Identifying Conflicts of Commitment

A public research university brings together many types of resources including institutional facilities, world-class experts, precision equipment, and powerful information systems. These resources are investments, meant to be used for university activities and cannot be used for other purposes without explicit written authorization.

Conflicts of commitment occur when university resources are used for non-university activities. University resources can include physical resources (like equipment, office space or vehicles), information resources (like data or intellectual property) or human resources (like your working hours, the time of students or other employees).

Sometimes, the non-university use of these resources may be deemed by your supervisor to contribute to or benefit the university in such a way as to justify the impact to UBC. All UBC employees must secure written approval before engaging in any activity that may give rise to a conflict of commitment.

Information on three important types of Conflicts of Commitment:

  • Equipment and physical resource conflicts
  • Information and data conflicts
  • Human resources conflicts

Equipment and physical resource conflicts

Conflict of commitment occurs when university resources are used for non-university activities. Consider the following:

  1. Is the proposed use of the equipment in line with the reason the equipment was purchased, or is this a non-standard request?
  2. If the request is non-standard, consider whether the university would support similar requests from other parties (e.g. a film company) or on a more frequent basis. Factors such as depreciation, insurance, consumption, and opportunity cost should all be considered.
  3. If the request is deemed permissible, it may be best to arrange per the terms of an arm’s length transaction — that is, at the same rate, and under the same terms that the university would loan or lease the equipment to a person not employed by UBC.

Examples of equipment and physical resource conflicts

Conflicts of commitment involving equipment and physical resources can occur when UBC resources are used for non-university purposes. Examples of non-university use of resources include the following:

  • Using your office boardroom to host a weekend meeting for a non-profit you volunteer with;
  • Using a university vehicle after hours to help with a friend’s move;
  • Bringing university equipment (microscope, pick-up truck, digital projector) home or to a second site for non-university activities;
  • Using your UBC affiliation to host personal functions (weddings, birthday parties, non-UBC conferences) in university facilities without a facility rental agreement;
  • Asking a UBC unit (Vehicle Maintenance shop, UBC Studios) to provide your partner’s company with a service without a contract or invoice.

Information and data conflicts

A conflict of commitment occurs when information collected or generated for use by the university is used for non-university purposes. Note: In addition to UBC’s conflict of interest policyFIPPA legislation and UBC Information Security requirements also apply.

Consider the following:

  1. Is the information in question already provided by the university to the public (in reports, directories or websites)?
  2. Is the information generally available to the public (employee name, work phone)?
  3. Is the information FIPPA protected
  4. Is the information only available to you because of your position at the university? (Would your neighbour, who does not work at UBC, have access to the same information?)
  5. If you were not able to use the information in the way you intend, would this affect UBC initiatives or initiatives at non-university organizations?

Examples of information and data conflicts

Some university information — including published data and other publicly available information can be used by anyone, without restriction. Other information is held by the university, and cannot be disclosed or used for non-university purposes. Examples of non-university use of information include the following:

  • Sharing contract or pricing information obtained from UBC vendors with competing organizations;
  • Using information received because of your UBC role to further your outside business activities;
  • Using student information, employee information, or other UBC data to find potential customers for your partner’s start-up.

Human resources conflicts

A conflict of commitment occurs when human resources are used for non-university purposes. Consider the following:


  1. Is the work to be done part of the UBC employee’s job description?
  2. Is the work aligned with the goals and intent of the person’s UBC role?
  3. Is the outcome of that work a contribution to the mission of the university or only a benefit for a non-university entity?


  1. Is the work to be done part of your job description for the university?
  2. If not, is the work aligned with the goals and intent of your UBC role?
  3. Is your manager aware of, and supportive of, your use of UBC time for this activity?

Examples of human resources conflicts

Conflicts of commitment can occur when UBC students or employees are asked to perform non-university work. Human resources like software developers, researchers, clerical staff, lab assistants, or graduate students should not be assigned non-university work. Examples of non-university use of human resources include:

  1. Asking a UBC person to do work that advances a private interest, unrelated to their work for UBC.
    • Asking students in my program to complete personal errands for me
    • Asking staff in my office to prepare my personal tax return
    • Asking technicians in my department to run an experiment on behalf of my start-up company.
  2. When a UBC employee appears to be working on behalf of the university but is actually working for external projects or organizations.
    • Running a private day-trading operation from your office
    • Working on private consulting contracts from your UBC workspace
    • Working on night school assignments while at your UBC job.

In each of these situations, a UBC employee may appear to be working on behalf of UBC but is, in fact, working for themselves (personally, as a sole proprietor, or as a company).