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Guidance Regarding Foreign Influence and Involvement in University Research 2020

February 24, 2020

FAQs related to this Guidance, posted August 7, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

As an update to our February 2019 Guidance Regarding Foreign Influence and Involvement in University Research and August 2019 FAQs, I want to highlight recent developments and reiterate Northwestern’s strong commitment to its international community. The increased focus on foreign influence has only grown and is expected to remain a priority for the federal government. As evidenced by recent headlines, individual and institutional failure to disclose foreign research relationships can result in federal investigations, firings, and criminal charges.

We take very seriously our legal and ethical obligations to ensure compliance with the wide range of federal regulations and policies, and to ensure our country’s continued security and economic viability. Fulfilling our obligations to meet these two equally important aims is challenging and requires a balanced implementation of appropriate oversight measures while avoiding targeted, unfounded profiling of individuals based on nationality, which undermines Northwestern values and policy.
In recent months, federal research sponsors have provided clarifications and adjusted processes to assist universities in protecting against improper foreign interference in academic research:

  • The National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have updated their guidance for what should be included in Other Support and Current and Pending documentation, respectively. Please work with your research administrators to ensure your thorough and candid disclosure of all forms of support — including any involvement in a talent recruitment program sponsored by a foreign government for your research program via these documents. The Council on Government Relations has provided additional guidance on what should be included in Other Support documentation.
  • The Department of Energy has issued revised contract terms for any work happening on-site at a National Laboratory, and new requirements regarding foreign national involvement in DOE-funded work.

In addition to these updates from federal sponsors, the following table reiterates nationally accepted best practices and Northwestern requirements:

Outside Appointments

Faculty Must:

– Receive approval from dean’s offices before accepting any appointment at another institution per the Faculty Handbook

– Disclose any existing outside appointment at Northwestern in eDisclosure for review by their dean’s office

– Include the appointment in documentation to sponsors (e.g. Biosketch)


– Forward a copy of the agreement/appointment letter to their dean’s office for review to identify any potential red flags that should be addressed


– Use Northwestern’s name in any work done for that institution, except as a method of identification

Consulting and Other Agreements

Faculty Should:

– Review consulting guidelines, carefully considering the agreement’s IP terms

– Assess agreements for “red flags” consulting their dean’s office with questions

Should not:

– Sign any agreement prohibiting disclosure of the existence of the agreement to Northwestern


– Sign agreements on behalf of Northwestern (e.g. cannot form the “Northwestern Institute for X at Y University”)

– Assign, license, or transfer inventions (IP) to another party per the Patent and Invention Policy


Faculty Must:

– Review and, where possible, verify accuracy of CV prior to accepting the visitor

– If the visitor is funded, disclose visitor as Other Support to federal sponsors


– Have some personal reference for the individuals; e.g. know someone who knows the individuals to confirm suitability for your research program

Should not:

– Accept visitors into your research group because they are a “free set of hands”

Participating in Research Programs at Other Institutions

Faculty Must:

– Include access to laboratory space, trainees, and other resources at another institution in documentation to sponsors (e.g. Other Support)

– Disclose the work in eDisclosure for review by their dean’s office

– Receive prior approval from dean’s office if serving as PI at another institution

– Retain copies of the grant and funding notice in English

– Confirm that the other institution does not present red flags via federal restricted party lists by checking with our Office for Export Controls Compliance


– Discuss any such arrangements with the dean’s office to ensure that there are no conflicts of commitment or the appearance of running parallel research programs at two institutions – a so-called “shadow lab”

Please see the previously distributed Guidance Regarding Foreign Influence and Involvement in University Research for additional information regarding related concerns, including export compliance, proper security of materials, data, and confidential information, and intellectual property.

Northwestern is committed to being an inclusive and welcoming place for all. We value our international students and scholars, regarding them as critical to the University’s mission of producing the highest caliber research and solving problems of global significance.

If you have questions regarding foreign influence, the University’s approach to addressing these concerns, or anything related, please work closely with your dean’s office or unit leader, and always feel free to direct inquiries to the Office for Research:  Lane Campbell, director, export controls compliance, and Kate Booth, director, conflict of interest.

Milan Mrksich
Interim Vice President for Research