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Research Integrity Takes Center Stage

At Northwestern co-hosted event, institutional leaders from across the nation converged to discuss strategies, resources, and tools for promoting research integrity

Jay Walsh

Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern, delivers remarks at the 2019 Research Integrity Conference in Chicago.

Northwestern’s Chicago campus was the site of a two-day national conference on research integrity this spring.

The May 22-23 event welcomed senior institutional leaders from throughout the country to openly discuss strategies, resources, and tools for promoting research integrity for scientists and scholars. Co-hosted by Northwestern, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Research Integrity, and the Council of Graduate Schools, the conference featured a keynote address by Michael Lauer, deputy director for extramural research at the National Institutes of Health.

Lauer’s presentation discussed how the vocabulary describing research misconduct is evolving.

“Our focus has been on the inappropriate activities of individual scientists,” he said. “Now there is increasing focus on how the research climate may contribute to misbehavior.” Lauer re-recorded the lecture to disseminate it more broadly and recently highlighted the presentation on his “Open Mike” blog.

Among other presenters were Lawrence Carin, vice provost for research at Duke, and Geeta Swamy, vice dean and associate vice provost for scientific integrity at the Duke School of Medicine, who outlined how university leaders in Durham have taken extraordinary steps to further enrich a culture of scholarly integrity. Following a recent misconduct case, corrective measures at Duke included a robust training program and the creation of a new position to maintain scientific integrity.

With nearly 150 institutional leaders in attendance, the second Research Integrity Conference was split over two days. Day one explored the cultural challenges faced in higher education, while day two explored how institutions can invest in research integrity.

“Integrity is the bedrock of who we are as a research institution,” says Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern. “The frank discussions we had in May continue and will continue. Researchers have long recognized the importance of integrity to ensure exceptional research outcomes rooted in compliance that earns public trust.”

“We are at a point in time where integrity is being recognized as critical to the success of the research enterprise,” says Lauran Qualkenbush, director of Northwestern’s Research Integrity office. “Having this group of leaders gather in Chicago was important because you need the engagement of VPRs and graduate school deans to amplify this point of emphasis.”

At the first nationwide conference hosted at Loyola Marymount in 2016, Qualkenbush and Walsh presented Northwestern’s perspective on research integrity. The response to that lecture led to an invitation for Walsh to present at the World Conference on Research Integrity in  Amsterdam in 2017 and was the catalyst for Northwestern co-hosting this year’s event.

“The bigger picture here remains that universities are dependent on federal funds and public trust that they will conduct sponsored research with the utmost integrity,” says Qualkenbush. “Northwestern is emblematic of what an outstanding research institution can be, and we strive to protect our students, staff, and researchers by creating a climate where doing the right thing matters most.”

At the 2019 Research Integrity Conference, Qualkenbush and Walsh shared their views about what a partnership between the research vice president and the research integrity officer can be. Qualkenbush pointed out that Walsh’s dedication to the event is illustrative of the kind of leadership commitment necessary to keep integrity center stage.

“Jay has continuously supported my efforts,” she says. “A university can make many operational improvements, but if the culture doesn’t change and institutional leadership doesn’t support that culture, the other actions will be for naught.”

By Roger Anderson