Penn State is deeply committed to academic freedom, not only for the sake of the faculty, but for those the University serves. Ultimately, academic freedom is crucial to our society, for it affords the individual faculty member the opportunity to remain uncommitted to a particular course of action or end result, thus ensuring accurate, objective and unbiased results. The Office of Research Affairs has a primary responsibility to ensure that grant and contract agreements protect the institution's integrity and each faculty member's academic freedom. Research Affairs also has a principal responsibility to the institution to protect it from unnecessary risks and liabilities and to ensure the proper stewardship of sponsored funds. This responsibility necessitates the creation of appropriate mechanisms for the accountability of those funds. It also requires compliance with certain public policies, the filing of assurances and certifications regarding regulatory compliance, and the complete disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. All those involved in the conduct and management of sponsored programs must abide by these mechanisms and policies.
Principal Investigator (PI) and Project Director are terms often used interchangeably by sponsors, contract negotiators, proposal reviewers, research administrators, and others. In those cases in which more than one individual is considered to be primarily responsible for the scientific, technical, and administrative conduct of a project, each person shall be considered a Co-investigator. Each Co-investigator must meet the same eligibility requirements as those set forth for Principal Investigator. It should be noted that many extramural funding agencies recognize only one Principal Investigator. In addition, it is important for efficient and effective communication both within and outside the University to have one person designated in this role. Therefore, each project must have a designated leader (the PI) who will see that the terms of the grant or contract are fulfilled. University policy requires that the PI be a full-time appointee and paid on a University payroll. Faculty with emeritus status may participate in sponsored projects with special consideration. Fixed term and other non-regular faculty/staff may serve as PIs on an exceptional basis.
Although the University is legally responsible to the Sponsor as the actual recipient of a grant or contract, the PI is held accountable for the proper fiscal management and conduct of the project, oversight and technical reporting activities. The PI must comply with all the terms and conditions of a Sponsor’s award and see that project funds are managed efficiently and effectively within approved budgets. The PI must also ensure that the project is completed in a diligent and professional manner. The PI must maintain contact with the Sponsor’s technical monitor and comply with all technical reporting requirements. The PI must work with ORA to request programmatic or budgetary changes from the Sponsor. There may be additional institutional requirements or forms. If the project is over expended or if auditors disallow an unauthorized expenditure, the University must ask the appropriate academic unit to cover this cost. The PI is therefore responsible to the Sponsor and the University for ensuring that the requirements of the award are met and the policies of the University are followed.
Without the full cooperation and vigilance of the PI, the University would fail its stewardship role. In the truest sense, therefore, the sponsored research process is a joint effort between the PI and the University; both must do their part well in order to achieve success.
Freedom to publish is essential to the fulfillment of the University's responsibility to disseminate the findings of research. The University therefore works with the faculty member to preserve this right in sponsored agreements. In certain circumstances, the University may restrict or delay publication. For instance, because technology transfer is a form of disseminating the results of research for the public good, the University may choose to accept delays in publication when such delays are necessary in order to seek patent protection. In addition, publications involving patents may limit discussion to statements of new discoveries and interpretations of scientific facts and need not reveal specific information of processes or methods that are proprietary in nature. The Office of Technology Development works with investigators to protect rights to technology and intellectual property.
Papers describing discoveries often are withheld pending additional confirmations believed to be essential. Faculty also have refrained from releasing information where general knowledge might lead to nonproductive speculation and exploitation. Finally, in cases in which researchers are involved in government-classified research, publications are subject to the restrictions imposed by the government.
The University retains ownership to intellectual property developed by University faculty on research projects. The University recognizes, however, the importance of transferring that technology to the commercial sector where it can benefit the people it serves. Therefore, the University usually grants sponsors a first option to negotiate a license for technologies developed under the project. The Office of Technology Development can assist researchers in negotiating with sponsors and protecting their research.