The university’s buildings and other facilities are built and maintained primarily with the taxes we pay, student tuition, and donations. The university owns and operates these facilities for education and research purposes. When they are not in use, other schools, organizations, or members of the public may be authorized to use certain university facilities by scheduling a room, signing a Facilities Use Agreement, and paying a fee.
Sometimes the university’s facilities are used by both the university and other people or organizations. The university partners with other schools, organizations, or members of the public to host events on campus. If a university department is planning or organizing an event in collaboration with another group, the event might be considered a university event and might not require a Facilities Use Agreement or a fee.
University departments and employees might be allowed to use university facilities for university meetings and events at a discount or for free. However, university employees are not allowed to use their positions to get discounted or free use of university facilities for their own personal activities. This means that if a professor is personally involved in an organization unrelated to the professor’s university responsibilities, the professor may not use their university position to get free or discounted access to university spaces for the outside organization.
Example: A law professor has an interest in helping a local architecture firm. He serves on its board and assists in planning events and setting priorities for the group. He also occasionally participates in the firm’s work. The university has no formal relationship with the firm. The professor does not consider the firm to be part of the professor’s teaching, scholarly research, or service. The professor has access to a meeting room on campus. While the firm would ordinarily have to pay to rent the room, the professor wants to let the firm use the room for a meeting, where students are not invited, at no cost.
Is this a problem? Yes. The professor’s decision to let the firm use a university space for free raises multiple ethical concerns. The professor is letting a private organization use a valuable public building, maintained with tuition and taxe dollars, without any compensation to UO. In addition, the professor’s decision doles out financial favors based on access the professor has by virtue of their UO position, which constitutes the prohibited use of official postion. Also, the professor’s position on both sides of this transaction, as an employee for the university and a board member who may stand to personally benefit from providing discounts to the firm, could be a conflict of interest.
Even though the professor can't reserve the room for free, the university can still allow the firm to use space in its buildings. The firm can schedule a space, sign a Facilities Use Agreement, and pay the standard rate for third parties, just like any other outside entity could do.