Research Policy During COVID-19 Outbreak

Research Policy During COVID-19 Outbreak

Dear Rice Community,

I write to provide faculty and research scholars with guidance on best practices for conducting research during this challenging period. Consistent with the social distancing guidance from the CDC to reduce transmission of the virus, we must reduce campus population density and physical proximity of faculty, staff and students engaged in research.  To accomplish this goal, we will substantially ramp down university on-campus research starting this Friday, March 20.  At this point, nobody knows how long these restrictions will last or whether more stringent constraints will be needed, but we will revisit the situation every two weeks. Additionally, Yousif will be holding a Q&A session tomorrow to address your questions and concerns via Zoom. Please mark your calendars for Wednesday, March 18 at 10am, https://riceuniversity.zoom.us/j/426815465 or +13462487799,,426815465# US (one tap mobile).

Below are the principles and guidance to implement this policy:

  • Develop a COVID-19 response plan by March 20 that substantially eliminates the need for staffing of research labs.  Faculty members with research groups must develop a plan to address issues related to the COVID-19 outbreak for their specific research groups, then submit their plans to their department chairs.  Specifically:
    • We encourage you to engage students and research team members as you develop your plan.
    • All faculty should promote work from home to the extent possible using university supplied technology tools such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts. For example, researchers able to conduct their work online can continue to do so.  Others should spend time productively in literature work, writing or study.
    • You should provide a description of how you will provide any required periodic maintenance (including, for example, replenishment of cooling fluids or feeding of live fish or insects or tissue culture) without increasing risk.
  • Essential maintenance/sustainability activities are allowed only with the permission of the chair, dean and vice provost for research. Some types of equipment, animal/plant model or tissue culture systems may require attention after March 20. The responsible PIs should include that information, as well as the authorized personnel required to safeguard these systems, in their COVID-19 response plans. Maintaining a safe working environment requires each PI to take the following steps:
    • Working safely begins with public health fundamentals such as thoroughly washing your hands, practicing social distancing (six-foot separation between individuals), and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces as appropriate. 
    • You must ensure that you and others in your working group stay home if you or they feel even slightly ill. 
    • Reduce the number of active staffing in your on campus facilities by at least 75% so that no more than two to three people are present at any given time.
    • Provide accommodations as needed.  Faculty should be cognizant of the needs of their students and research team members during this period. Faculty should allow special accommodations for their students and research team members who are medically at higher risk for COVID-19
  • It is essential that mentors and peer researchers respect and have empathy for their co-workers. Rice University will not tolerate the use of pressure or any form of coercion to compel postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates or research scientists to be endangered.  We expect all of our faculty, students and staff to display the highest levels of professional behavior throughout this crisis. Failure to respect the legitimate concerns of our students and staff will be subject to university measures that may include sanctions of individuals involved and/or require the Office of Research to close a laboratory.   Graduate students, postdocs and staff who feel inappropriate pressure to work in these circumstances should note their concerns at the EthicsPoint site:  https://rucompliance.rice.edu/reporting-concerns
  • Concerns about funding, proposal submission and reporting.  The Office of Research will move to online mode, and submission and reporting will be performed as usual.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has provided a set of directives to all federal agencies (https://www.cogr.edu/sites/default/files/M-20-11.pdf). Importantly, OMB states:
    • Expenditure of award funds for salaries and other project activities. Awarding agencies may allow recipients to continue to charge salaries and benefits to currently active Federal awards consistent with the recipient organization's policy of paying salaries (under unexpected or extraordinary circumstances) from all funding sources, Federal and non-Federal. Agencies may allow other costs to be charged to Federal awards, including those necessary to resume activities supported by the award, consistent with applicable Federal cost principles and the benefit to the project. Federal agencies may also evaluate the recipient's ability to resume the project activity in the future and the appropriateness of future funding, as done under normal circumstances, based on subsequent progress reports and other communications with the recipient.”

      In addition, the NIH has stated:
      “Salaries: NIH understands that many researchers may be unable to work as a result of or related to the effects of COVID-19. If a recipient organization’s policy allows for the charging of salaries and benefits during periods when no work is performed due to the effect of COVID-19, regardless of the funding source, including Federal and non-Federal, then such charges to NIH grant awards will be allowable.
      Reminder: NIH awarding Institutes/Centers (ICs) may request documentation to confirm the requirements of institutional policies.”
      Each agency will determine the particulars of their implementation and PIs should continue to look for updates. The OR will provide updated information as we receive it.

 Guidance

Resources

Questions.  If you have any questions about your sponsored project agreements or concerns regarding compliance or reporting issues, please contact SPARC.

Sincerely,

Seiichi P. T. Matsuda
Interim Provost
Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
E. Dell Butcher Professor of Chemistry
Professor of BioSciences

Yousif Shamoo
Vice Provost for Research
Professor, Department of BioSciences