Just Say No to Nepotism

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Just Say No to Nepotism


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


Institutions that lack protections against the conflict of interest that can arise from doing business with relatives are inviting trouble

It often begins with the best of intentions. A high-ranking academic official sees a need on campus that a relative is perfectly suited to meet. Even better, the relative agrees to do the job at a reduced rate. At first blush, it seems like the perfect solution. But is it?

Nepotistic practices, which result in contracts being granted on the basis of family connections with key university officials, or individuals getting university jobs supervised by a relative, pose inherent conflicts for postsecondary institutions. Schools that have no protections against the potential conflicts of interest that can arise from these practices are courting trouble, according to a consensus of college and university officials.

Many public institutions, however, are bound by the protections imposed by their state legal systems. Sheila Trice Bell, executive director of the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) in Washington, D.C., says most states have laws that prohibit conflicts-of-interest at all public institutions, including colleges and universities.

Nonetheless, little uniformity exists in public statutes on conflict-of-interest rules among the states.

"It really depends on the state. Most of them have some sort of standard with regards to conflict of interest for public employees and institutions," Bell says.

Less restricted by state laws than public institutions, private colleges and universities are more obliged to police themselves on conflict-of-interest matters. Institutions ultimately have to ensure that their policies are aboveboard and evenhanded for their employees and for the organization as a whole.

"The bottom line is fairness," Bell says.

Michael A. Baskin, general counsel at Clark-Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, says it's essential for a private college or private university to have clear cut policies that prevent nepotism. In the absence of such policies, a school runs the risk of inviting abuse to its contracting activities and within its employee ranks.

"First and foremost, even if there's nothing wrong occurring, the perception of impropriety and the potential for impropriety is there," Baskin says of the employee risks incurred when an individual supervises someone related to him or her in an academic environment. …

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