Conflict of Interest

Today I had a nice long chat with a coleague. As a result I started thinking about the concept of conflict of interest. This is a very boring topic, which will make for a very boring blog entry, but I have to get it off my head. So, here it goes.

To me a conflict of interest arises when different parts of your persona are at odds. Sound like some kind of multiple personality disorder, but it is not. Let me explain. In a way, I am "more than one person." I am at least all of these things (in no particular order) : Puertorrican (born and raised there), Virginian (have been lived in this state for 15 years), Hokie (by virtue of my paycheck), a Colonial (PhD), a Viking (high school), a Cardinal (twice), a Computer Scientist (by academic training), a professor (by employment at VT and previously at UPRM and at the US Naval Academy), a Computer Science Professor (VT), a Computer Engineering Professor (UPRM), a professor in Engineering (UPRM, VT now), etc.

Each and every one of these represents a tiny fraction of what I am; each represents a type of loyalty. More often than not, these things coexists happily with each other. But every now and then, a conflict of interest arises when two of these "loyalties" are at odds. For example, recently I had to evaluate some proposals for the CREU program that I co-direct. Three proposals raised flags for me. One was from one of my former students; another one from one of my former colleagues at UPRM; and the last one was from a current colleague at VT. For all three of them, I told the other co-director to just simply make a decision with out me. Making a decision on these cases would require one of my personas to be jumping up and down and say "Oh yeah, give him the money, he is a nice person". This was influenced by my relationship to this person and not by my objective read of the proposal.

So, to me conflicts of interests are easy to spot. If two (or more) of my "loyalties" have something to say about a decision, then I quickly know that I am headed for a collision.

What's the big deal? Why blog about this? Well, today, I had a long conversation with a colleague about a situation that brought forth many of my "loyalties" to the front. It sent into a clash all of these loyalties: CS professional, CS professor, Engineering Faculty (current and former), Latino, VT Faculty, Multicultural Fellow, and possibly a few others. Furthermore, I had been there before. It brought back long buried memories (and conflicts) of my departure from UPRM.

Yet, this time it was very different. The conversation was pleasant and I actually enjoyed it. It is amazing when someone listens to you and accepts what you have to say for its value. Without questioning your point of view, without convincing you that you were wrong. Without trying to get you to see another point of view.

The outcome of the conversation was sort of soothing. I think it might have even been therapeutical. It might have actually helped me come to grips with the conflicts that lead me to leave my previous job. What a difference 9 years can make!

Posted on 09/25/2008



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