4.5 Outside Professional Activities

This policy was last updated January 5, 2024. See the update history page for more information.

The Institute believes that its educational program and effective teaching in all its aspects can flourish only when sustained by continuous, active participation of its faculty in research, enriched in many cases by interaction with industry, business, government, and other activities and institutions of our society.

This interaction, including outside consulting service to and research for government and industry, is of greatest value when it contributes significantly to the public welfare, offers an opportunity for professional challenge and growth, or otherwise enhances the effectiveness of a faculty member's service to the Institute.

The potential magnitude of such outside professional activity is such that orderly procedures must be followed to ensure the evolution of policy to avoid ethical and legal conflicts of interest and to ensure that such activities do not conflict with the proper discharge of Institute responsibilities. Essential to the effectiveness of such procedures are

  1. complete disclosure of outside professional activities and
  2. the availability of the best advice and consultation that can be obtained

For the annual reporting process, see Section 4.4 Conflict of Interest.

Disclosure and Consultation: Liaison between the head of a department and faculty members is the principal means of communication and disclosure in matters involving outside professional activities. The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. It is the obligation of faculty members to keep their department heads informed continually in adequate detail regarding all outside professional activities, service on external committees, and other special assignments, whether within or outside of the Institute.
  2. It is the further obligation of faculty members to discuss with their department heads the assumption of outside activities that are new in scope or kind, including patent arrangements, before entering an agreement to undertake them. This is particularly true of those outside activities, such as direct and active management obligations in outside business entities, that normally conflict with the requirement that the primary loyalty of a full-time faculty member be, at all times, to the Institute, and that are normally incompatible with a faculty member's meeting the full range of their obligations to the Institute.

Consultation with a department head in no way relieves faculty members of full responsibility for their actions.

Standards and Criteria: Personal responsibility, integrity, and high ethical standards are the principal factors in avoiding conflicts of interest, and the Institute expects that all members of the Faculty will conduct their outside activities in a manner that reflects credit on themselves, their profession, and the Institute without need for specific criteria or rules of conduct. The principal safeguards against abuse are the standards required by professional colleagues and the rigorous process by which the Institute evaluates and selects individuals for appointment and promotion.

Some situations, however, involve unique knowledge and understanding or are sufficiently complex that judgments may differ on whether there is a conflict of interest. Individuals of the highest integrity may, therefore, unknowingly place themselves in situations where conflicts exist. It is in such areas of doubt that guidelines or criteria may be useful and necessary. As the Faculty Policy Committee participates in the discussion of such guidelines and criteria, the resulting practice and precedent will continue to evolve as will guidelines for the individual judgments exercised by department heads. Such guidelines are from time to time communicated to faculty members in an appropriate manner. As an example, the exercise of significant managerial responsibilities on behalf of an outside organization is ordinarily incompatible with the definition of full-time service provided in Section 4.3 Full-Time Service.

Association of MIT's image or name with commercial interests in the public eye may lead to a conflict of interest. In the course of consulting or research, a faculty member may provide a professional evaluation of products or services, based on evidence. However, publicly advertised endorsement of commercial products or services is not, in general, consonant with the independence and objectivity expected of faculty members. In the conduct of their outside professional activities, faculty members should be careful to avoid identifying the Institute with opinions or conclusions in public or private reports or in other ways. (See also Sections 12.3 Use of Institute Name and 12.4 Use of Institute Letterhead.)

Faculty members should avoid association with activities of outside firms and, at the same time, activities within MIT that are competing directly for government or private funds. Similarly, access of outsiders to facilities, staff, and students must be controlled by the responsible faculty and staff in order to avoid undue pressure on those facilities or persons or the implication that an outside organization has a special relationship to MIT when it does not. This is an especially sensitive issue if the faculty host is employed by the outside organization. In such a case, another MIT colleague may be asked to assume the host responsibility.

4.5.1 Senior and Junior Faculty

The involvement of junior members of the Faculty in outside professional activities is important to their professional development. Senior faculty can assist junior faculty in developing such activities by offering potential opportunities to them and giving them advice with respect to both technical and ethical issues. It is important, however, that senior faculty not compromise their objectivity in judging their junior faculty in issues of promotion and tenure by virtue of outside professional activities in collaboration with junior faculty members, nor should senior faculty allow internal relationships with junior faculty to influence external relationships, expectations, or assignments. Any new involvement or change in outside professional relations of senior and junior faculty should be approved by the department head after joint discussion with both senior and junior faculty concerned.

4.5.2 Faculty and Students

Part-time involvement of students in the outside professional activities of faculty may, under certain conditions, offer the potential for substantial benefits to the education of the student. In each case of such involvement, the faculty member should obtain prior approval from the department head after discussion with the department head and student. In this context, involvement means any substantive activity, whether paid or unpaid.

In considering such arrangements, faculty should be guided by the need to avoid conflicts of interest and to avoid infringement upon the student's academic duties and rights. Generally, if the faculty member has a role in supervising the student's thesis or in supervising the work of the student as a graduate teaching assistant or instructor-g, such outside involvement should not be undertaken — thus avoiding potential conflicts of interest in the evaluation of the student's performance. If the faculty member does not have a role in supervising the student's thesis and/or the student's work as a teaching assistant or instructor-g, such involvement may be undertaken. If the outside work is related to the student's thesis, special care should be taken to avoid conflict.

If faculty members are already associated with students in outside professional activities, they should disqualify themselves from becoming research supervisors, academic program advisors, or examiners for an advanced degree of those students. Within an MIT research laboratory or academic unit, faculty members should take care not to give the impression of favoritism to those students with whom they are associated in outside activities. Generally, full-time research assistants should not be involved in outside professional activities of faculty — both to avoid conflicts of interest and in light of the obligations of full-time research assistants. A part-time research assistant may engage in such activity if the outside work is not thesis-related and if the faculty member is not their supervisor.

4.5.3 Faculty and Support Staff

Support staff play an important role in assisting the faculty with their MIT teaching, research, and administrative activities. It may also be appropriate for support staff to assist faculty members in their outside professional activities, depending upon the nature and extent of the support staff involvement. Such involvement, however, is a potential source of conflict between faculty and their support staff. It is especially important, therefore, that faculty discuss with their support staff the appropriateness of any such support activities requested. Any special arrangements for providing support for faculty outside professional activities, including compensation from non-MIT sources, must be acceptable to all the parties involved.

Guidelines defining appropriate support are given below; any circumstances that do not obviously meet these guidelines should be discussed by faculty members with their department head:

  1. It is normally appropriate for support staff to assist faculty in their professional public service activities, i.e., those professional activities in which faculty provide a service to institutions other than the Institute for public benefit, and in which compensation is incidental. If the effort required to provide such support is likely to be substantial and long term, however, a faculty member should review the circumstances with their department head.
  2. It may also be acceptable for support staff to provide limited assistance to faculty in other types of outside professional activities. Any assistance provided for such outside activities must not be in conflict with the faculty and support staff's responsibilities to MIT.
  3. Faculty may not require support staff to perform duties related to the faculty member's personal and nonprofessional activities (see Section 7.3 Responsibilities of Supervisors).

4.5.4 Responsibility of the Department Head

It is a responsibility of department heads to ensure that members of the department are familiar with Institute policies and procedures relative to outside professional activities. The role of department heads in regard to such matters further includes the following:

  1. being currently informed as to the outside professional activities of members of the department;
  2. advising faculty members so that they may avoid conflicts of interest or situations that may adversely affect the Institute;
  3. maintaining a special overview of outside professional activities in which senior and junior faculty and students in the department are associated together and making clear to all parties the necessity to safeguard the academic relationship;
  4. consulting the dean of the School in situations where they or faculty members wish such advice.

In addition to the foregoing procedure, in May of each year for the academic year then drawing to a close, each department head should ascertain the nature and extent of the outside professional activities of members of the department, not including, however, the income derived from such activities. Information of the following type will in most cases prove useful:

  1. the number of days spent on outside professional activities that have as their primary objective service of the type performed for professional societies, for government and industry committees, review boards, and panels, or for other educational institutions and for which compensation is normally incidental;
  2. the number of days spent on compensated outside professional activities (but not to include the amount of compensation derived therefrom);
  3. the nature of the relationship involved in the outside connections of a faculty member;
  4. the extent to which a company in which a faculty member is involved does business with MIT, and information on any significant financial interest the faculty member may have in such a company;
  5. names and responsibilities of committees (in government or industry) on which the faculty member serves.

Such an annual review should be of assistance in revealing the general pattern of such activities by members of the department. It should aid the department heads in consultations with their deans and will, on an overall basis, without impairing the privacy of any individual, provide the Faculty Policy Committee with useful information.

The fact that such a review is made once a year should not lead faculty members to ignore their obligation to keep their department heads continually informed concerning their outside professional activities.