FAQs - Outside Activities

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Outside Activities Reporting

Office of Compliance


I am having problems inside the Portal. What should I do?

The UT System has created a comprehensive FAQ page with answers to most questions. Please go to Support/FAQs and search for information on your issue. If you cannot find the answer there, contact the Office of Compliance. 

What is a "conflict of commitment"?

A conflict of commitment is generally an issue of time. Only outside activities of employees (not their Covered Family Members) can cause a conflict of commitment. Part-time employees generally do not have conflicts of commitment, provided other employment and activities are not conducted during University scheduled work time.

A conflict of commitment exists when:

  • the time or effort that an employee devotes to an outside activity directly or significantly interferes with the employee's fulfillment of their University responsibilities, or
  • the employee uses University property without authority in connection with the employee's outside employment, board service, or other activity.

Example 1
The most obvious and easily recognizable example of a conflict of commitment is when a full-time employee has a second job in the evenings. The employee is often late to the office, frequently lethargic and unproductive, and sometimes leaves early to get to their other job. The quality of the employee's work and dependability have declined. This employee has a conflict of commitment because outside employment is interfering with their ability to fulfill their responsibilities to the University.
Example 2
It is not always one single activity but the sum of all activities that may result in a conflict of commitment. For example, in addition to their teaching and research duties, a faculty member served as a reviewer for two journals, gave the keynote address at four conferences, and gave lectures at three medical campuses. There is value in these outside activities, and the University encourages faculty to engage in them. However, in this instance, the chair of their department is concerned that the combination of all of these activities for one faculty member may be creating a conflict of commitment.

What is a "conflict of interest"?

A conflict of interest exists when an outside interest of an employee or one of the employee's Covered Family Members could directly or significantly affect the employee's performance of their University responsibilities. The employee’s University responsibilities could be directly or significantly affected if any of the following apply:

  • it influences the way the employee performs their University responsibilities;
  • it is or has been offered with the intent to influence the employee's conduct or decisions;
  • it could reasonably be expected to impair the employee's judgment in performing their University responsibilities; or
  • it might require or induce the employee to disclose confidential or proprietary information acquired through the performance of University responsibilities.

Conflicts of interest can arise because of the employee's own activities or financial interests or those of the employee's Covered Family Members.

Conflicts of interest are usually issues of financial or other personal gain. In most cases, the activity or interest must be related to an employee's University responsibilities in order to create a conflict of interest.

Conflicts of interest can affect research when an outside interest of a researcher has the potential to be affected by the outcome of research. If not properly managed, such conflicts can appear to undermine the unbiased judgment expected by the scientific community and by funding agencies regarding the design, conduct, and reporting of research. 

Example 3
A University faculty member's research focuses on determining the rate of global warming and its causes. They are approached by a major coal company about serving as a scientific advisor to the company regarding their coal extraction operations. The company proposes to pay an annual retainer of $80,000 for this service.

The proposed outside service is with an entity which could be affected by the faculty member's research. This is a relationship with the potential to influence the judgment of the researcher and therefore should be reported.
Example 4
As part of their responsibilities, an employee participates in decisions regarding large contracts for facilities maintenance. Their son works for a company that performs this type of service.  

If their son's company submits a bid to provide services to the University, a potential conflict of interest arises. The extent of the conflict depends on how much their son stands to gain from the company's work for the University and role with respect to this work. If their son is an owner of the company, the son stands to gain directly. The son's role as owner would also make the son directly responsible for the company's performance under its contract with the University, performance that their mother would participate in evaluating. This would be a direct conflict of interest.

On the other hand, if the son is not an owner and they work in a different part of the company with no relationship to the service being provided, the potential conflict of interest is less.

The employee should report their son's employment with this company since it reasonably appears to be related to their responsibilities at the University.

What does "substantial foreign relationship" mean?

A substantial foreign relationship is any relationship between an employee and programs that are sponsored, funded, directed, or controlled by a foreign government, foreign agency, or foreign institution. This includes people who work for institutions of higher education that are funded by any type of foreign entity.

How do I report outside interests, activities, and/or foreign relationships?

Outside interests, activities, and foreign relationships are reported electronically via the Outside Activity Portal. Use your University login information to access the Portal.

The Portal provides functionality for 3 kinds of reporting:

  • Use the “Activity Form” to:
    • obtain prior approval where required for outside employment and service on outside boards, other uncompensated activities that may reasonably appear to create a conflict of interest, and/or substantial foreign relationships; or
    • disclose activities, interests, and relationships that do not require prior approval, but do require after-the-fact reporting in the Portal.
  • Use the “No Activity Form” to indicate that you have no outside activities that require reporting in the Portal (check all boxes and click submit).
  • For help with deciding whether or not to report, use the Decision Matrix.

What is important about appearances in managing conflicts of interest and foreign relationships?

One option for managing conflicts of interest or commitment or foreign relationships would be to focus only on outside activities and interests that employees themselves perceive as causing them conflict. UT System and University policies focus instead on circumstances that an objective third party would reasonably perceive as causing a conflict. This approach is taken because:

  • subjective employee perception varies from person to person and cannot support consistent policy application; and
  • only by applying an objective third-party perspective can we meet the expectations of the public and other stakeholders whose trust we seek to maintain.

The first step for managing the appearance of a conflict of interest or commitment is to report all interests or activities that are related to any University responsibilities.

Many outside interests and foreign relationships are positive, consistent with the University’s mission, and enhance professional development. The fact that an employee has an outside interest or activity to report is not inherently negative, nor does it indicate the employee’s actions will be biased or inappropriate. Reporting them in the Portal demonstrates our commitment to transparency and trustworthiness. 

When in doubt in determining whether an activity or interest should be reported, always resolve the doubt in favor of reporting.

When should I obtain prior approval for an outside activity or foreign relationship?

Requests for prior approval should be submitted through the Portal as early as possible to allow time for the designated approval authorities to approve them in advance of your first engagement in the activity.

Annual review and re-approval is required for ongoing activities during the annual disclosure period, which is January, February, and March of each year.

What if I didn’t get pre-approved for an activity that is on-going?

You should log on to the Portal now and request retrospective approval for activities requiring prior approval.

There may be activities that by their nature cannot be specifically approved before the work must begin, such as consulting on an emergency basis or other urgent need. You can request approval retrospectively by completing the "Request Approval" tab in the Portal.

These urgent situations should be rare and retrospective approval should be requested promptly.

Who are the approval authorities for outside activities?

The following individuals have been appointed as the approval authorities for outside activities:

  • For faculty members: department chair, department dean, and Provost
  • For department chairs and program directors: department dean
  • For deans: Provost
  • For executive officers: President, and for the President, Executive Vice Chancellor
  • For other employees: supervisor and vice president.

More senior University and UT System officials may be consulted in the process of making approval decisions.

Approvals may be rescinded if information is received that indicates the activity is not consistent with the policy or any applicable law.

Employees will be given notice in writing and will be given an opportunity to respond.

Do faculty members with 9-month appointments require approval for outside employment?

  • Faculty members are not required to request approval for outside activities carried out wholly outside of their period of appointment. This typically applies during the summer for faculty who do not have appointments for the full 12 months of the year.  
  • These activities still require retroactive disclosure for faculty members engaged in research or sponsored projects, or involved in procurement activities.

When are disclosures due for research projects or procurement activities?

Individuals engaged in research or sponsored projects or involved in procurement activities are required to update their disclosures for each calendar year during the annual disclosure period.  The annual disclosure period is January, February, and March of each year.


  • Initial disclosures should be made within 30 days of an employee's start date or within 30 days of acquiring any new interest or outside activity.
  • The same time limits apply to interests of Covered Family Members that are required to be disclosed.
  • Employees may be asked throughout the year to confirm that their outside activity reporting on the Portal is up to date in accordance with the requirements shown on the Decision Matrix.

Also remember:

  • Research and other sponsored funds may not be expended until the University has determined that no conflict of interest exists or that any conflict of interest can be managed.
  • For Public Health Service (PHS) funded research, disclosures are due prior to the date of application for funding.

What is a conflict of interest management plan?

Management plans must be in place for all faculty and exempt employees for outside activities that may create a conflict of interest or a conflict of commitment before the activity begins. Management plans will be customized by the appropriate approval authority in consultation with the employee. Management plans will be presented to the approval authority’s supervisor for review and final approval.

Conflict management plans are put in place to provide checkpoints to ensure that outside activity does not interfere with the discharge of University responsibilities.

This is not a negative or punitive action, nor is it a part of an employee’s personnel record.

The following individuals have been appointed as the approval authorities for conflict of interest management plans:

  • For faculty members: department chair and department dean
  • For department chairs and program directors: department dean 
  • For deans: Provost
  • For executive officers: President, and for the President, Executive Vice Chancellor
  • For all other employees: Management plans for other employees are developed by their direct supervisor in consultation with the employee, and will be approved by the next immediate supervisor in their chain of command.

Will my disclosures be publicly available online?

UT System policies require public posting of managed conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment except in unusual cases deemed confidential by the institution. The UT System will host the site with this information.


What does “engaged in research” mean for purposes of the Decision Matrix?

  • Individuals engaged in research includes everyone who is responsible for the design, conduct, or reporting of research. This may include research staff and students in addition to principal investigators, co-investigators, and project directors.
  • Research (in this context) means any systematic investigation, study, or experiment designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.
  • A systematic investigation, study, or experiment is one that involves a prospective plan (which incorporates quantitative or qualitative data collection and data analysis) to answer a question.
  • Research includes basic research, applied research, and product development.

What does “sponsored project” mean for purposes of the Decision Matrix?

Sponsored projects are any projects or programs that receive external (extramural) funding through grants from public entities and in some cases from corporations and foundations. Generally, these are projects and programs where the terms of the grant legally obligate the University to carry out a project or program involving a defined set of activities and/or deliverables within a defined time period.

Philanthropic gifts that provide funds and restrict how they can be used without obligating the University to carry out a specific project or program are excluded from this definition of sponsored projects.

What does “involved in procurement activities” mean for purposes of the Decision Matrix?

Individuals involved in procurement activities include employees authorized to make purchases of $15,000 or more. It also includes employees who make decisions or recommendations about purchases of $15,000 or more regarding:

  • contract terms and conditions; or
  • who is awarded a contract or evaluation of a bid or proposal.

What is considered “compensation” when deciding whether an outside activity requires prior approval?

Compensation is defined as any form of benefit including, but not limited to, salary, retainers, honoraria, intellectual property rights or royalties, or promised, deferred, or contingent interest.

Compensation includes sponsored travel or reimbursement, including travel that is reimbursed or sponsored by a federal, state, or local government agency, an institution of higher education, an academic teaching hospital, a medical center, or a research institute that is affiliated with an institution of higher education. These benefits require prior approval under the Decision Matrix.

What does “Covered Family Member” mean for purposes of the Decision Matrix?

Covered Family Members include:

  • a spouse;
  • a dependent child or stepchild or other dependent (for purposes of determining federal income tax liability) during the period covered by the disclosure statement; and/or
  • a related or non-related unmarried adult who resides in the same household as the employee and with whom the employee is financially interdependent as evidenced, for example, by the maintenance of a joint bank account, mortgage, or investments.

Does "substantial interest in a business entity" include mutual funds?

No. Investment vehicles, such as mutual funds or retirement accounts are not substantial interests in a business entity as long as the individual does not directly control the investment decisions made in those vehicles.
What does "primarily personal" mean in regard to service on outside boards?

Primarity personal refers to service that is unrelated to an employee's position at the University or the employee's University responsibilities. Examples include boards of the following entities: municipality; local religious congregation; neighborhood association; public, private or parochial school; political organization; social advocacy organization; youth sports or recreation league; affinity group such as the local orchid society or model train collectors club; and other similar outside boards.