Carin Urges Faculty to Take Ownership of Research Conduct

In Academic Council address, new vice president for research administration discusses plans to change campus culture on research

After two major incidents of research misconduct in recent years, Duke officials hope that a change of culture will prevent a repeat of the scandals, the university’s new chief researcher officer told the Academic Council last week. At the core is an expectation that everyone involved in research will take a sense of ownership and act when they see something is wrong.

“We’ve had two crashes in a short period of time,” said Larry Carin, the new vice president for research, comparing the cases to a plane crash. “And as a consequence, we have done a deep accident investigation. We’ve come to a conclusion that one of our very serious gaps is people here have too much attention to our own little part of Duke. They sense that if something is not part of my world, it’s not my responsibility. In the two crashes, there were people who should have said something. That would have made a difference. So, what we’re trying to work toward is an ownership culture where we are all responsible for the integrity of the Duke research enterprise. And if we see something amiss, we say something.”

Carin spoke to faculty at the October meeting of the Academic Council. His new position overseeing the university-wide research enterprise came from an internal review and the findings of a committee of external leaders created by President Vincent E. Price earlier this year. Previously, Duke had separate research administration for the health system and the campus side.

That separation made sense, Carin told faculty, decades ago when there was a significant size imbalance in the research portfolio between the School of Medicine and the other schools in the university.  Duke is in a different place now, he said, both in the growth of research and the need to have consistent and uniform administration across the university.

The research scandals both came from the School of Medicine, but Carin said “it could have happened anywhere on campus.”

“The consequence is regardless of where it happens at the university, we are all affected.  The National Institutes of Health imposed restrictions on our research, and how we must execute NIH work affects anyone who has NIH funding.  And these sanctions remain in place.

“We have to operate as one university, if we are all going to be affected by an action of one person.”

Part of developing an ownership culture and a commitment to integrity, Carin said, is helping faculty to focus on the research. “We will try to take all aspects of administration away from the faculty, and then get out of their way [on the research].”

Carin acknowledged that the organization chart of the new unified administration program “looked big and complex.” But he noted that Duke’s organization is consistent in size and scope with other, similarly situated research universities with medical schools, and reflects a research enterprise that now spans around the world.  He cited efficiencies in unifying procedures across the university and in taking lessons from “learning from how to operate in Kenya on biology research and applying it to how to work in Kenya in other fields.”

He also acknowledged pushback on some new requirements, including an online training module on research misconduct required of faculty members. Political Science professor Michael Gillespie called these trainings “demeaning and insulting,” adding “it’s amazing to me that people think these actually stop fraud.”

Carin agreed that such trainings probably don’t deter misconduct in someone determined to do so. But by keeping the issue in front of people’s minds, he said it “helps develop the ownership culture. It may not prevent someone from doing something wrong, but it can reinforce in others that if they see something, they must speak up.”

Read more from Larry Carin on research misconduct.

In other discussions, Chris Lott of the University Council’s office presented faculty with an overview of new requirements on the university to monitor and prevent potential antitrust violations.  Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost & vice president of student affairs, and Gary Bennett, vice provost of undergraduate education, presented on how they are working to bring better integrate residential and academic life for students.