As if college systems didn’t have enough to worry about, between the rising cost of education and the constant battle to attract funding, the increased governmental emphasis on compliance could have universities scrambling in yet another direction.

The Wall Street Journal spoke with multiple universities, and it found that the large amount of funding given these universities inevitably attracts scrutiny. When you’re dealing with a behemoth such as a University of California system that includes a number of campuses, medical facilities and laboratories, along with annual revenue of $24 billion, keeping on top of the government’s rules is absolutely essential.

That’s why, said Sheryl Vacca, senior vice president and chief compliance and audit officer for the University of California system, instilling the virtues of compliance within university-affiliated scientists and entrepreneurs from the very beginning is of the utmost important. If they are making decisions with governmental compliance in mind, the work on the back end becomes much easier.

“We encourage and want these individuals to go forward in science and make these unbelievable and innovative scientific explorations, but on the flip side we’ve got to have something that balances the administrative piece to ensure we meet all the regulations,” Vacca said.

According to Larry Plutko, the systemwide compliance officer for the University of Texas system, the most important compliance issues are ones that could directly affect the university’s bottom line. Research brings in $4 billion for the Texas system annually, and the system’s medical centers host a great deal of private customer data.

“These are not only the most important to us, these are the areas that regulators are most interested in, too,” Plutko told the WSJ. “What are the greatest risks from these particular lenses? We do ongoing enterprise risk assessments, we look at specific goals within our work plan to move the program, then assign our budgeted dollars to those particular priorities.”

University counsel have also had to make researchers more aware of the burgeoning dangers of IP litigation. In December 2013, Amsterdam-based academic publisher Elsevier issued takedown notices to a number of learning institutions — including Harvard University, the University of Calgary, and the University of California-Irvine — for republishing articles on personal websites that originally appeared in Elsevier publications. The University of Madison-Wisconsin has also been the subject of a patent dispute concerning the university’s work on stem cell research.


For more on the education side of legal news, check out these InsideCounsel stories:

Key rulings coming in key college athlete payment case

For-profit schools feeling legal pressure

New online rating system will help pinpoint good and bad contracts for consumers

ABA calls for reform of legal education system