by James A. Bacon
I fess up. I raised questions and made insinuations unwarranted by the facts in a recent post, “Did Shukla Fudge His Conflict-of-Interest Waiver Form?” When I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, so here goes….
The article addressed a conflict-of-interest waiver form submitted by George Mason University climatology professor Jagadish Shukla regarding his affiliation with the Institute for Global Environment and Society (IGES), which paid him $343,000 in 2012 over and above his university salary. I wrote:
Shukla’s waiver request form stated that he received annual salary “in excess of $10,000 from IGES.” The waiver-request form did not state that he earned $343,025 in 2013 compensation, nor that IGES paid his wife $141,000 as business manager, nor that the institute paid GMU colleague James Kinter $207,0000 as director, all as reported in IGES’ 990 form. Ten thousand dollars is in the range of part-time employment that would not conflict with Shukla’s university obligations; three-hundred and forty-three thousand dollars, which exceeded his university salary, is not.
So, the question arises whether Shukla submitted deceptively incomplete information by characterizing his compensation from IGES as “in excess of $10,000,” or whether he remedied that deficiency by conveying it verbally or in some other manner. …
Accordingly, I would conjecture, subject to verification, that the committee based its conflict-of-interest decision solely upon the information that Shukla provided in his waiver request form, in which he described his IGES compensation only as “in excess of $10,000.” …
One possible conclusion to draw from this evidence is that Shukla deliberately obscured his IGES compensation in the conflict-of-interest waiver request form. Another possible conclusion is that committee members knew of the hefty compensation but chose — wink, wink, nod, nod — not to make it an issue. Perhaps readers could offer other possible explanations.
A reader using the name “Travis Bickle” pointed out the existence of a GMU “Outside Employment” policy document of which I had been unaware when I wrote the article. That document states that GMU employees “may engage in certain employment outside the university, provided that the employee has obtained prior written approval of his or her supervisor and the employee complies with all relevant University policies, including policies regarding conflicts of interest…”
Employees must report salary and benefits “that may reasonably be anticipated to exceed $10,000 annually.” They also must submit “regular and routine reports (monthly or quarterly) from such firm or entity identifying the number of hours and total payment made to the University employee.”
Based on these reporting requirements, there is no reason to believe that GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was uninformed of Shukla’s significant additional compensation.
Had I done a more thorough job of reporting, I would not have asked if Shukla had fully complied with reporting requirements, nor if university officials were aware of his full outside income. Nor would I have raised the possibility that Shukla had fudged his conflict-of-interest compensation, or that university officials had looked the other way. Knowing what I know now, those were unfair questions to pose and insinuations to make based on the information available to me. I apologize for making them.
I apologize to readers as well. I have committed a number of gaffes over the years, and when I am made aware of them, I perform a public mea culpa. Doing serious journalism on a blog is like flying without a net. I have no editor to read behind me, spot inaccuracies or question the thoroughness of my reporting. I count on readers to fill that role, as Mr. “Bickle” has done. When I fall short of my standards, I do my best to set the record straight.
That said, there are still serious issues regarding Shukla’s immense compensation. In light of this new information I would reframe the issue this way: If GMU’s conflict-of-interest committee was fully informed that Shukla’s income from IGES consumed 33 hours weekly and more than doubled his university salary, why did the committee allow it? How is it possible that working 33 hours on IGES business, as closely related with Shukla’s university job as director of the Climate Dynamics Program as it may have been, did not interfere with his teaching, administrative and other university duties?
Alternatively, if Shukla’s IGES duties were so closely aligned with his GMU duties that they posed no conflict, was he essentially collecting two salaries for doing the same job? If so, why would GMU have permitted it?
Then there is the bigger question to consider: Is Shukla an outlier in working the system, or is this a case where “everybody does it”? There are dozens of “institutes” and “centers” in Virginia universities, and hundreds of faculty members and researchers affiliated with them. Most if not all of these groups rely upon outside funding, whether from the federal government or from private sources. Is double dipping widespread? And, if so, are the safeguards in place — Virginia laws and university policies, federal R&D contracts, governance systems for 501(c)3 non-profit entities — adequate to prevent abuse?There are currently no comments highlighted.