Office in place to investigate research-rule violations

Sheila Burt

CHICAGO — An administrator in charge of the newly created Office of Research Integrity said Wednesday that he plans to help university officials understand the changing interpretations of federal regulations for research in light of stricter rules.

Tim Fournier, Northwestern’s new associate vice president for research integrity, began his position this week on Northwestern’s Chicago Campus. Fournier heads a new office that will look into compliance issues following problems NU had with the federal government and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fournier’s position and the new office centralizes duties previously performed by various research officials. Although his primary office location is in Chicago, Fournier said he will spend time on the Evanston Campus as well. Fournier is the only member of the office but said it will soon expand.

The office will help the university understand compliance issues regarding government regulations for human and animal subjects, as well as help researchers complete paperwork faster, said C. Bradley Moore, NU’s vice president for research, in an early February interview.

“We’re trying to make it easier for faculty to meet all the government requirements,” Moore said. “Our goal is to give them all the information we need in a very clear way to make the decisions that need to be made and move forward with their research program without aggravating piles of forms to fill out.”

The creation of the new office follows investigations by the USDA. The university paid a $9,400 civil penalty to the USDA in January to settle part of the department’s investigations into NU’s research record-keeping and the treatment of lab animals. NU also paid $5.5 million to the federal government last February regarding claims that researchers misrepresented the amount of time spent on federally funded projects.

Fournier said the vagueness of federal regulations has made them harder to interpret. He said he will work to eliminate “any kind of undue pressure” by looking into communication methods and university policies and procedures.

“In some ways the growth in the research activity here has been so dramatic that it’s been impossible for us to really keep pace administratively,” he said. “And I think that’s where we’re going to be focusing.”

Fournier will also oversee any charges made against researchers and research integrity issues. He said he hopes to look at what university processes are most effective when dealing with these issues and help prevent research problems from occurring again.

Some research integrity issues involving NU continue. A USDA investigation, separate from the one settled in January, continues regarding possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

In a different type of integrity issue, the university is also investigating psychology Prof. Michael Bailey’s research methods. Bailey is accused of research misconduct after transsexuals in his most recent book said he failed to receive their informed consent. Bailey said he did nothing wrong.

Fournier said he does not yet know the specific role he will play in these investigations.

“I have files that I am getting familiar with,” Fournier said. “If someone were to make an allegation or complaint, we have a process that we use to respond to those, and I’ll be looking at those procedures.”

Fournier, Kellogg ’94, most recently served as the Institutional Compliance Officer for the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania Health System. There he was responsible for directing and coordinating compliance activities in many areas of the university.

“Tim is a known expert in the research arena,” said Rick Whitfield, vice president for audit and compliance at the University of Pennsylvania.

“What attracted Tim to me when I recruited him 15 months ago was his expertise and knowledge in a large research university, particularly those with large academic medical centers,” Whitfield said. “Northwestern has recruited one of the top compliance officers in the country.”