Guideline 3-20: Ethical Conduct and Conflicts of Interest

 Ethical Conduct

  • College employees shall not use their positions for private gain or for the private gain of family members or friends.
  • College employees shall not hold financial interests that are in conflict with the conscientious performance of their official responsibilities.
  • College employees shall not make personal investments in any enterprise that could reasonably be expected to create a substantial conflict between the private interests of the employee and the public interests of the College.
  • College employees shall not use nonpublic information to advance any private interest.
  • College employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment or special privileges to any student, colleague, vendor, individual, or organization.
  • College employees shall protect and preserve public property and equipment and shall not use it for an unauthorized purpose.
  • College employees shall disclose waste, fraud, and corruption in accordance with College policy.
  • College employees shall not engage in outside employment or activities that conflict with their official duties and responsibilities.
  • College employees shall not intentionally or knowingly misuse anything of value belonging to the College for the purpose of obtaining a benefit or for the purpose of harming or defrauding another.
  • College employees shall not use College funds or property for the purpose of influencing an election.
  • College employees shall be truthful when called upon by supervisors to provide information regarding their work activities and shall not fail to disclose information that a reasonable employee would view as relevant to the supervisor’s inquiry.

Conflicts of Interest

A conflict of interest exists when an employee owes a professional obligation to the College that is or might be compromised by the pursuit of outside interests. Outside interests, such as professional activities, personal financial interests, or the acceptance of gifts from third parties, can create conflicts between the interests of the College and the employee’s private interests and may prevent the employee from making decisions that are in the best interest of the College. Even when outside interests do not actually impair the employee’s ability to act in the best interest of the College, the appearance of a conflict may suggest that the employee’s independence of judgment has been affected, or it may erode public confidence in the employee.

Gifts

There are two standards under Texas law governing gifts – (1) a general standard of conduct that applies to all employees and (2) a criminal standard that applies only to those persons who make recommendations or decisions about contracts and other financial transactions. Under the general standard, an employee should not accept or solicit any gift, favor, or service that might reasonably tend to influence the employee in the discharge of official duties or that the employee knows or should know is being offered with the intent to influence official conduct. This standard applies even though the donor is not asking the employee to do something in exchange for the gift.

Criminal penalties may apply to persons who make recommendations or decisions about the College’s financial transactions. Such employees may not accept a gift from an individual or entity that is interested in or likely to become interested in that transaction, with limited exceptions. Under those exceptions, it is not a criminal offense to accept the following type of gift if the gift is not given in exchange for official action (it is never lawful to accept a gift in exchange for official action):

  • Non-cash items worth less than $50.
  • A gift from a person such as a relative, friend, or business associate with whom the employee has a relationship independent of the employee’s official status, if the gift is given on account of that relationship rather than the employee’s official status
  • Food, lodging, transportation, or entertainment in any amount if the employee accepts them as a “guest,” which means the donor must be present.

Under some circumstances acceptance of a gift, even though not a criminal offense may still violate these general standards of conduct and may constitute grounds for discipline. Acceptance of a gift of even nominal value is improper if the purpose of the gift is to influence the employee’s actions. When an employee is in doubt regarding the permissibility of accepting a gift or giving a gift, he or she may contact the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources or the Vice Chancellor of Fiscal Affairs.

Outside Employment or Compensation:

An employee may not accept other employment or compensation that could reasonably be expected to impair the employee’s independence of judgment in performing his or her official duties or that could reasonably be expected to affect the employee’s energy and attention to his or her position at the College. The employee’s primary responsibility is the accomplishment of the duties and responsibilities assigned to the employee’s position at the College. The employee may not accept external consulting or outside employment that interferes with those duties and responsibilities or that reasonably may be expected to interfere with those duties or responsibilities. Additionally, an employee may not accept other employment or engage in a business or professional activity that one might reasonably expect would require or induce the employee to disclose confidential information acquired through the employee’s official position.

A College employee who intends to engage in outside employment or consulting, including self-employment, must notify the employee’s supervisor or department head and the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources. The notification must be in writing and must be submitted at least seven business days before initiation of the outside work. The notification must identify the nature of the outside work and the duration and anticipated weekly hours of the outside work. If an employee’s current outside employment predates adoption of this policy, then the employee shall submit the required notification within seven business days of adoption of this policy.

The College recognizes that the existence of a conflict of interest often will depend on the employee’s particular circumstances. For example, outside employment that is acceptable when performed by a part-time employee may be unacceptable if performed by a full-time employee, and outside consulting work performed by an employee with no authority over financial transactions may be unacceptable if performed by an employee with authority over financial transactions. The College will consider an employee’s particular circumstances when determining whether a conflict of interest exists.

Additional information regarding outside employment is addressed in the College Guidelines and Procedures § 3-1.

Honoraria

An employee may not accept an honorarium for services that the employee would not have been asked to provide but for his or her official status. For example, an employee may not accept a gift or payment for giving a speech if the employee would not have been asked to provide the speech but for his or her official position. However, an employee may accept meals, transportation, and lodging in connection with his or her services as long as the services are more than merely perfunctory or superficial.

Personal Investments

Employees should not make personal investments that could reasonably be expected to create a substantial conflict between the employee’s private interest and the public interest. This means that the employee should not have a direct or indirect financial interest in a business that conflicts with the college’s interests or that might influence how the employee does his or her job. Some financial interests may be so indirect or so minimal that they do not create conflicts of interest, such as ownership of a minimal amount of stock in a company or an investment in a publicly traded mutual fund in which the employee does not exercise discretion regarding the investment of the assets of the fund.

If an employee has an interest in a business that might constitute a conflict of interest, the employee should disclose that interest to his or her supervisor. In some cases, the employee may be able to resolve the conflict by not participating in any decision concerning that business. However, if the conflict is significant, the employee may be required to divest himself or herself of the interest that causes the conflict.

Self-dealing/Transactions with Employees

An employee may not transact any business in an official capacity with any business entity in which the employee is an officer, agent, or member, or in which the employee owns a substantial interest. Additionally, before the College may purchase any supplies, materials, services, equipment, or property from a business entity in which an employee is an officer, agent, or member, or in which an employee owns a substantial interest, the Chancellor must approve the purchase, and the purchase may be made only if the cost is less than from any other known source.

Benefits for Performing Official Duties

An employee should not intentionally or knowingly solicit, accept, or agree to accept any benefit for having exercised his or her official powers or for having performed his or her official duties in favor of another. If the benefit was given in exchange for an official act, it could constitute the criminal offense of bribery.

Confidential Information

Although the College is a public institution and is subject to the Texas Public Information Act, the College maintains data and documents that are confidential by law. Employees with access to confidential information shall not disclose such information to unauthorized persons and shall not use the information for his or her personal benefit.

Filing a Complaint

  • The College shall annually notify all employees that it encourages employees to report specific instances of suspected ethics violations and that retaliation is prohibited against employees who report such violations.
  • Employees may report suspected violations of this policy to the College’s ethics hotline, to their supervisor, to the College’s Internal Auditor, to the Vice Chancellor of Human Resources, or to the Vice Chancellor of Fiscal Affairs. In the event of a complaint against a Vice Chancellor or President, a complaint may be reported directly to the Chancellor. Under no circumstances shall an employee be required to make an ethics violation report to a person suspected of the ethics violation.
  • Each person who receives a report alleging a violation of this policy shall treat the information confidentially and shall share the information only with others in the administration or law enforcement who have a legitimate need to know. Confidentiality is necessary to prevent the destruction, removal, or alteration of evidence; to protect witnesses who have come forward; and to minimize the risk of premature disclosure of information that may adversely impact individuals who may be erroneously accused.
  • If the Vice Chancellor of Fiscal Affairs, Internal Auditor, or other administrator receives an allegation of a suspected ethics violation regarding the Chancellor or a Board member, the report shall be promptly shared with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. If the Chairman of the Board of Trustees is the accused, then the report shall be shared with the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The board shall take appropriate action to investigate the complaint. The board may employ an outside investigator or auditor in its discretion.