2002,   Misconduct  also includes: Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, carrying out, or reporting results from activities funded by NSF; or retaliation of any kind against a person who reported or provided information about suspected or alleged misconduct and who has not acted in bad faith.

PHS [6]:

      • Biomedical or behavioral research
      • Research training
      • Activities related to the research or research training (such as the operation of tissue and data banks and the dissemination of research information)
      • Applications or proposals for PHS support for biomedical or behavioral research, research training or activities related to that research or research training
      • Plagiarism of research records produced in the course of PHS-supported research, research training or activities related to that research or research training. Note: This includes any research:
        • Proposed, performed, reviewed, reported
        • Records generated from that research (regardless of whether an application or proposal for PHS funds resulted in a grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or other form of PHS support)

NSF [7]:

      • Any research, including proposals submitted to NSF in all fields of science, engineering, mathematics, education, and the results from such proposals.


      • All basic, applied, and demonstration research in all fields of science, engineering, and mathematics. This includes, but is not limited to, research in economics, education, linguistics, medicine, psychology, physical sciences, social sciences, statistics, and research involving human subjects or animals regardless of the funding appropriation used to support it.

Funded from other sources or not funded:

    • Biomedical or behavioral research
    • Activities related to the research or research training (such as the operation of tissue and data banks and the dissemination of research information)
    • Applications or proposals for funding support for biomedical or behavioral research
    • Plagiarism of research records

[6] 42 CFR 93.102

[7] 45 CFR 689.1(4)

[8] DoDI 3210.07, E2.1.8

  • 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 Deciding Official is the President of the University of Houston.  The president has delegated the 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 inquires and investigations, including the appointment of inquiry and investigation committees;
    • Providing resources necessary to carry out inquiries and allegations; and
    • Other responsibilities described in this 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.

All UH personnel will report observed, suspected, or apparent research misconduct to the RIO. If an individual is unsure whether a suspected incident falls within the definition of research misconduct, he or she may meet with or contact the RIO to discuss the suspected research misconduct informally, which might include discussing it anonymously and/or hypothetically.

Research misconduct may also be reported anonymously using the UH Fraud and Non-Compliance Hotline, however this may limit the extent to which a case may be pursued if the information provided lacks the requisite detail.

If the circumstances described by the individual fail to meet the definition of research misconduct, the RIO will refer the individual or allegation to other offices or officials with responsibility for resolving the problem.

UH personnel:

  • Will cooperate with the RIO, other institutional officials, and appointed committees in the review of allegations and the conduct of inquiries and investigations
  • Have an obligation to provide evidence relevant to research misconduct allegations to the RIO or other institutional officials.

To maintain confidentiality of the misconduct proceeding, the RIO shall [9] :

  • Limit disclosure of the identity of respondents and complainants to those who need to know in order to carry out a thorough, competent, objective, and fair research misconduct proceeding
  • Except as otherwise prescribed by law, limit the disclosure of any records or evidence from which research subjects might be identified to those who need to know in order to carry out a research misconduct proceeding
  • Use written confidentiality agreements or other mechanisms to ensure that the recipient makes no further disclosure of identifying information

[9] 42 CFR 93.108

UH personnel may not retaliate in any way against complainants, witnesses, or committee members. Institutional members should immediately report any alleged or apparent retaliation against complainants, witnesses, or committee members to the RIO, who shall review the matter with the DO and, as necessary, make all reasonable and practical efforts to counter any potential or actual retaliation and protect and restore the position and reputation of the person against whom retaliation is directed.

During the research misconduct proceeding, the RIO is responsible for ensuring that respondents receive all the notices and opportunities provided for in 42 CFR 93 and the policies and procedures of the institution.

Respondents may consult with legal counsel or a non-lawyer personal adviser (who is not a principal or witness in the case) to seek advice and may bring the counsel or personal adviser to interviews or meetings on the case whose role is to advise, as opposed to represent, the respondent.

Being named as a respondent in a research misconduct proceeding does not prevent a respondent from enrolling or continuing their enrollment in or attending classes at the university.

As requested and as appropriate, the RIO and other institutional officials shall make all reasonable and practical efforts to protect or restore the reputation of persons alleged to have engaged in research misconduct, but against whom no finding of research misconduct is made[10].

Depending on the particular circumstances and the views of the respondent, the RIO should consider:

  • Notifying those individuals aware of or involved in the investigation of the final outcome
  • Publicizing the final outcome in any forum in which the allegation of research misconduct was previously publicized
  • Expunging all reference to the research misconduct allegation from the respondent's personnel file

  [10] 42 CFR 93.304(k) 

Throughout the research misconduct proceeding, the RIO will review the situation to determine if there is any threat of harm to:

  • Public health
  • Federal funds and equipment
  • The integrity of the research process

In the event of such a threat, the RIO will, in consultation with other institutional officials and ORI, or NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG)or DOD as applicable, take appropriate interim action to protect against any such threat [11] .

Interim action might include:

  • Additional monitoring of the research process and the handling of federal funds and equipment
  • Reassignment of personnel or of the responsibility for the handling of federal funds and equipment
  • Additional review of research data and results or delaying publication

The RIO shall, at any time during a research misconduct proceeding, notify ORI or NSF OIG or DOD as applicable immediately if he/she has reason to believe that any of the following conditions exist:

  • Health or safety of the public is at risk, including an immediate need to protect human or animal subjects
  • HHS or NSF resources or interests are threatened
  • Research activities should be suspended
  • There is a reasonable indication of possible violations of civil or criminal law
  • Federal action is required to protect the interests of those involved in the research misconduct proceeding
  • The research misconduct proceeding may be made public prematurely, and HHS action might be necessary to safeguard evidence and protect the rights of those involved
  • The research community or public should be informed [12]

[11] 142 CFR 93.304(h) and 45 CFR 689.4(a)(3)

[12] 42 CFR 93.318 and 45 CFR 689.4(c)

At the time of or before an inquiry (and at the time of or before investigation, if not sequestered for the inquiry), the RIO must take all reasonable and practical steps to:

  • Obtain custody of all the research records and evidence needed to conduct the research misconduct proceeding
    • Inventory the records and evidence and sequester them in a secure manner. Exception: When the research records or evidence encompass scientific instruments shared by a number of users, custody may be limited to copies of the data or evidence on such instruments, so long as those copies are substantially equivalent to the evidentiary value of the instruments [13]

The need for additional sequestration of records for the investigation might occur for any number of reasons, including the Institution’s decision to investigate additional allegations not considered during the inquiry stage, and/or identification of records during the inquiry process that had not been previously secured [14] .

The RIO may consult with ORI for advice and assistance in this regard.

[13] 42 CFR 93.305 and 42 CFR 93.307(b)

[14] 42 CFR 93.310(d)

The termination of the respondent's institutional employment, by resignation or otherwise, before or after an allegation of possible research misconduct has been reported, will not:

  • Preclude or terminate the research misconduct proceeding
  • Limit any of the institution’s responsibilities under 42 CFR 93 or 45 CFR 689.4

If the respondent, without admitting to the misconduct, elects to resign his or her position after the institution receives an allegation of research misconduct:

  • The assessment of the allegation will proceed
  • The inquiry and investigation will proceed, as appropriate based on the outcome of the preceding steps

If the respondent refuses to participate in the process after resignation, the RIO and any inquiry or investigation committee will:

  • Use their best efforts to reach a conclusion concerning the allegations
  • Note in the report the respondent’s failure to cooperate and its effect on the evidence

A finding of misconduct based on the admission by the respondent [15] may only be made by the committee conducting the misconduct proceeding and confirmed by the DO when:

  • The respondent has been notified of the allegations and any findings;
  • The respondent has:
    • Responded to these allegations and findings; or
    • Waived this opportunity
  • The admission is written or transcribed;
  • The admission contains language such as “I falsified results” or “I admit to research misconduct;” and
  • Sufficient evidence supports the admission.  

[15] ORI "Handling Misconduct - Inquiry Issues" item 20.